Muslims in India form nearly 14% of the country’s 1.3 billion population with the capacity to overturn results in 145 parliamentary seats. Yet political parties during the current poll campaign showed no enthusiasm to woo them fearing right-wing Hindu reaction.
As the 2019 election marathon in India enters its final phase, political parties have been fearing that courting the largest minority, would cost them the majority Hindu vote bank, in the face of the worst-ever communal polarization and division.
The Muslim electorate in the past formed a backbone for the larger secular consolidation.
Major political parties would approach student leaders for electoral favors not only at world-famous Aligarh Muslim University but also Muslim religious-cultural organizations and the Imam of Delhi’s historic Jama Masjid. But no one reached out to them during this year’s campaign.
Leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi rue that Muslims do not vote for them. Therefore, their cadres find no attraction to visit their localities to seek votes. Secular parties like the Congress and other regional parties, on the other hand, have taken their vote for granted — expecting them to vote in their favor — to keep the BJP away.
– Muslim kingmakers
The 180-million-strong Muslim community constitute the majority in the state of Jammu and in Kashmir, and account for one-fourth of the population in the northeastern states of Assam and West Bengal and also in the southern province of Kerala.
In the electorally crucial state of Uttar Pradesh – which alone accounts for a fifth of the 543 seats in the lower house of Indian parliament — Muslims constitute 18% of the population.
According to a polling agency, the Centre for Voting Opinion and Trends in Election Research, also known as C-Voter, there are 145 parliamentary seats, where Muslim votes constitute 11-20%, which makes it significant to overturn results in the wake of multiple candidates and smaller margins. In 35 seats, they constitute more than 35% of the electorate.
Despite, this power, their weakening political clout could be gauged by the fact that the BJP has fielded just seven Muslim candidates in the ongoing general election. It is contesting 437 seats in the 545-member lower house of parliament. The opposition Congress, however, has fielded 32 Muslims out of 423 candidates.
Yashwant Deshmukh, head of C-Voter, believes that Muslims could be a significant factor in roughly 70 seats.
– Insecurity and ideological onslaught
Asked why Muslims have been voting against the BJP, Maulana Shahid al Hussaini, rector of Mazahir Uloom Madrassa in the western Indian city of Saharanpur, told Anadolu Agency that it was not just due to the insecurity that has ingrained in Muslim minds, but to prevent the ideological onslaught launched on Muslim traditions.
Mazahir Uloom is an old historic seminary established in 1866. Its library is a treasure trove of ancient Hindu and Muslim manuscripts.
“A situation has been created to put up Hindu majority population against the Muslim minority. We are being demonized by media with the active support of the current government,” he said.
Factchecker.in, which tracks hate crimes in India, reported that of a total of 79 fatal incidents recorded since 2009, 76 occurred in the past five years.
Hussaini added he did not feel threatened by communal riots or hate crimes, but the attempts of demonization and attack on Islamic Sharia law.
Referring to a law approved by the lower house of parliament early this year making instant divorce or triple talaq a criminal offense, he said the government did not bother to consult even Islamic Fiqa [jurisprudence] Academy of India, before drafting such a law. This Academy was chosen by South Africa and many other countries to formulate their personal laws.
“Several government decisions have created a difficult and unnerving atmosphere for Muslims,” he said.
He believes that a decision by various provincial governments to introduce compulsory Surya Namaskar (sun worship) in schools, the introduction of yoga in the curriculum, Ghar Wapasi (forcible conversion to Hinduism) and encroachments on Muslim Wakf properties are issues of concern.
“Introducing Surya Namaskar compulsory in schools goes against our religion. We cannot worship anything except our life giver. The sun is not worshipped by us,” he said.
The Ghar Wapasi program has been launched by the right-wing forces against Muslims and Christians.
At another seminary in the city of Bareilly, revered by Sunni Barelvi Muslims, Mohammad Mannan Raza Khan, says the situation was being created to tell Muslims quietly that you are no more needed in the country.
– No choice for community
The leading figure of Deoband town that houses world-famous seminary of Darul Uloom Deoband, Maulana Nadeemul Wajdi says there was hardly any choice for the community, in the wake of statements issued by the BJP leaders.
He rues that instead of voting on issues related to the development and their welfare, Muslims are forced to vote with an insecure mindset.
“Muslims have been pushed into such a situation, where BJP knows, they will not vote, so they hardly campaign in our localities and have nothing to offer. At the same time, these secular parties, know, they [Muslims] cannot go anywhere, so they also don’t bother about our progress,” said Wajdi.
In the run-up to the 2014 polls, Prime Minister Modi had promised progress for all. In an interaction, he wanted Muslims to hold the Holy Quran in one hand and the computer in the other.
But the Muslim intellectuals say the prime minister did not walk the talk over the past five years. Even his decision to ban high currency notes also hit the Muslims, who are mostly small traders and artisans.
Uttar Pradesh province for over centuries had famed itself as a “skill state” with its every region specializing in a particular proficiency. The handloom skill of Mubarakpur in Azamgarh district, furniture, and wood carving in Saharanpur, horn craft of Sambhal, brassware of Moradabad, glassware of Firozabad, carpet weaving in Mirzapur, lock manufacturing in Aligarh, knives, and cap making in Rampur and zardozi works of Bareilly are calling for attention.
These trades mostly held by Muslims were once the backbone of the country’s economy.
– Urdu promotion
Admitting electoral animosity of Muslims, BJP leaders on the ground said the community needs a deep introspection for repeatedly siding with their “secular tormentors”.
“We were not in power for the past 60 years. It was these secular parties, whom they vote repeatedly, who are responsible for their economic plight,” says Thakur Kunwar Brajesh, a BJP leader, who represents Deoband in the Uttar Pradesh provincial assembly.
A government official also dispels the notion that the Modi government is anti-minority.
Auqil Ahmed, director of the government-owned National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL), says that the BJP government had increased budget for the promotion of Urdu language by 88%, much more than what the previous secular Congress-led government used to allocate.
Urdu is believed to be culturally linked to Muslims in South Asia. Prime Minister Modi increased allocations to 3.3 billion rupees [$47 million] from 1.7 billion rupees [$25 million].
– Hindu right-wing not always hostile
But the Hindu right wing was not always hostile to Muslims.
Tracing the history, professor Aktarul Wasey, vice-chancellor of Maulana Azad University, Jodhpur, says that the BJP started distancing itself from Muslims after 1984. It decided to adopt a hardline Hindutva stand when its strength in the parliament was reduced to just two parliamentary seats in 1984 polls.
The party’s earlier incarnation Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS) had several Muslims as its members and at top positions. Noted Urdu literati Imdad Sabri had represented the BJS in Delhi Metropolitan Council and rose to become its mayor.
Maulana Ikhlaq Hussain Qasmi, a cleric and writer, was vice-president of Delhi unit of the BJS. Angry at the atrocities heaped during emergency days (1975-77), by the Congress government led by Indira Gandhi, Muslims had overwhelmingly voted for the Jan Sangh in 1977 elections
Wasey believes that there was the case for introspection for both the Muslims as well as the BJP.
“The party should introspect, why a large section of the population is afraid of it and why its leaders are creating an atmosphere of fear in the nation that not only Muslims but even the secular Hindu get scared,” he said.
The architect of Northern Ireland Peace Process, Lord Paterson, once said even a microscopic 2% population can become a perpetual national security problem if it feels disempowered and left out from the system.
Similarly, there is a case for Indian Muslims to come out of siege mentality and political parties as well, to seek votes on the issues of development and progress of the country, rather allowing a community to walk toward polling booths with an insecure mind.