Worrying About Division of Secular votes – Smaller Outfits can Play Spoilsport
By A Staff Analyst
Bengaluru: Muslims in Karnataka have, through a series of initiatives, made it plain to the secular parties that they would favour any winnable candidate from a party committed to secular ethos. In fact, in separate meetings with the leaders of the Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular they made it abundantly clear that they should field candidates regardless of their religious affiliation and should not insist on a Muslim getting ticket in constituencies with a sizeable Muslim population.
Consolidation of votes for secular parties is a dominant concern this time round for Muslims as the BJP has mounted a major challenge to win Karnataka, first among the two major states to stay out of its grasp across the country (the other being Punjab). While any alliance or understanding between the Congress and the JD-S is beyond the realm of possibility, what is more worrying is that the smaller parties such as SDPI and the Hyderabad-based MIM may play spoilsport. The SDPI has been pressing the Congress to leave out six seats for it to contest. But the Congress has refused to budge. The SDPI candidates could muster only 97,000 votes across Karnataka last time. The only place where they came runner-up was in Narasimharaja Assembly segment in Mysuru city against Mr. Tanveer Sait, who is currently Minister for Primary and Secondary Education. However, the party candidates could jeopardize the prospects of secular parties by taking small slices of votes in some constituencies in south Karnataka.
As for the MIM, Mr. Owaisi’s loud rhetoric against the BJP rings hollow when he persists with fielding its candidates in several constituencies in Hyderabad-Karnataka region. The MIM is keen to give ticket to 15 to 20 candidates in this region. Though none of these would come anywhere near the victory, they could, by default, if not by design, help the BJP in its game-plan to divide the secular votes.
Analysis of results of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in March 2017 reveals that in ten constituencies, the Muslim candidates lost only by a margin of two to five thousand votes. In another 20 constituencies, Muslim candidates lost due to division of the community votes. Mr. Abusaleh Sharieff recently told a gathering in Bengaluru that if there were no multiple Muslim candidates in several constituencies, the community could have an additional 28 Muslim MLAs in the 405-member Assembly.
But in Karnataka the fear is that Muslim independents and smaller parties may split the secular votes. The worry here is not about the Muslim representation. The foremost concern is to solidify the secular votes behind the secular parties. It is in this context that some section allege BJP’s covert support to smaller parties to fulfill its grand designs.
Religious demography suggests that Muslims can influence the outcome in around 70 of the 224 Assembly segments. These include 1- Mangalore 50%; 2- Pulakeshinagar (old Frazer Town Area in Bangalore Cantt.) 49%; 3- Vijayapura (previously Bijapur) 47%; 4- Narasimharaja (Mysore city) 44%; 5-Sarvagnana Nagar 44%; 6- Chamrajpet 43%; 7- Gulbarga North 49.7%. Of these five elected a Muslim MLA in 2013 elections. Sarvagnana Nagar is represented by Mr. K. J. George, a cabinet minister in Siddramaiah cabinet. Pulakeshinagar has been reserved for the Scheduled castes.
In another 12 Assembly segments where Muslims comprise between 25 to 30% of the voters, some amount of effort would be needed to ensure their support for a secular party. These are 1- Kudachi, 2- Belgaum Uttara, 3- Humnabad in Bidar district, 4- Raichur city, 5- Bidar, 6- Shiggaon in Dharwar district, 7- Kolar, 8- Hebbal and 9- Shivajinagar (both in Bangalore city), 10- Jayanagar, 11- Ramanagram (close to Bangalore) and 12- Bidar South. Of these Muslims could win only in four places in 2008. Four of these went to BJP in 2008.
There are six seats where Muslim constitute between 20 and 25% of voters. Muslims constitute between 20 and 25% per cent of the voters and are recognized as the largest community. Here too their backing for a secular party could tilt their balance in favour of a secular party. These are 1- Raibagh (SC reserved); 2- Chincholi, 3-Sirsi, 4 Davangere, 5 Shivamogga, and 6-Tumakuru.
A fourth category of 30 Assembly segments is where the community voters range from 15 to 20% and can influence the trend in favour of a particular only in combination with another community with sizeable numbers.