Compare the two scenarios:
With a modest vote share of 37 percent, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate had won Uttar Pradesh’s Rampur Lok Sabha seat in the 2014 general elections.
The constituency, with an estimated 50 percent Muslim voters, has a long tradition of electing a Muslim member of Parliament. However, of the 12 candidates in the fray then, seven were Muslims. All major parties, except the BJP, had nominated Muslim candidates, leading to a fragmentation of the votes of the minority community.
But that was 57 months ago when there were fancy layers of this worldly promise of jobs and eradication of black money on the relatively subdued Hindutva narrative.
Those were the days when the promise of ‘achhe din’ was too alluring to be ignored and the troll army was not as abusive and threatening as they have become now.
Cut to the 2018 by-election for the Kairana Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh. The Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) candidate, a Muslim, won the seat by securing nearly 52 percent of the votes polled. The seat is estimated to have 38 percent Muslim voters and the combined Opposition candidate perhaps got bulk of those votes and more, despite the presence of two other Muslim candidates in the fray.
The two examples given here indicate a shift, and a politically very significant one at that, in the way Muslims have been voting thus far.
While Muslims are seldom known to have voted as a bloc and 2014 was no exception, there is a growing consensus in the community that making their votes count is the only way forward, in the face of naked Hindutva aggression.
The latest name changing exercise, intended to do away with remnants of the composite culture with clear Islamic imprint, is one of the many manifestations of aggressive Hindutva.
Kairana Signalled Consolidation of Muslim Votes
Through Kairana, Muslims have perhaps signalled that voting together for a particular candidate/party is going to be a new normal.
If the consolidation of Muslim votes indeed becomes a norm, what impact will it have on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections?
Let us look at some data first. The country has 14 Muslim-majority Lok Sabha constituencies. While Assam has maximum four such constituencies, West Bengal and Jammu & Kashmir have three each, Kerala has two and Bihar has one. The Lakshadweep seat is yet another Muslim-majority constituency.
Additionally, there are 13 seats where Muslims constitute more than 40 percent of the population. If we combine the two, we can say that in as many as 27 Lok Sabha seats, Muslim votes alone can ensure victory of parties or candidates they wish to vote for.
Muslim Voters Alone Can Swing Outcome in at Least 50 Seats
According to reliable estimates, there are as many as 101 Lok Sabha seats where Muslims constitute more than 20 percent of the electorate. In fact, in nearly 50 Lok Sabha seats, Muslims make up for almost a third of total voters.
Despite such a social profile of Lok Sabha constituencies, the representation of Muslims in the lower house of Parliament touched a low of 22 in 2014.
According to a report by The Times of India, Muslim MPs got elected from only seven states and one union territory, and as many as 22 states and six union territories did not elect a single member of Parliament in the last general elections!
What explains the marginalisation despite significant numerical strength in a large number of constituencies?
My research shows: “An analysis of six recently constituted state Assemblies and the Lok Sabha shows that there has been a fall of nearly 35 percent in the number of Muslims elected. The states are Maharashtra, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi. Together they account for 968 Assembly seats. The number of MLAs belonging to the minority community in these states has dropped from 35 to 20 between the two elections. And the tally of Muslim MPs at 22 is at an all-time low in 62 years. Only the first general elections saw fewer Muslims entering the Lok Sabha.”
More Muslims Contesting Elections, Fewer Winning
My research showed that there was 5 percent increase in the number of Muslim candidates in 2014 compared to the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. And there was identical increase in case of Maharashtra Assembly elections the same year.
The broad point is that while more Muslims are entering the electoral fray, they are less likely to win now than what was the case. The marginalisation, therefore, was a result of fragmentation of Muslim votes.
But that was another era when some parties were blamed for their so-called minority appeasement (I don’t know why this phrase gained currency as numbers never suggested anything close to any appeasement).
Many renowned scholars had talked about the growing urge among Muslims to join the mainstream. That members of the minority community had begun to venture into rapidly growing businesses, which recommendations of the Sachchar Committee gave us enough hint on. The new-found economic empowerment, despite the government, further fragmented them politically and quite rightly so.
Now that there is systematic targeting of businesses they operate in, meat trade being a prominent one, there is a sense of despondency among members of the community.
And the growing chorus of denigrating anything and everything associated with Muslims has only added to the despondency. Hence, the realisation to make their votes count.
The ruling BJP and all proponents of aggressive Hindutva must wake up to this trend before it becomes too late.
While the elusive Hindu consolidation has never happened and unlikely to ever happen, if growing despondency forces Muslims to vote as a block, the BJP will find it extremely tough to come anywhere close to even a simple majority in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.