Analysis

UP Polls: Congress Campaign & Muslims

Notwithstanding the hard work put in by Rahul Gandhi to turn the electoral tide in Uttar Pradesh in his party’s favour, the Congress failed to put up a good show. This hard fact has apparently still not sunk in Rahul’s political analysis. He and the party are facing the major question whether 2014 Lok Sabha polls will witness a repeat in UP of what the Congress has faced in the recent assembly elections. Understandably, Rahul has accepted that party’s defeat has been caused by its failure to win over UP’s Muslim votes, a weak organization in the state and campaign strategy exercised by certain party leaders which has miserably misfired. The last point refers to the hype raised about reservation quota for Muslims virtually at the last minute which failed to convince this section of UP voters.

This point naturally raises the question as to whether the Congress would have performed better had reservation-issue not been raised at all. It may be noted, the issue was probably deliberately raised at the last minute when prospects of Congress candidate faring well from Farukkabad were dim. The same may be said about a few other Congress leaders who also indulged in this exercise. It may be equated with their making a desperate attempt in the hope of reversing what seemed fairly obvious to them and other electoral observers, that defeat was staring at the party candidates being supported by them. This naturally implies that even if the controversy had not been ignited over the reservation-issue, the Congress would not have fared better than it finally did.

 Against this backdrop, it is important to analyze the hype raised about reservation for Muslims. Practically speaking, it amounts to making an attempt to convince the Muslims about party being keen to take steps in their advantage. Undeniably, Congress was not the one and only party to have tried this strategy in areas where Muslim votes seemed decisive. The Samajwadi Party (SP) and also the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) made extra efforts to convince Muslims about the advantages that their respective parties spelt for them. Interestingly, around 18 percent of the winning candidates of both SP and BSP are Muslims. Not even 10 percent of winning candidates of the Congress are Muslims. Statistically, roughly 10 percent of Muslim members in UP assembly belong to SP, four to BSP and less than one percent to Congress. Sixty-three Muslim members constitute around 15 percent of the 403-member UP assembly. The concern displayed by SP and also BSP for the state’s Muslims did not backfire as it seems to have been the case with Congress. This point may be viewed from another angle. Even if certain Congress leaders had not made noise about the reservation-issue, prospects of the party winning more Muslim votes were severely limited. Clearly, the Muslim voter viewed the Congress “reservation-commitments” as nothing but hollow talk. It cannot be ignored that the party has been in power at the Centre for the second consecutive term and has yet to take constructive steps in this direction and continues to sit over Mishra recommendations.

Had perhaps the BJP gained because of the reservation-issue raised by some Congress campaigners, the analysis would have been different. It would then have been appropriate to state that the reservation-hype for Muslims helped BJP gain probably on communal lines, that is its pro-Hindutva and anti-Muslim propaganda. In UP polls, even the BJP has been a major loser. Given that the so-called Muslim-card used in a few areas by Congress did not either help it or the BJP by provoking communal polarization of votes, it may perhaps be incorrect to make too much noise about the Congress having failed in UP primarily or partly because of it having made unnecessary noises about Muslim-reservation issue. As suggested earlier, even if the Congress had kept quiet on this issue, it may not have fared better than it did.

The last point also indicates that Congress has yet to go a long way in winning back the trust of Muslim voters in UP. The miserable performance of BJP only proves that UP voters, particularly non-Muslims, are least likely now to be swayed by saffron card used by this party. It is time, the two parties accepted that UP voters are least likely to be moved by their attempts to divide votes on religious grounds. If religion was the only factor prompting all UP voters to make their electoral decision, the recently formed religious parties would probably have performed better.

Compared to Congress, the SP has succeeded in winning the support of UP voters, including Muslims. The BSP’s defeat, interestingly, is not marked by it having totally lost support of the Muslim population. Also, whatever they said regarding reservation-issue did not contribute to their losing faith of Muslims. In other words, rather than deliberate on hype raised by a few Congress leaders about the reservation-issue, the party needs to seriously give greater thought to steps it must take to win trust and support of UP voters, including Muslims!

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 April 2012 on page no. 11

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