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Published in the 16-31 Mar 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Indian Muslims and Lok Sabha elections

By Asghar Ali Engineer

The Lok Sabha elections have been declared and will be held in a couple of months. In democracy elections are most important events and it must be said Indian democracy has fulfilled this condition satisfactorily and has never failed, not even in the times of emergency in mid-seventies of the last century. Very few other Asian and African countries have held elections with such regularity as India.

The numerical minorities like Muslims play an important role in deciding the fortune of political parties. For a long time the secret of Congress’s success in parliamentary elections lay in Muslims and Dalits voting in its favour. But after emergency when Muslims and Dalits ceased to vote for the Congress its fortunes were in doldrums. It led Mrs. Gandhi to woo the Hindu votes by playing the Hindu card and communalism and communal violence began to spread much faster in the country. And to add fuel to the fire Rajiv Gandhi got the Supreme court judgement in the Shah Bano case reversed by enacting the Muslim Women Act on one hand, and opening the doors of Babri Masjid, on the other. He also laid the foundation stone of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya in 1989 elections and lost the elections to an alliance formed by V.P. Singh. 

Thus it will be seen that Muslim votes often, though not always, are quite important for political parties to win elections. It is estimated that in about 100 Lok Sabha seats, their votes are quite decisive. How important are their votes can be understood from the fact that even the BJP is trying to woo Muslims in this election. Even the RSS is trying to woo Muslims on the election eve. The RSS spokesman Ram Madhav declared that “All those Muslims who love their motherland (as if Muslims do not love their motherland) are welcome to become Swayamsevaks.” The RSS has even put one shakah in Maharashtra under a Muslim Swayamsevak, as if to prove its point.

The RSS, however, is mounting pressure on the BJP to include ideological issues like construction of Ram temple etc. to keep its Hindutva base intact. Mr. Ram Madhav also said that the Muslims who become Swayamsevak are expected to ‘respect’ Hindu sentiments and that, he said, included construction of Ram Mandir and banning of cow slaughter.

It almost amounts to endorse the Hindutva agenda and Hindutva ideology. Thus they are ready to admit Muslims in their fold only on their terms. Nevertheless it shows that even RSS thinks that the Muslims can be admitted at least to woo their votes for Lok Sabha elections. The BJP of course is making right kind of noises to attract Muslims to secure their votes. The Government has released an advertisement in Urdu papers with the main title Hamara vada: dange aur fasad se paak Bharat (Our promise: India free of communal riots). The ad carries a picture of Vajpayee speaking in the Shah Alam camp of Ahmedabad during the Gujarat carnage. The ad also carries certain extracts of Vajpayee’s speech in which he appealed for peace in Gujarat. This ad was carried in Inquilab, an Urdu paper from Mumbai on 10th February.

Of course one reason among others for peace talks with Pakistan is coming Lok Sabha elections. The BJP hopes to cash in on establishing peace during coming elections and more than others, Muslims would welcome the peace moves especially from north as Northern Muslims have divided families. In Kashmir also the BJP is trying to attract Muslims. The BJP held a rally in Kashmir and Venkaiah Naidu told the people that “BJP is not anti-Muslim. This campaign is by our rivals to keep Muslims away from our party. We have so many Muslim governors in various states.” But he had no answer when asked whether BJP, if it comes to power of its own will repeal Article 370. He only said that development would be the key issue.
It is interesting to note that the Muslims have matured and learnt from their experiences over the years. Gone are the days when Muslims could be swayed just by wining over leaders like the Shahi Imam or other leaders of his ilk. The reckless stand taken by their leaders during the Shah Bano movement and Babri Masjid-Ramjanambhoomi campaign has taught them a lesson. 

Thus when recently Mulayamsingh Yadav threw a bait by announcing that schools on Fridays will remain open only up to 12 noon so that Muslim children could go for Friday prayers the Muslims refused to buy it. Hardly any Muslim leader welcomed the move including the members of Muslim Personal Law Board, as these leaders knew that this will boomerang and the BJP will draw maximum benefit. Even a member of the MPLB opposed the move and some leaders even said how is it going to benefit Muslims as most of the young boys do not offer namaz (prayers) on Friday.

