Shrinking Political Space
MUSLIM REPRESENTATION IN LOKSABHA
By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
Will the Muslim representation in the 17th Lok Sabha go up? This question may be the uppermost in the minds of every individual from the community.
People like Jaffer Sharief, Kamaluddin Ahmed and Farook Maricar were elected from non-Muslim dominant seats. It is therefore necessary that Muslims produce leaders who represent diverse professional interests and gain votes from other communities.
In the elections for the 16th LokSabha in 2014, only 22 Muslims were elected. Surprisingly, not a single Muslim could reach the Lower House of the Parliament from Uttar Pradesh, a state with 19% Muslim population which had been consistently sending six to eight MPs. It was only in 2018 by election in the state that Tabassum Hasan was elected from Kairana following death of BJP MP Hukum Singh elected during 2014 General Elections. Hasan was elected on the ticket of Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and was supported by the Samajwadi Party and the BahujanSamaj Party besides the Indian National Congress. Uttar Pradesh has 80 seats in the LokSabha.
Surprisingly, even in the traditional Muslim seat of Rampur, which has 55% Muslim electorate, a BJP member was elected in 2014. Similar was the case of Moradabad, where Muslims constitute 54% voters. Nagina, another seat in UP has 53% Muslims, but it is reserved for the Scheduled Castes.
All this talk of Muslims getting elected from the Muslim majority seats does not carry much meaning in a secular democracy. A capable and competent Muslim politician should be able to contest from anywhere. But the fact is that such has been the polarization of voters in the wake of BJP’s communal campaign in the Indo-Gangetic plains and the states of UP, Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand, that the space for secular choice has diminished severely.
But even more painfully, the Muslim votes even if they are formidable, could go waste if multiple Muslim candidates are fielded in such constituencies. This was perhaps the case in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar during the 2014 elections. For instance, in Rampur, BJP’s Dr. Nepal Singh was elected by garnering 3.58 lakh votes. Facing him were three Muslim candidates i.e., Naseer Ahmed Khan of SP (3.35 lakh votes); Nawab Kazim Ali Khan of Congress (1.56 lakh); and, Akbar Hussain of BSP (81,000).
Similar was the situation in Moradabad where Kunwar Sarvesh Kumar Singh of BJP was elected with 4.85 lakh votes. Three Muslim candidates i.e., Dr. S. T. Hassan of SP got 3.97 lakh votes. BJP’s Haji Md. Yacoob polled 1.60 lakh and another Muslim Md. Irfan polled 25,000 votes. Thus, Muslim candidates together polled more votes than the lone BJP candidate, but did not result in their translation into a seat.
All that could be said is that Muslim votes getting crystallizing in the election of a Muslim MP is dependent upon alliance among secular parties. This is somewhat the situation in two principal Hindi states of UP and Bihar.
Elsewhere, Muslims form the majority of voters in Malappuram (73%) and Ponnani (68%) in Kerala which have consistently elected Muslim League candidates. The League is part of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the state. It has been pressing for one more seat, but so far the UDF has stonewalled its plea. However, a Muslim is generally elected also on a Congress ticket from elsewhere in Kerala.
West Bengal has four Muslim majority seats i.e., Murshidabad (71%), Jangipura (66%), Berhampur (65%) and Bashirhat (51%). A couple of more seats have over 40% Muslim votes. The Trinamool Congress currently and earlier the Congress has been fielding Muslims alone from these seats. Assam also has at least two of 14 seats with Muslim majority i.e., Dhubri and Karimganj. Karimganj is however reserved for the Scheduled Castes. Dhubri has been electing a Muslim MP since 1952. Currently, BadurddinAjmal of AIUDF is representing the constituency. An alliance with the Congress would have enabled at least four Muslims to reach the LokSabha from Assam. But the Congress still not keen to shed its arrogances towards the regional outfits.
As for Hyderabad, it has consistently elected the lone Muslim representative of the Majlis e Ittihadul Muslimeen (MIM) since 1971. Gradually, Muslim representation from Telengana and its predecessor state Andhra Pradesh has shrunk to a single Muslim MP. Among the other constituencies, Lakshadweep sends a Muslim MP. Bihar too has potential for four or five Muslim MPs. But generally two or three succeed to appear in the Lok Sabha.
It is now for Muslims to think if they would seek representation on the basis of their religious identity. During the last few elections, there has been no Muslim representation from Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Odisha. Tamil Nadu has off and on sent one Muslim MP. Odisha has never elected a Muslim MP. Rajasthan had elected one Capt. Ayub Khan twice from Jhunjhunu. Jammu and Kashmir is a different case altogether as it is a battleground for local political parties such as PDP of Mahbooba Mufti and National Conference and can elect Muslim MPs who represent the regional interest rather than being representative of the mainstream Muslim community.
There were times when Muslim MPs such as Kamaluddin Ahmed (Warangal), C. K. Jaffer Sharief (Bangalore) and Farook Maricar (Puducherry) were elected from constituencies that were not Muslim dominant. Even states like Madhya Pradesh elected ace Hockey player Zafar Iqbal and Ghufran Azam during the 1970s. It is therefore worth considering if the community could produce leaders who will represent varied professional interests rather than being identity specific, which leads to shrinking political space for the community.