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Madhya Pradesh Elections: Why Are Muslims Woefully Under-Represented?

While Congress has fielded 2 Muslim candidates this time, BJP does not have a single Muslim candidate on its list.

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As the 16th State Assembly elections will be held in Madya Pradesh in November, one factor that is unlikely to change in the state is the abysmal representation of Muslims among candidates and legislators.

Despite the fact that Muslims comprise almost 7% of the state's population, as per 2011 census, Congress has only fielded two candidates while BJP has fielded none so far.

So, what are the reasons behind this lack of representation?

To know this, we must understand the politics and demography of Madhya Pradesh. The state has mostly been called a bipolar state as the electoral fight has always been BJP vs Congress.

In August, senior Congress leader Aziz Qureshi stirred a controversy when he said, "Every political party, including the Congress, must understand that Muslims are not slaves and aren't obligated to follow their orders," while addressing a gathering in MP's Vidisha district on the eve of the birth anniversary of former PM Rajiv Gandhi.

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'Muslims Feel Ignored, Neglected': Congress Leader

Speaking to The Quint about the poor representation of Muslims, Qureshi said, "The Muslim community in Madhya Pradesh is not only discontented, but also insulted and ignored. They feel in that they have no importance in the nation and its building."

Qureshi agreed that the rise and success of BJP in the state has coincided with the decline of representation of Muslim electorally in the state.

Madhya Pradesh is home to about 50 lakh Muslims, with over a 10 lakh residing in more than 19 districts.

The poor representation is also believed to be due to two factors:

  • The polarisation of votes after the 1992 Babri Mosque demolition.

  • The segregation of the Muslim population due to the delimitation of constituencies in 2002.

Delimitation means the act or process of fixing limits or boundaries of territorial constituencies in a country or a province having a legislative body.

Babri is one of the factors, otherwise with all the political development has happened in this country ever since, our country is supposed to be a democracy but everyone who associates with Hindutva believes that the rights of Muslims should be reduced and then finished.
Aziz Qureshi to The Quint

Gearing up for the elections, this year, Congress released a 106-page manifesto consisting of around 59 promises, including 27% OBC quota, caste census, insurance-for-all and even a potential IPL team.

Out of the 230 assembly seats, the Congress party has allotted 62 tickets to OBC candidates, 80 to Rajputs and Brahmins, 48 to Scheduled Tribes, and 34 to Scheduled Castes. Out of these, only two have been allotted to Muslims: Atif Aqueel from Bhopal North and Arif Masood from Bhopal Central.

Congress MLA Arif Aqueel has maintained his hold on Bhopal North since 1998. However, his son Atif will be contesting instead owing to the father's illness.

In 2013, the Congress had fielded five Muslim candidates, in 2018, the number was reduced to three, and in the current election, it stands at two. As for BJP, though they nominated one Muslim candidate in 2013 and 2018, this year, their candidate list does not include any Muslim contenders.

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KK Mishra, the chairman of Congress' media department in the state told The Quint, "In minority groups, why is the focus only on Muslims? Wherever there is a greater population of minority groups (60-70%) and they can win we do give tickets to them. BJP has not given a single ticket to Muslim, why are questions only asked of Congress?"

Mishra stated that Congress has given tickets to 10-12 candidates from minority groups, including Jains and Muslims and other communities.

When it comes to the BJP, it did not field even one Muslim between 1993 and 2008. It fielded one Muslim candidate each in 2013 and 2018. This is consistent with its pattern in most other states and in Lok Sabha elections.

The share of the Muslim MPs in India has never crossed the 10% mark, and has sharply reduced in the last 15 years, as per the Pew Research.

'No Third Party or Competition in MP'

However, there is more to what meets the eye. One of the biggest factors affecting the electoral politics in the state is that there is bipolar politics and people in a binary i.e. either Congress or BJP.

The lack of a third party or competition has led to Muslims "being stuck and suppressed between BJP and Congress," noted Anas Ali, founder of Barkatullah Youth Forum.

Muslim representation has historically been better in states where a regional party is present, such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar or West Bengal. This is because the community gets a viable alternative to the Congress.

