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Muslims’ Political Survival Through Ghettos Worries the Majority

Ruling parties can weaken unfavourable communities through manipulating boundaries of constituencies.

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Amidst rumours of changing the demographic set up of J&K through the abrogation of articles 35A and 370, a study has demonstrated that minority ghettos are essential for the minority communities’ political survival.

A new research, published in the European Journal of Minority Studies, has investigated the effect of minority population’s concentration in a locality (clusterisation) upon the election outcome in a polarised nation. According to the research, in a divided electorate, ghettoization and subsequent consolidation of minority votes, result in an initial increase, followed by a marginal decrease in the number of elected minority representatives.

This is the overall trend that highly polarised electorates exhibit. This simply means that in nations where people vote for candidates from their own community only, a moderately-high amount of ghetto formation is favourable to minority representation, while low “clusterisation” is gravely detrimental to it.

In the original paper, the research was conducted in those states of the USA, where various surveys indicated a high degree of alienation and distrust between Blacks and Whites. The same mathematical model can be applied to study India, given how interfaith alienation has sharply arisen during the past few years.

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What Study Says About Ghetto Mentality During Elections

The study, conducted by Pitamber Kaushik and Shivam Kumar, assumed a constant 20% makeup of the population by the minority community, and assumed the nation to be bicommunitarian – only 2 communities exist. The majority comprised 80%, while the minority composed the rest.

It is assumed that, because of extreme intercommunal rift and mutual mistrust, candidates belonging to one community or identity will only vote for the candidates who belong to their community, explicitly favour them, or at least, identify with their cause(s). In other words, if no minority candidate is available, the candidate who, hands-down exhibits a clear preference with minority issues, shall be accounted for.

The research showed that, in a polarised electorate, i.e. a nation with a high degree of alienation between its majority and minority community, an even spread-out of the minority population, throughout the country can prove electorally fatal to them.

In simpler terms, if minorities are well-intermixed in the population inhabiting a nation, this even dispersion can result in them being obliterated in the election. Consequently, in bipolar nations, ghettoization of minorities is actually conducive to their electoral survival.

Equitable distribution of minorities among all, or even most constituencies can mean that negligible to no members of their community qualify for the Parliament.
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Muslim Ghettos in India

Indian muslims have been frequently observed to live in segregated ghettos as ‘mohallas’ and secluded ‘bastis’, regions often excluded from development, unfrequented by the mainstream, neglected by the administration, and stigmatised and ignored by the elite. The authorities and the welfare system remain indirectly aloof from these areas, leading to a socioeconomic disparity from rest of the settlement.

Typically impoverished, squalid, crammed, unfavourably-located, and educationally backward, living in these areas has also shown a strengthening of mutual stereotyping due to lack of cross-cultural interactions, and reduction of opportunities.

Riots, notably those in Gujarat, Bhagalpur, and Ayodhya have led to a massive swell in ghettos. Metropolises are no different, with Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata having sprawling ghettos. Nevertheless, India still has a relatively moderate ghettoization, at least on broad terms. There are 46 constituencies, out of 545, that have more than 30% muslim population.

Note that this only applies to nations with a high degree of intercommunal animosity, not truly harmonized nations. Societies where both communities have coexisted for a long time but have historically recently been alienated are ideal examples of this electoral decimation.

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Likely Reasons For Low Legislative Representation of Muslims

High alienation means that each community will only vote for candidates of their community. This exclusivity works in favour of minorities in countries where they have been recently introduced to. Consider the example of an East or Central European country where migration has been recent, and the majority and minority didn’t have a long history of shared society. Hence, the newly arrived minority will apprehensively stay close to each other and form clusters, rather than dispersing throughout the existent populace. In such a scenario, the minority will, by and large get a fair and proportionate representation.

However, the minorities in countries like India, which have witnessed recent spurts in alienation, will invariably suffer negligible representation. The 2019 general elections afforded only 29 muslim MPs, a meagre 5.3% representation for a community which constitutes about 16% of the population. This was still a considerable improvement over the count in the outbound Assembly, which only had 23 Muslim lawmakers, a mere 4.2%. This numeral was a humble 2% in the first ever general election, and rose to its highest ever in 1980 – a good 10%, which was at a stretch, in harmony with the Muslim population percentage during that time.

Ruling parties can weaken unfavourable communities through manipulating boundaries of constituencies.
Muslim women show their fingers marked with indelible ink after casting votes for the Assembly elections, outside a polling station in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, Wednesday, Nov 28, 2018.

Equitable distribution of minorities among all, or even most constituencies can mean that negligible to no members of their community qualify for the Parliament. In similar fashion, concentration of minority voters in certain constituencies, mean they emerge sureshot victorious in them, and might even exceed proportionate representation. This maximum typically occurs at moderate to moderately-high levels of localisation.

The results of the study clearly depicted a rough bias in favour of higher victories at higher localisations. A fair representation, i.e. a legislative composition corresponding to the actual demographic composition was not achieved until a fairly high mild ghettoization was achieved.

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Will Indian Government Manipulate the Boundaries of Constituencies To Weaken Unfavourable Communities or Ensure Fair Representation?

In retrospect of consistently low muslim representation in its parliament, India needs to review its constitutional draw-up. Either constitutional redrawing, or special provisions are needed to ensure proportionate minority community representation. This can be achieved by reserving certain constituencies for minority candidates, along similar lines as SC/ST reserved constituencies. Such a policy would ensure that natural intermingling no longer constituted a deterrent to electoral representation.

Ghettoization ought not be seen by minority voters as an incentive to bolster their voice. This would contribute to further polarisation, thus initiating a fatal cycle undermining mutual trust, fraternity and intercommunal solidarity, a pillar of democracy.

In light of this recent research, which constitutes a useful guideline in constituency drawing, the government should rethink its electoral structure and take steps to prevent gerrymandering. Through this malpractice of manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency, ruling parties can compromise the electoral strength of unfavourable communities. It has been alleged that the BJP government’s Kashmir plan involves this undermining of muslim votes.

The Indian government must take steps directed at optimising the minority representation, taking cue and reference from statistical models, to ascertain a ‘safe goldilocks zone’ - a sweet-spot, whereby minorities get a guaranteed ratio of representation, reasonably close to their actual population percentage.

(The author is a political scientist, a researcher and specialist in minority issues, and a blogger. 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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Topics:  Delhi   Jammu and Kashmir   Elections 

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