Asghar Ali Engineer
(Secular Perspective, Sept. 1-15)
The coming Lok Sabha elections and legislative assembly elections in some states are very crucial for the Indian democracy. Every student of Indian democracy knows that minorities play very important role in Indian elections, particularly Muslims who constitute around 13 to 14% of Indian population. Mr.Sharad Pawar, the then Congress leader and now the head of the Nationalist Congress, had publicly acknowledged that the Congress would not have lost the Parliamentary elections if the Muslims had voted for it. He had also appealed to the Muslims to forgive the Congress and begin to support it.
It is ironical that the same Pawar who has split the Congress is now asking the Muslims not to vote for the Congress and instead vote for his nationalist Congress. One thing to seriously worry about during this general elections is that secular vote is getting repeatedly split and joining the BJP-led alliance. Even the 'champions of secularism and sworn enemies of BJP like Ram Bilas Paswan from Bihar and the Chief Minister J.H. Patel of Karnataka are now making bee line, with begging bowl, to join the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Almost all erstwhile socialists have betrayed secularism and supported the forces of communalism. The minorities are greatly concerned about this development.
The situation in U.P. and Maharashtra in particular would be very crucial for victory of secular forces. In U.P. the Mulayamsingh factor and in Maharashtra the Pawar factor will play very important role. Both the Samajwadi party (SP) of Mulayamsingh and the Congress are competing with each other for the Muslim vote. The dalit vote will mainly go to the Bahujan Samaj party of Kanshi Ram and backward caste votes will be split between the SP and the BJP, Mulayamsingh mainly claiming the Yadav vote and the BJP the other backward castes' votes along with the upper caste votes.
I talked to many Muslim leaders and other secularists in U.P. about the likely trend of the Muslim vote in U.P. The estimates vary. Some maintain that the bulk of Muslim vote will go to the Congress, some feel that the Muslim vote will be split fifty fifty between the Congress and the SP of Mulayam Singh. Very few Muslims are likely to vote for BSP. But if there is alliance between the Congress and the BSP (which seems unlikely as of now) the bulk of the Muslims are likely to vote for the alliance and in that case both the BJP and Mulayam Singh will suffer serious set back.
The Brahmins are supposedly very angry with the BJP and many observers of the election scene in U.P. maintain that the Brahmins are keenly watching the Muslim voting trend. If they are convinced that the bulk of the Muslim vote will go to the Congress, they (the Brahmins) would also like to vote for it. The Brahmins, these observers maintain, would only back the winning horse. Whosoever the Muslims vote in U.P. one thing is very clear that they seem to be very angry with Mulayamsingh on two counts: one, Mulayamsingh is being accused by Muslims for not having done anything to ameliorate the condition of the Muslims. Even in the police recruitment which is vital for the security of Muslims mostly Yadavs were recruited and very few Muslims were taken. Second, he betrayed formation of the secular government at the Centre after fall of the BJP Government. Thus one thing is very certain that Mulayamsingh cannot take the Muslim vote for granted any more as before.
There is no visible trend of Muslims voting for the Congress in U.P. though their alienation from the Congress is not as intense as it was before. But the Muslims have yet not brought themselves about to vote en masse for the Congress. Though Salman Khurshid has been made UPCC president he has not been able to win over the hearts of the Muslims. A veteran Muslim Congressman told me that many Muslims even look at him with suspicion. One more opinion is that the Muslims will not vote en masse for any political party but may vote tactically to defeat the BJP- led alliance candidates. This seems to be largely true. The BSP has given tickets to Muslim candidates in proportion to their population in U.P. This is very healthy trend and would certainly entice some Muslim voters in its favour. If the Congress also follows this trend it will be able to win over many Muslim hearts.
If there is dilemma for Muslims in U.P. it is certainly not very easy to make choice for any party in Maharashtra too. In the last Lok Sabha elections Sharad Pawar was the architect of a secular alliance with the SP and Republican Party which attracted Muslim votes en masse in Maharashtra and the Shiv Sena-BJP candidates lost heavily winning only 15 seats out of 48 whereas the Congress alliance won as many as 35 seats. But this time around the scene is quite gloomy as well as confused. The Shiv Sena-BJP alliance which was expected to loose heavily in this election also, has taken heart from the split in the Congress.
Sharad Pawar is trying very hard to win over the Muslim support. He has been meeting the Muslim leaders, intellectuals and journalists in different parts of Maharashtra to ascertain their demands. Though the Muslims have placed their demands before him, they look upon him with suspicion. It is being said that he might support the BJP-led alliance at the Centre. And in any case his splitting the Congress is certainly going to benefit the BJP at the Centre. If the Congress had remained united it would have registered impressive come back in Maharashtra.
