Where is the Muslim Vote?

Once again, with electoral fervour dominating large parts of the Indian political scene, a lot of noise is being made about importance of the so-called “Muslim vote”. Yes, it is a fact that India has the second largest population of Muslims. Constitutionally, India affirms its strong stand on secularism, socialism and democracy. Politically, however, the manner in which hype is raised about Muslim vote, at times, seems to contradict the secular spirit of the nation. This scribe has written repeatedly that given the divisions between the Indian Muslim community and cultural differences across the country, prospects of there ever being a strong “Muslim vote-bank” remain as improbable as that of a “Hindu vote-bank”.  

At the same time, there is no denying that recent political history has been witness to a rise in several regional Muslim parties. None of these can claim to have spread their wings throughout the country. The political importance of their leaders is also primarily limited to their regional domains. In other words, at present, Indian Muslims and those who are making noise about Muslim vote-bank cannot boast of any Muslim leader with a strong following across the country.

 Besides, it must be noted that the recent rise of several Muslim parties cannot be delinked from the same period being witness to formation of numerous regional parties. This implies that Muslim parties have not sprung up due to any revolutionary fervour among the Indian Muslims. Their rise needs to be viewed as a part of the same process that has contributed to the rise of other regional parties. The decline in the stature of the Congress, from a party that at one time led the central government without heading any coalition, is responsible for this political transformation. At one time, when Congress was at its peak, Indian politics was witness to dominance of only one party, that is the Congress. During that period, little importance was given to the Muslim or Hindu vote.  

Undeniably, even if some noise was made about Muslim vote, it would have remained as non-existent then as it is now. Muslims were socially and geo-culturally as divided then as they are today. The new importance of Muslim vote has emerged not because the Indian Muslim has asked for it but because the present day politicians and political parties are in a desperate need of the same.

 In Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, for instance, more than half a dozen parties are in the fray, with most making special efforts to attract Muslim votes. But none of these parties can be described as a Muslim party. Also, there remain limited chances of the state’s Muslim population voting en bloc for any one party. Well, when the electoral prowess of the Muslim cannot be grouped together under any one political party, with it remaining as divided as the votes of non-Muslims, where does the Muslim-vote really exist?  

It may not be wrong to assume that political noise is made deliberately about the Muslim vote with the prime intention of creating divisions in the same. Where UP politics is concerned, there is no denying that a major role is played by votes of Brahmins, Rajputs, Yadavs, Dalits and other groups, but why isn’t hype created about their importance? It has been observed that whenever there prevail prospects of a strong Muslim candidate taking the lead, several Muslims are prompted to file nominations in the same constituency, even as independents. This divides the Muslim vote and the seat goes to a non-Muslim. Divisions created intentionally or unintentionally to weaken the Muslims electoral power may be viewed as responsible for low representation of Muslims in state assemblies and in the Parliament which is much lower than what their population is. The last point further questions the credibility of political hype being made about the Muslim vote.  

Undeniably, there have been phases when Muslim votes have been strongly influenced by certain major crises or developments of which Babri demolition or Gujarat carnage are examples. Please note, Gujarat carnage strongly affected the political attitude of not just the Indian Muslims. With Muslims forming less than 14 percent of the country’s population, had only their electoral behaviour been affected, parliamentary elections after Gujarat carnage would not have led the voters decide to push the BJP-led coalition out of power. Statistically, a stronger role was played by votes of secular Indians, the majority of whom were Hindus. Considering that Muslims voted with the rest of the secular citizens of the country, it would certainly not be fair to club only their vote as decided by their religious identity. Just as secularism prompted Hindus to vote against the BJP, that is for the Congress, the same factor decided the electoral decision of Muslim voters. They voted, Hindus and Muslims, angered by Gujarat carnage as secular Indians.

 Strangely, when a Hindu votes against communalism, he is labelled as a secular Indian, but when a Muslim does the same, he is viewed only as a Muslim voter. The latter’s secularism is ignored with his religious identity being given greater importance. The same fault is repeated when hype is made about the non-existent Muslim vote!

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-29 February 2012 on page no. 11

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