Yes Wayanad Seat is 45% Muslim. But Demography Is Irrelevant There
Demography might be the last concern for people living in the picturesque Wayanad in the northern part of Kerala. But this became the main issue for several politicians and journalists, after it was announced that Congress president Rahul Gandhi would be contesting from the seat in addition to his bastion Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.
On Monday, 1 April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused Gandhi of contesting from Wayanad out of “fear of Hindu anger”. This is what he said at a rally in Wardha, Maharashtra.
This comes a day after several politicians and journalists accused Rahul Gandhi of contesting from Wayanad allegedly because Hindus are in a minority in the seat.
Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi tweeted a clarification citing census data that Hindus are 49.48 percent of Wayanad district’s population while Muslims are 28.65 percent.
This data was used by several Congress supporters on Sunday but the issue of Wayanad’s demographics didn’t end, with PM Modi raising it in his rally on Monday.
The entire debate raises two questions:
- What actually is the religion demographics of Wayanad Lok Sabha seat?
- Does it really matter as an issue?
Let us look at the first issue in some detail.
Are Hindus A Minority in Wayanad?
While Priyanka Chaturvedi has provided accurate census data on the religion demographics in Wayanad district, but this is only one part of Wayanad Lok Sabha seat where Rahul Gandhi is contesting.
There is no official census data for religion across Lok Sabha constituencies. The units for the collection of census data are villages, towns, Taluks and districts, not Lok Sabha seats.
Wayanad comprises seven Assembly constituencies:
- Mananthavady, Sulthanbathery and Kalpetta in Wayanad district
- Thiruvambadi in Kozhikode district
- Ernad, Nilambur and Wandoor in Malappuram district
However, this doesn’t help much as there is no religion-wise census data at the Assembly constituency either. For that we would have to apply taluk and district level census data to the constituency level. From that point of view, Wayanad Lok Sabha seat consists of four different areas:
- Entire Wayanad district, as represented by Mananthavady, Sulthanbathery and Kalpetta Assembly segments.
- Entire Nilambur Taluk in Malappuram district, as represented by Nilambur and Wandoor Assembly segments.
- Part of Ernad Taluk in Malappuram district, as represented by Ernad Assembly segment
- Part of Kozhikode Taluk in Kozhikode district as represented by Thiruvambadi Assembly segment.
According to the Election Commission data from the 2016 Kerala Assembly elections, the three Wayanad district seats - Mananthavady, Sulthanbathery and Kalpetta account for only about 44 percent of the total number of voters in the Lok Sabha seat. Around 43 percent voters are actually in Malappuram district Taluks like Nilambur and Ernad. Around one eighth of the voters from Wayanad Lok Sabha seat are in Kozhikode Taluk in the district of the same name.
Malappuram is one of the few Muslim majority districts in India. According to the 2011 Census, Muslims account for a little over 70 percent of the population in the district. Therefore it is natural that the Malappuram Taluks in Wayanad seat - Nilambur and Ernad - have a higher proportion of Muslims.
According to the 2011 census, Muslims account for 57.8 percent of the population in Nilambur Taluk - that is the Nilambur and Wandoor Assembly seats - while Hindus and Christians are 33.5 percent and 8.5 percent respectively.
On the other hand in the three Wayanad district seats - Mananthavady, Sulthanbathery and Kalpetta - Hindus are 48.5 percent while Muslims and Christians are 28.7 percent and 21.3 percent respectively.
Calculating the religion based demographics of Ernad and Thiruvambady seats is a bit more complicated. Both are part of Talukas and there is no exact religion-based data at that level. The only way out is to take the percentages from the Taluka level and apply them at the Assembly constituency level. This could potentially lead to minor errors as not all parts of the entire Taluka would have the same demographic profile.
However, even if we acknowledge a possible error at that level, we can still make an estimate about the demographic profile of the entire constituency. Based on this calculation, Hindus account for a little over 41 percent of the electorate in the Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency, Muslims account for a little less than 45 percent and Christians account for 13 percent.
Therefore, it is likely that Wayanad Lok Sabha seat has more Muslims than Hindus.
But Does Religion Matter?
The simple answer to this is - no. In Kerala, both the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front get support from all communities.
However, UDF gets a larger chunk of Muslim and Christian votes while the LDF gets a greater proportion of votes from the OBC Ezhava community. But community-based support for the two coalitions isn’t watertight.
The only time when religion does play a role is with respect to the BJP. The party has remained an anathema for Muslims and Christians in Kerala, even though it has made some inroads among Nairs and Ezhavas in addition to its traditional supporters among numerically small but prosperous communities like Konkanis and Tamil Brahmins.
Therefore the BJP isn’t much of a player in Wayanad and it is not surprising that the party has decided not to field a candidate from there. It has instead chosen to support Thushar Vellappally, president of its ally the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena, a party that is dominated by Ezhavas.
The “Hindus are a minority” narrative is likely to be a non-starter in Wayanad and there are many other issues that matter to the voters. For instance, tribals in Wayanad district have been demanding their right over forest land, that has allegedly been taken over by “settlers”. The settlers belong to every religious community and there is no communal angle to it.
So while the BJP may not be entirely wrong as far as the demography of Wayanad Lok Sabha seat is concerned, it has tried to politicise divisions that don’t exist.
On the other hand, the Congress’ spokespersons and supporters should focus on the issues of Wayanad rather than provide misleading data to disprove the BJP’s claims.