Will Muslim Voters Still Choose AAP Over BJP & Congress in Delhi?
Jama Masjid, Old Delhi. Image used for representational purposes.
Jama Masjid, Old Delhi. Image used for representational purposes.(Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons) 

Will Muslim Voters Still Choose AAP Over BJP & Congress in Delhi?

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  • Who will the 25 lakh Muslims of Delhi vote for? Will they again repose their faith, en masse, in Arvind Kejriwal and AAP, like they did in 2015?
  • The Muslim vote comes to around 18 percent of Delhi’s electorate, even though, the 2011 Census states that Delhi’s population was 1.6 crores with the Muslim population forming 12.78%.
  • During the anti-CAA protests at Jamia, Shaheen Bagh, Seelampur etc, CM Kejriwal was conspicuous in his absence. While his wariness is understandable, it has done little to endear him to Delhi’s Muslims.
  • BJP had been making a huge outreach to the Pasmanda Muslims in Delhi since 2015, and its efforts bore fruit in 2017 MCD elections, where it damaged AAP in Muslim-majority wards.
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Challakere Kareem (CK) Jaffer Sharief, Union Railway Minister in the Narasimha Rao government, had presciently remarked: “Bharat ke Mussulman ko mandi ke maal ki tarah liya jaata hai”. He meant to say that India’s Muslim population is treated as a ‘vote-bank’ by most political parties; and Muslims too, have reinforced this notion by often resorting to ‘tactical’ voting as a community.

But that was 1991. This is 2020. It would be fallacious and pretentious to assume that Muslims, whether in Delhi or elsewhere, still vote as a single bloc.

Delhi, on 8 February 2020, is going to see a triangular contest between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), and Indian National Congress (Congress). Who will the 25 lakh Muslims of Delhi vote for? Will they again repose their faith, en masse, in Arvind Kejriwal and AAP, like they did in 2015? Or will some of them migrate back to their traditional sinecure and vote for the Congress?

Also Read : Delhi Polls: Can CAA Cause Muslim Shift The Way Babri Did in 1993?

How Delhi’s Muslims Vote

As the situation stands today, Delhi’s Muslims are likely to majorly vote for the Congress, with a small (yet discernible) number, even favouring the BJP. AAP might potentially be the biggest loser on this front.

To fully grasp this counter-intuitive logic, it would be prudent to understand some key fundamental factors that drive the voting behaviour and pattern of Delhi’s Muslims.

The Muslim vote comes to around 18 percent of Delhi’s electorate — a sizeable number, even though, the 2011 Census states that the population of Delhi was 1.6 crores with the Muslim population forming 12.78 percent. However, the present population of Delhi is almost 3 crores, and this is the figure being followed by all planning agencies in Delhi, and not the 2011 one.

Similarly, there has been a corresponding increase in both the number of voters and Muslim voters, by extension. Today, the number of voters in Delhi is at 1.4 crores, and Muslim voters are at around 25 lakhs, which works out to roughly 18 percent.

Of course, there can be no publicly available reference for the present figures until the new Census is conducted. But, it is also true that none of the parastatal agencies of Delhi follow the old figures.

There are 10 (out of 70) Muslim majority assembly constituencies, such as, Ballimaran and Matia Mahal in Old Delhi; Seelampur, Babarpur, and Mustafabad — all re-settlement colonies in the Trans-Yamuna area; Okhla, et al. In 2015, AAP swept all these 10 constituencies, with vote-shares, usually, north of 50 percent, barring Mustafabad, where BJP won over the AAP in what was essentially a dead-heat contest.

Also Read : Delhi Elections: What Cards Do Kejriwal & BJP Hold?

What Does the Muslim Vote in Delhi Depend On?

Delhi’s political history tells us that the Muslim vote is based on two factors: a) Muslim-centric issues, b) sect and caste divisions.

Muslims, like other voters, do vote on bread-and-butter issues such as electricity, water, health, education, development. However, more often than not, issues (prickly or otherwise) which specifically affect the community, assume primacy over quotidian issues.

Kejriwal understands this, and just before the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, precisely to cash in on this sentiment, he announced a hike in the salaries of imams and muezzins in Delhi.

But his effort produced diminishing returns. Not because he was wrong in wooing Muslims in such an overt, religious manner — all political leaders of India have done that, still do that, and will continue to do that well into the future — but because he missed the woods for the trees.

Kejriwal failed to understand that Delhi is no Srinagar.

