Low political representation of Indian Muslims and the way out

22 May

By Shahid Rashid Talukdar,

It is a fact that representation of Muslims in Indian Politics, since the Independence, has been “disproportionately low”, ranging between 6 – 8%, as compared to their share in population which is “estimated to be around 14%”, but believed to be even higher. The reasons for such low representation vary from the lack of effective Muslim leadership to the nepotism and favoritism of Political bigwigs. The fear of political parties that non-Muslim electorates may not choose to elect a Muslim candidate, stands, perhaps, as the greatest deterrent for most of the parties to field many Muslim candidates in elections. These together have created an almost communal environment where Muslims have hardly any say in the ruling of the State even though they form a considerable portion of the electorate.

There are other factors such as affirmative actions in favor of Scheduled Castes/Tribes (SC/ST), which have snatched away a significant portion, roughly “22% of the parliamentary seats” and over “27% of the state assembly seats”, of constituencies from Muslim candidates. The Muslims, being almost excluded from SC/STs, cannot even compete in the election in the reserved seats. And quite surprisingly, it has been observed that there is a deliberate attempt to discriminate against Muslim using the reservation policy.

New AIUDF MLAs with Hon’ble President M. Badruddin Ajmal and Ex-CM Anowara TaimurThe fact has been brought to light by media platform such as“” that on the one hand, constituencies where SC/STs comprise the majority of electorates are “not reserved” for them. On the other hand, there are a large number of constituencies where majority or a significant fraction of the electorate is from the Muslim community and a small population of the SCs but the seat has been reserved “for SCs”. This seems to be a deliberate attempt to deprive the Muslim community of its leadership. Such moves, whether involuntary or deliberate, have further reduced the chances of Muslim candidates winning the election.

Another such apprehension, regarding the “Women’s Reservation Bill”, seems not entirely unfounded. At present, the level of Muslim women’s participation in public life has been minimal. If the Women’s Reservation Bill is introduced, as it reserves 33% of the seats for women, can very well take away some more of the seats that presently elect Muslim legislators. Given the electoral trends in India, the prospect of the reverse happening, that is, Muslim women getting elected from an otherwise non-Muslim dominated constituency seems negligible.

Considering a total disempowerment and underdevelopment of Indian Muslims in nearly all walks of life as pointed out by the “Sachar Committee report”, it becomes imperative to think of enhancing the share of representation for Muslims in the political machinery. This realization prompts a set of questions: How can the representation of Muslims be increased? Should there be some political parties exclusively for or dominated by Muslims? Is it better if the mainstream parties provide equitable opportunities to Muslim candidates to participate in the elections?

Since the first question can be answered by answering the later questions, I would like to discuss the relative pros and cons of the later two. If there are parties exclusively for or dominated by only Muslims’ interests, then the outcome is going to be inefficient and hence, is a loss for everyone. For instance, when voting is done on the basis of religion/sect caste etc., the criterion for preference is something other than the leadership quality of the candidate. So the leader elected by such a partisan process may not be the best one for the electorate.

Leaders of Welfare Party of India (WPI) on the day of its launching on April 18. Mujtaba Farooque, WPI president (5th from Left)Another demerit of such process is that if Hindus vote on religious line in favor of pro-Hindu parties and or pro-Hindu candidates, and then Muslims follow the same and vice versa. Even worse, if the game continues, then Muslims will ultimately be the biggest losers. Since in majority of the constituencies in India non-Muslims dominate the electorate, it will be difficult for Muslim candidates to win the election.

Even if the Muslim candidates win a few seats, the Muslim affiliated parties will seldom have a majority to form the Government so they will be left in the opposition. If the Muslim representatives perpetually sit in the opposition, what benefits are they likely to bring to their constituencies? So the Muslim community ultimately suffers because of the partisan politics.

Another potential, and the gravest, consequence is that such partisan politics of Muslims supporting a pro-Muslim party will give the right wing parties a sound pretext to garner support in religious lines. Consequently, suppose, Hindus start supporting pro-Hindutva parties. This may potentially lead to a complete polarization of the Indian society.

Imagine a nation inflicted with partisan politics; a few Muslim leaders from pro-Muslim parties sitting helplessly in the opposition and reckless Hindu leaders from staunch Hindutva brigades ruling the assembly or parliament! Can India, composite as it is, survive such a degenerate politics? How many more “Babri Masjids will be demolished?” How many more “Gujarat Massacre will be repeated?” Is there any prospect of socioeconomic development is such a scenario?

A partisan politics may, in the short run, benefit the right wing “fundamentalist Hindutva parties”but this is a mistake the Muslims of India can’t afford to make, since number does not favor them. Muslims cannot afford to be communal.

The recent developments leading to formation of Muslim dominated political parties and winning quite a few “seats in the state elections”, except Tamil Nadu, can be viewed as a positive sign of change. This shows Muslims communities’ stronger spirit of political participation and increased confidence in the democratic process. However, this should not be construed as Muslims’ victory over non-Muslims. Rather this, should be viewed as, and in fact, is merely an indication that Muslims have not been satisfied with the policies of the mainstream political parties.

At the launching function of Manithaneya Makkal Katchi, political party of Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra KazhagamThis development of Muslim dominated parties and Muslim religious organization such as the Jamat-e-Islami (Hind) “joining mainstream politics” is a call to the mainstream parties like the Congress, the CPI (M), the BJP, etc. that there needs to be a thorough change in their mode of functioning, especially, policies of nominating candidates for election. Appropriate Muslim candidates need and deserve an equitable share in the election otherwise things may go against the parties’ interests, and ultimately against everyone’s interests. The fact that given a chance, “Muslim candidates can do well” in the election has been proven by the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. This is an example which other mainstream parties can emulate.

So far, the Muslim community led political parties have refrained from partisanship by inducting “Muslim candidates can do wellnon-Muslim members” and giving them key positions both in the party as well as while “giving nominations”. Such a balanced policy is a must for any political party in India, not only for the sake of political correctness, but also for its own survival.

Irrespective of who launches a party, the future course of action of a political party must display the spirit of democracy and utmost secularism; otherwise these new parties will also become the victims of communalism and sectarianism from which the older parties have already been suffering.

The Indian electorate has already dumped the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for “its communal character”, signaled the left for its “covert rightist bias”, and shaken the base of the Indian National Congress for its incapability to maintain a secular character in action. However strong the communal and disruptive force maybe, but the Indian society, except for occasional perturbations, has shown its resilience by reverting back to secular and composite values.

So it is a challenge before all the political parties, right, center, and left leaning, new and old alike – thrown by the people of the world’s largest democracy that prove yourself by uniting the communities and not by segregating one from the other, by effective leadership and progressive policies or you will be thrown out of the race and out of the place.


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