Mulayamsingh Yadav had announced this thinking Muslims would fall for it and he would benefit in the Lok Sabha elections. When the Muslims cold-shouldered it and the BJP opposed it he quietly withdrew the measure very next day. Now one thing is clear that neither Muslim masses nor their leaders are going to fall for such cheap tricks. They are now demanding concrete results in terms of jobs and economic well being. Emotional issues are no more fundamental to them, though they may be important.

Even in Bihar some Muslims have formed an independent front demanding more jobs for Muslims. They argue it is true Laloo Prasad Yadav has checked communal violence but has not done anything beyond that and this is not enough for Muslims. Security of life is one thing and material well being something else. He must deliver on this front also else Muslims would not vote for him.

Even the Muslims in U.P. have similar feelings towards Mulayam Singh. He too has checked communal violence but nothing beyond that. It is for this reason that Mulayam Singh has announced series of other measures as well. He has created 3000 posts for Urdu teachers, has made provision in recent budget for modernisation of madrasas and has also announced creation of Persian and Arabic University in Rampur to protect Islamic heritage in these languages. These are encouraging signs. Muslims should not fall for emotional issues any more and demand concrete measures for their economic well being and better education facilities.

There is one more factor, which must be taken into account: the regionalisation of politics and importance of alliances for forming the government at the Centre. Thus there is no longer the all India pattern of voting. Like others Muslims too now vote on regional basis. In U.P. now Muslims prefer to vote either for SP or BSP and in Bihar for RJD and in West Bengal for the Left Front or the Congress. In Andhra Pradesh they vote for TDP or the Congress and in Tamil Nadu for DMK or AIDMK while in Kerala they may prefer to vote for Left Democratic Front or the Congress.

This is an important development or more in keeping with the regional diversity among Muslims themselves. Muslims have never been a homogenous mass as many political leaders reduced them to for their own vote bank politics. The Muslims in India are as diverse as Hindus and others. Now this diversity is getting reflected in their voting pattern too. Their development pattern differs from state to state. For example the Muslims in Kerala and Tamil Nadu are better off both in educational as well as economic field as compared to Muslims in U.P. The Muslims in Gujarat though generally poor have three trading communities i.e. Bohras, Khojas and Memons which are quite well off compared to Muslims in Bihar and U.P. However, the Gujarat carnage under Narendra Modi led BJP government greatly harmed these trading communities.

Thus Muslims will certainly vote in coming Lok Sabha elections on regional pattern keeping their regional interests in mind. It is interesting to note that in Andhra Pradesh, particularly in Hyderabad many Muslims are favourably inclined towards TDP although it has alliance with the BJP. 

Since voting takes place now on regional basis there is no Muslim leader with all India appeal. It is more democratic. The regional diversity among the Muslims in a huge country like India, should be reflected fully in their political behaviour also. Until now the Muslim leadership both religious as well as political, was from North India. It is no more so as there is hardly any all India leadership. Regional leadership is emerging among Muslims too.

However, since the Sangh Parivar has deeply penetrated in the South also, one thing will remain of common concern for all Muslims in India that is secularism and communal harmony. Any regional party which is committed to secularism would attract Muslim votes. Security of life is still most important consideration for Muslims in India whatever region they belong to. 

Thus in coming Lok Sabha election too secularism will remain prime consideration for the Muslims throughout India. Whatever Vajpayee says, it is hardly going to influence them because they know that BJP is controlled in final reckoning by the RSS and Vajpayee also has the RSS soul in him and he is atal (firm) on that whatever moderation he displays for his acceptability as the NDA leader. This is the gut feeling of any Muslim anywhere in India. 

They have experienced it that the BJP is neither the party of any difference nor it has fulfilled its promise of maintaining communal peace in the country. Gujarat can never be effaced from Muslim memory.

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