One need only see the sermon delivered by the mirwaiz every jumma to understand the massive influence imams exercise over the populace in Srinagar. However, in Delhi, at the height of the Emergency, Jama Masjid’s Shahi Imam was heckled by people — the influence of imams has been on a constant and irreversible decline. And this explains why Kejriwal failed in his endeavour to reach out to Muslims through this route.

Also Read : Is Delhi BJP Helping Arvind Kejriwal Win His Second Term as CM?

Will Kejriwal’s Absence From Anti-CAA Protests Impact Muslim Vote?

Second, during the present anti-CAA protests at Jamia, Shaheen Bagh, Seelampur etc., the chief minister was conspicuous in his absence — not because he was apathetic but because he did not want people (read: Hindus) of Delhi to hyphenate him with these ‘minority’ protests.

While his wariness is understandable, in light of BJP’s national march on the twin planks of Hindutva and nationalism, it has done little to endear him to Delhi’s Muslims.

Instead, what stood out were Priyanka Gandhi’s march at India Gate and Congress’s vocal stand in favour of Muslims — both by the national leadership as well as local Muslim leaders. This has, again endeared Congress to Delhi’s Muslim community, and with Congress heavyweights like Haroon Yusuf, Mateen Ahmed, Shoaib Iqbal, and Asif Muhammad Khan in the fray we might as well see a lopsided consolidation of Muslim votes in favour of Congress in February.

The Shia & Sunni Muslim Question

First, Muslims in Delhi, as elsewhere in India and around the world, belong primarily to two sects: Shia and Sunni. Though the exact numbers are hard to come by, the majority of Muslims in Delhi are Sunni, with Shiites making up a minuscule percentage. Essentially, Shiites are a minority within a minority.

Since 2014, BJP has assiduously and effectively capitalised on the natural and inherent differences between Sunnis and Shias to consolidate votes of the Shiites in their favour. It’s not mere coincidence that the Union Minister of Minority Affairs (Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi) is a Shia and not a Sunni as has always been in India; the only Muslim minister in Yogi Adityanath’s cabinet is a Shia; Muslim vice-chancellors in government universities across India are Shiites; and Shia clerics like Maulana Syed Kalbe Jawad are frequently and publicly seen hobnobbing with BJP’s top brass.

In Delhi, over the past 5 years, while AAP and Congress were busy agonising and fighting over the Sunni vote-bank, BJP quietly whisked away the Shias.

Factoring In Muslim ‘Caste System’

Second, many assume or claim that there exists no caste system within the Sunni community. But in reality, the community is deeply-entrenched in the caste system, and it is this caste system which often determines voting patterns and not the ‘conscience’ of the community as the liberal commentators would like to believe. The caste system among the Sunnis is as follows:

  • Ashraf (Privileged Caste): considered to be descendants of Prophet Muhammad, his family, Mughal rulers, etc.
  • Ajlaf: considered to be involved in occupations like tailoring, washing clothes, hair-cutting, etc. Their status is roughly equivalent to that of OBCs among Hindus.
  • Arzal: considered to be involved in occupations like manual scavenging, cleaning, etc. Their status is roughly equivalent to that of SCs in Hindus.

Even though, out of the total Muslim population in Delhi, around 60 percent belong to Ajlaf and Arzal castes, the Ashrafs, due to their education and elite status in society, have had a larger representation in Delhi’s politics. Nitish Kumar was perhaps the first political leader in India who effectively wooed the Pasmanda (collective noun used for Ajlaf and Arzal) Muslims, to break Lalu Prasad Yadav’s traditional Ashrafi politics, and won both the 2005 and 2010 elections in Bihar with a landslide.

BJP’s ‘Pasmanda Muslim’ Outreach à la Nitish Kumar

BJP, taking a leaf out of Nitish Kumar’s playbook, had been making a huge outreach to the Pasmanda Muslims in Delhi since 2015, and its efforts bore fruit in the MCD elections of 2017 where it fatally damaged AAP in Muslim-majority wards. For example, in Zakir Nagar ward (currently in the news for being the hot spot of the anti-CAA protests), Congress got 11,000 votes, AAP got 9,700, and BJP’s Pasmanda candidate got 2,000 votes.

9,700 + 2,000 = 11,700 — which is greater (if marginally) than the Congress’s 11,000.

Clearly, the BJP was successful in fragmenting the Muslim votes, to its advantage. In the 2020 elections too, the BJP is likely to be successful in preventing a consolidation of Muslim votes in favour of one party.

(Pranav Jain is an independent columnist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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