Published On:12 August 2013
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

No monolithic Muslim vote, but will vote as a bloc in 2014 to keep Narendra Modi out

Muslim voting preferences show religious sentiments are secondary. Muslims vote on party lines, and not on the basis of sectarian identity.

By Zoya Hasan

There are three questionable assumptions about the political behaviour of India's Muslims. First, they vote en bloc for a candidate or a party. Second, they are more strategic in their voting than other groups. Third, their voting decisions are not autonomous, but influenced by clerics or community leaders.

It presumes that Muslims are monolithic and divisions of region, class, gender and caste either do not matter or play a minor role in shaping their politics.

There is little evidence to support this view of overarching Muslim unity or the role of religious considerations rather than quotidian interests in the making of electoral choices.

Not Easy to Join the Dots

An analysis of the minority vote reveals the complex dynamics of Muslim politics. Among them, the degree of Muslim concentration and the political context play important roles in determining electoral preferences.

The shifts in Congress politics, the assertion of backward castes and regional parties, and the rise of the BJP shape the context in which this dynamic plays out.

Historically, Jawaharlal Nehru's Congress was the party of choice for Muslims. However, the secular ideology of the Congress was discredited when the party compromised on principles for the sake of electoral calculations.

During the 1980s, the party courted the Hindu vote to undercut the growing influence of the BJP. It also pandered to the religious sentiments of Muslim clerics to ensure that electoral reverses in north India were not repeated nationally.

Vote for Secular Parties

In the new context, secularism was reduced to an ideology that offered Muslims the formal identity of a citizen without the substantive rights that go with it. Ordinary Muslims began to lose faith in the Congress, which was unable to address their basic needs.

Later, as the BJP rose and the Congress declined, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, they voted for regional secular formations. The anti-Congress propensity was reversed by 2004.

In 2009, the Congress got even more Muslim votes than it got in 2004. But just when Muslims started to return to the Congress, the representation of Muslims in Parliament plummeted to 5%, but there has been no public debate on this.

These votes were based on the promise of progressive measures to address the community's backwardness. It is also a "secular" vote: for greater security to the community. This means it is not a vote by default.

Even though there is a significant trend of Muslims coming back to the Congress fold, their political behaviour continues to vary regionally and sometimes from constituency to constituency. In the states, it is determined by the nature of political competition and the choices available.

In states where electoral competition is largely between the Congress and the BJP, Muslim voters tend to favour the Congress because they see the BJP as a party that threatens their basic interests and their existence. This is true of Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh where the Muslim vote has generally been consolidated against the BJP.

Spoilt for Choice

But Muslim votes fragment where there is some choice; the absence of the BJP from competition unlocks more options. In states with multiparty political competition such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra, Muslim votes are divided among several parties reflecting local or class interests and coalitions.

Muslim support for the Congress declines in Andhra Pradesh and Assam, whenever there is a second or third option. So is the case in Kerala and West Bengal, where the BJP or its allies are not serious competitors.

The complex ways in which Muslim political behaviour works can be seen in UP. The different patterns of voting in Lok Sabha and Assembly polls show that no party can take the Muslim vote for granted.

Despite backing the BSP in the 2007 Assembly election, in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Muslim voters divided their loyalties almost equally among the Congress, SP and BSP, depending on who was in a position to defeat the BJP, which came a dismal fourth.

Muslim voting preferences show religious sentiments are secondary while exercising the franchise. Muslims vote overwhelmingly on party lines, and not on the basis of sectarian identity of the candidate. The resounding defeat of candidates sponsored by clerics in recent elections further substantiates this tendency.

The " Muslim vote bank" thesis has gained a fresh lease of life due to the Narendra Modi phenomenon. In the 2014 polls, Muslims will pull out all stops to block Modi from reaching 7, Race Course Road.

True, Muslim leaders criticise the Congress for treating the community as a vote bank and claim that they are disenchanted with the party for not doing enough to improve their dismal condition.

But there is grudging acceptance that with Modi as the Bharatiya Janata Party's chosen leader and the escalation of communal polarisation, they may prefer to stay with the Congress.

[The writer is professor of political science, Jawaharlal Nehru University]

(Courtesy: The Economic Times)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on August 12, 2013. Filed under , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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