Notwithstanding nearly a 20% share in the population of India’s largest state, the Muslim minority remains marginalised and without a voice when it comes to tickets doled by political parties that depend critically on their support
Nisar Siddiqui | Caravan Daily
SAMAJWADI Party and Bahujan Samaj Party buried their rivalry to enter a historic pre-poll alliance in Uttar Pradesh on January 12 for the upcoming General Elections. BSP supremo Mayawati declared the extraordinary tie-up between two rival parties “a revolution in the making.
However, this revolution has thrown up an inconvenient and oft-asked question: Will the Muslims get the proportional representation in this alliance, essentially of the Yadavs and Jatavs? The Yadavs and Jatavs, forming 10% and 14% of the UP’s electorate respectively, are the core voters of the SP and BSP alliance. However, the Muslims on their own account for nearly 20% of the voting population.
However, the minority community remains largely marginalised and at best the second-rung leadership in both these parties and often ends up pushing the cart for these two regional heavyweights. This time around though, the question of the Muslim representation has become all the more important as the alliance partners are said to have agreed to accommodate the Rashtriya Lok Dal, a party largely of the Jats. RLD led by Ajit Singh is likely to get three direct seats and one indirect representation.
Both SP and BSP had been borne out of the social justice movements of the 1980s and they principally claim to award proportional electoral representation to all social groups. The BSP founder Kanshi Ram had even coined a slogan “Jiski jitini sankhya bhari, uski utni bhagedari” (representation proportionate to their share in population).
So, will the Muslims get seats equal to their numeric strength? At least 13 Lok Sabha seats in UP boast more than 30% Muslim votes. Rampur, Sambhal, Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnore, and Moradabad have more than 40% Muslims. In Rampur and Sambhal, they are more than 50%. Yet the BJP managed to win both the seats riding largely communal polarisation and a division of Muslim votes.
While Kairana boasts as many as 35% Muslims, there are also more than 30% Muslims in Meerut. In Baghpat and Ghaziabad, there are more than 25% Muslims. Gautam Buddha Nagar (Noida) and Bulandshahr have more around 20% Muslims each. In the country’s largest state that largely determines which country rules India, Muslims parliamentarians have never been elected in proportion to their numbers.
In 1980, as many as 18 Muslims were elected to the Parliament. In the 2014 Election, overall 46 Muslim candidates were fielded by different parties. In 1984 polls, the number of Muslim MPs was reduced to 12 and around 34 Muslims were fielded by parties. Muslim MPs further decreased to 8 in 1989 elections. The Ram Temple wave in 1991 almost wiped out the Muslim influence and only three Muslims could be elected to Parliament.
Later, the scenario improved a little bit and 6 Muslims were elected in the 1998 elections. They became 8 in 1999 elections. In 2004, 11 Muslims entered the Parliament. But, in the 2009 polls, the number again dipped to 7. The 2014 Modi wave completely wiped out
Muslims from the Lok Sabha. They scored zero despite having a population of nearly 20 million in the state.
Interestingly, in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, Muslims are again likely to face BJP’s campaign centred on personal appeal of PM Narendra Modi and emotive issues like Ram Temple. Post-SP-BSP-RLD mahagathbandhan (grand alliance), people are also talking of the emergence of new Muslim leadership and the possibility of an increased number of Muslim candidates.
People believe that it is possible because of the decline in the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. However, there is also acute uncertainty about the Muslim-majority seats because the possibility of communal polarisation is very high in these seats. Communal polarisation always benefits the BJP.
Besides, what can hurt Muslim representation is the stance of many Hindu leaders of the alliance. They are seeking safe seats in the Muslim-majority areas and thus usurping Muslim chances. For example, the SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav is planning to contest election from Sambhal constituency. Muzahir Khan, a resident of Sambhal, says that why should a Yadav contest from a Muslim majority seat.
“Ram Gopal Yadav can contest from any constituency like Azamgarh, Jaunpur, Mainpuri, Firozabad or Badaun. But Muslim candidates have limited choice to contest polls,” said Khan.
Ali Zakir, a marketing executive from Varanasi, echoes similar sentiments. He says that since Muslims have almost as many votes as the Jatavs and Yadavs combined, they deserve equal representation. “If the alliance partners don’t realise this and Muslims desert them, they might bite the dust,” said Zakir.
Meanwhile, there is also news of the All India Majlise Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) of Asaduddin Owaisi fielding candidates in many Muslim-majority seats of UP. AIMIM chief and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi himself is said to be exploring the possibility of contesting from Sambhal seat.
AIMIM had fielded candidates in the 2017 Assembly elections as well and its candidate had secured more than 60,000 votes in Sambhal and had stood second against a powerful former minister.
Analysts believe that if the Majlis enters the UP arena once again, targeting Muslims votes, the SP-BSP-RLD alliance will have to distribute more tickets among Muslims to keep their flock together, or they might lose a major chunk of their precious votes.
Nisar Siddiqui is a research scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia. Views