Ali told The Quint, "Since it's only BJP vs Congress, what happens is that the importance of a Muslim voter is reduced. Even in Bhopal, there are around 30% Muslims in the city, so here, three Muslim candidates can win but parties don't give three tickets."

He continued, "Congress and BJP are both on the same line, there is not much difference left between the two. The only thing is BJP's policies harms the public and minorities and with Congress, there is indifference."

Ali observed that the Khargone demolitions of Muslim houses in 2022 also impacted the Muslim voter's mind. Khargone is one of the cities which has a considerable Muslim population.

"BJP's policies for over three years have been so anti-Muslim, that Muslims on the ground want to move on from this and just want an alternative," he stated.

Interestingly, Ali also pointed out that in 2013, a Muslim candidate Hamid Qazi of NCP contested from Burhanpur seat and lost to Archana Chitnis of BJP then. "Now in 2023, Qazi's son had asked for a ticket to contest but he was not given one despite the fact that there is a reasonable Muslim population in the area," said Ali.

Additionally, Muslims play a significant role in nearly two dozen assembly constituencies like Ujjain, Indore, Ujjain, Khandwa, Ratlam, Javara, Shajapur, Mandla, Ratlam, Sehore, Shajapur, Raisen, owing to their substantial presence.

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1962 was the last when Muslim representation was at its peak at 7% when leaders like Shakir Ali Khan from the Communist Party of India (CPI) and six from Congress were also elected.

No Dominant Caste, 'Bezaari' Among Muslims

According to Shams Ur Rehman Alavi, a veteran journalist who has lived in Madhya Pradesh and reports on minority issues, stated that in MP, there is no "dominant regional or linguistic identity, unlike the OBC or social justice politics like UP-Bihar."

Since there is no other party or caste group to align with, you need a constituency with over 40% Muslims else there is no winnability factor. In MP, votes are cast all on religious lines. The public has also gotten used to a BJP-led government. they haven't had a non-BJP government in a long time now.
Shams Ur Rehman Alavi to The Quint

Alavi observed that MP is as polarised as any other state in North India. In urban areas of Khandwa and Khargone, there is a huge chunk of Muslims. Visibility of Muslims is more in urban areas.

However, there is a 'bezaari', a disgust and boredom among Muslims when it comes to politics. he told The Quint.

Further explaining, he noted that to be successful in politics, one has to come from a political family or have some experience on the ground of strategies and tactics.

"The Muslim families that were known in politics, their children have not carried on in politics and chosen other professions, hence, the clout has gone. So, family politics has disintegrated. For instance, there used to be Arif Beg, a Congress MP, quite well-known in Bhopal. But his sons are not in politics," he added.

"People at the end of the day, identify with personalities," he added.

He also recalled even though Shiv Sena does not have a stronghold in MP, in the 1990s, while BJP and Congress, both fielded a Muslim candidate, the Hindu voters of Burhanpur seat made a Shiv Sena candidate win.

While Alavi stated that delimitation might have had an impact on 2-3 seats like Narela and Burhanpur where a Muslim candidate might have had a chance, Ali stated that delimitation changed the dynamics in several cities of MP prior to 2002.

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To see the impact of delimitation, look at a seat like Bhopal Central which inhabits middle class and fairly well-to-do Muslims But other areas and colonies which do not align or match with the Bhopal Central seat were added. So the constituencies are also designed in a way that one cannot win only on the basis of Muslim votes.
Anas Ali, founder of Barkatullah Youth Forum

According to him, Narela too used to have Muslims in majority, over 40% but over the years, it has reduced to around 30%. The Narela seat was merged with the new with the old city areas and that has impacted the votes.

As Rahul Gandhi now fervently claims that his party would carry out caste census in the state and rallies with "Jitni Abadi, Utna Haq," it's yet to be seen what proportional representation politically would look like for Muslims in the state.

Qureshi also stated that he has raked up this issue of representation to the Congress many times.

"Some of them support it and some don't, I'll continue speaking to them about not just representation (in legislature) but also employment, business, Army, among other issues. I'll continue this fight for Muslim representation as long as I can," he remarked.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  BJP   Congress    Muslims 

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