Brijesh K. Patel
Voting day is approaching, and drama is at its peak, in Uttar Pradesh. A significant portion of polling in the State hinges on Muslim voters, and every party is looking to play the right cards and curry favour.
According to the 2011 Census, Muslims constitute 19.03% of UP population. In 74 out of the 403 assembly constituencies, Muslims constitute more than 30% electorate and 20% to 30% in the other 70 constituent assemblies. However, they are not the sole vote bank that need to be relied on by any political parties except Mohammad Ayub’s Peace Party, Rashtriya Ulama Council and Assadudin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) which are created solely by bank on Muslim Voters in the concerned constituencies.
Though, SP has its own vote bank consisting of the Yadavs, and the BSP has Dalits and Congress has Brahmins but all these parties need that coveted Muslim support to get over the line. UP is like a house of cards, and a party needs guile, a bit of luck to ensure that the government lasts for 5 years.
The above proposition is supplemented by the Economic and Political Magazine (EPW) has suggested that the myth of Muslim Vote bank persists despite the fact that Muslims have never voted en bloc. Yes, anyone will agree that there is some disparity, but it is the perception that matters, and in politics, perceptions matter and sometimes, they are the only things that only work.
The view expressed in EPW is one that is in conformity with voting trends dating back to the famous 1937 election, when Muslim League lost in UP. The Muslim Vote was split partly along ‘caste’ and sectarian lines with large section of ‘Ansari’ and ‘Shia’. Today, when Mukhtar Ansari has already joined BSP and when BSP has given 97 tickets to Muslims, he has succeeded in creating an invincible vote bank. This effectively means that BJP and other parties must try hard to win Shia Muslim votes and creating an impression of ‘Achhe Muslimo ki party’.
Though several unfortunate events have halted our nation’s secular tag, SP has managed to retain Muslim voters, and is a favoured party of the urban population. The rural population, however, tilts toward the BSP. Voters prefer these parties to the BJP, typically recognized as a Pro-Hindu, Anti-Muslim party. However, it is crucial to remember that the BJP has won several Muslim constituencies, as votes have been split between the BSP and the SP, leading to weak alliances.
Apart from caste, other strategic factors are often considered by voters. it has been argued by the famous political philosophers, that:
“It appears that when Muslims feel themselves a distinct and vulnerable minority, they avoid antagonizing or seek the protection of mainstream parties by voting as the general electorate does; they support the likely winner and governing party to be. In constituencies with high proportion of Muslims, however Muslims tend to vote for Muslim candidates.”
“Muslim voting preferences are localized and spatially variable across and within constituencies. En bloc voting matters in some areas but not in others- and in most, electorate choices depends much more on other factors other than on religious identity.”
A concern, and one that has a significant bearing on the result of the election, is that votes are fragmentized, and no united front collectively represents the interests of all Muslims. This has two problems: no party is conveniently able to win Muslim constituencies, but worse, that this enables the unity of the Muslim population to be broken. This provides a pathway for parties to cut off the minority from the democratic decision making process. Voters must remember to this as they take to the polls. The contention is simple, the electorate without a doubt is fragmented, and the Muslims are a trump card. The modus operandi of the parties have been looking at the situation from a very self serving perspective, it’s high time to view the same from a different looking glass.