The Ulema Council which claims to represent Muslims in Maharashtra in general and in Mumbai, in particular, recently met to deliberate on who the Muslims should vote for. It also formulated a charter of demands which, among other things, include reservation for Muslims in jobs as well as in educational institutions. It also is demanding representation of Muslims in proportion to its population in legislative assembly and in Parliament. But it has gone rather too far when it demands that the Article 44 of the Constitution requiring the Union Government to enforce Uniform Civil code be abolished so as to remove the hanging sword from the heads of the Muslims. Firstly, no Government at the Centre is going to abolish personal laws and enforce the uniform civil code and secondly, such a demand would only give the communal forces an issue they are looking for to consolidate the Hindu votes. The Muslim leaders and intellectuals should be very careful while formulating their demands.
The reservation in jobs for Muslims as a community will also be counter-productive as it is likely to create strong backlash among the upper caste Hindus. On the other hand the demand for reservation for backward class Muslims corresponding to all the Hindu backward castes is more than justified. All Muslims belonging to such castes should be given reservation. There is no reason why they should not be. The demand for reservation in educational institutions is also justified. That the Muslims are comparatively backward in education is a universally known fact and the government should render special help in uplifting them both economically and educationally.
The Muslims all over India are also demanding setting up of minority financial corporations both at the Centre and in various states to help them. They could be given loans for setting up businesses and for buying taxis and rickshaws at a lower rate of interest. This will boost the income of self employed Muslims. It is also a well known fact that more Muslims are self employed than others. Their representation in government jobs, specially in the police, should also increase. It is woefully low at present. The demand for proportional representation in the state assemblies and in Parliament is also quite reasonable. The maximum representation of Muslims in Parliament in the post-independence India has never exceeded 7%. It has been, more often than not, below that. Thus these demands are quite justified.
The Ulama Council in Maharashtra is likely to appeal to the Muslims to vote for the Nationalist Congress of Pawar for the assembly elections and for the Congress for the Lok Sabha elections. This is also a tactical move. The attempt is to defeat the Shiv Sena-BJP at the state level at the hands of the Nationalist Congress and the BJP and Shiv Sena candidates for the Lok Sabha elections at the hands of the Sonia Congress. The demolition of the Babri Masjid is no more an emotional issue for the Muslims. But in Maharashtra implementation of the Shrikrishna Commission Report continues to have deep concern for the Muslims of Mumbai who greatly suffered in the riots.
In the states like the Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Gujrat, Karnataka and Kerala the Muslims will vote by and large, for the Congress. Earlier in Karnataka the Muslims had massively voted for the Janata Dal. But the Janta Dal is in a shambles in Karnataka and the Muslims will switch over to the Congress both for the assembly as well as the Lok Sabha elections. There is hardly any doubt about it. So it seems to be the case in Andhra Pradesh too. Mr.Naidu and his Party have no more any appeal for the Muslims as he chose to support with the BJP Government at the Centre. Even otherwise the Congress seems to be on the come back trail in Andhra Pradesh. The Congress, by promising to ban the RSS, VHP and the Bajrang Dal if voted to power, has increased its appeal as far as the minorities are concerned. The Christians who have been under attack by these Sangh parivar outfits would also enthusiastically welcome the promise to ban the RSS and the other front organisations of BJP. The voting pattern of the Christians is not likely to be very different from that of the Muslims in almost all the states except in the North East. In the North East the Christians are much more influential and the BJP has not much influence in these states.
The Muslims in Tamilnadu also would prefer the AIDMK-Congress alliance rather than the DMK of the Karundanidhi as the latter has chosen to align himself with the BJP. Jaylalitha has also told Muslims that she would have no trucks with the BJP in future. Also the Muslims of Tamilnadu have suffered a great deal at the hands of the Tamilnadu police during the Coimbatore riots and the subsequent bomb blast in Coimbatore in February, 1998. Thus the AIDMK-Congress alliance will be more appealing to them now.
In Bihar of course the RJD of Laloo Prasad Yadav will continue to attract the Muslim vote. Now that the Congress is also aligning with RJD, it will have even greater appeal. In West Bengal of course there will be no change as the Left Front's position seems to be unshakable and the Muslims have great faith in the Left Front. In West Bengal too this time the Congress is likely to have understanding with the Left Front and the Muslims traditionally voting for the Congress in West Bengal are likely to support the Left Front candidates in many constituencies.
Apart from these general trends the Muslims, Christians and other minorities are going to vote tactically, supporting the CPI, CPM or other independent candidates to defeat the BJP -led alliance.
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