The dance of Indian democracy has been throwing up some interesting results in the last few years. The diverse Indian electorate has been challenging the existing political parties to perform. With corruption as the core focus, once again there is a twist in the democratic voting process. But hitherto the ignored slice of electorate is an issue that needs to be addressed—The Muslim Quota.
In every election since Independence, Muslims have been sidelined. Each time the national political parties have an agenda before and after the elections. And each time, the minority is promised results, which are yet to surface. No wonder, 65 years after Independence, the majority of the Muslims feel the current political scenario isn’t viable for a sustainable solution. It needs surgery. The problem needs a strong political will. There is an elephant in a small room and it needs to be addressed.
Why the low Muslim interest in national politics?
In 1948, the representation of Muslims in the political life was between 6-8%. It was quite dismal as the collective strength of the large minority was more than the declared 14%. Over a period of time, several reasons have been cited why Muslims never made it to Parliament despite a huge community spread all over the country.
To begin, with favoritism of non-Muslim political parties was, and remains, the first problem. Muslims trusted the parties who had only vested interests and kept weakening their trust over a period of time. Whenever any party did allow Muslim candidates to move up the political ladder, they were pulled down by candidates of the same community. The pull and push tactics defeated the very purpose Muslims were needed in the non-Muslim parties. It only sowed the seeds of distrust amongst the candidates and ambitions were misplaced.
The problem continues in several states. Except in West Bengal, where the Trinamool Congress has a clear cut attitude, unlike other political parties. Will the other parties really do the same? Future elections will certainly reveal the truth.
Another major issue that the Muslims face is with the direct opposition they face by not being in the club of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) reservation. This has been another reason why Muslims have not been able to move up the political ladder and improve their lot.
Parliamentary seats have been taken up 22% by the SC/ST. The state assembly seats see a reservation of 27% of the SC/STs. Can this be seen as a vile attempt to keep Muslims away from all major policy decisions? No wonder most Muslim candidates stand to lose their deposits when they stand for elections.
Another problem is the Women Reservation Bill. This has become another bone of contention. Nearly 33% of women will have the chance to participate in national politics. And this is likely to further reduce the Muslim candidates as they will have lesser chances. Muslim women rarely have a public role and this also will affect the quota of the community.
How can Muslims take active interest in politics?
One can go deeper into the further problems that stop Muslims from competing with the rest of the population in democracy. But looking at the positive aspect, it will be a better deal to reflect on how Muslims can actively participate. A beginning should be made in the direction. The Sachar Committee reported that there is a total disempowerment and underdevelopment of Indian Muslims in nearly all walks of life. Some of the ideas thrown up include how the reservation policies can be tweaked. Should there be predominating Muslim parties that can compete in elections? How can equal opportunities be created in the process? Should SC become bereft of religion as recommended by the Ranganath Mishra Committee? This could become the torchbearer for the inclusion of Muslims.
There is a strong need to have an empowered Muslim leadership. It has now become a necessity to help all Muslims living in the country. Will a pro-Muslim party help in making a breakthrough? The possibility can be explored. Parties that cater to only Muslim interests can be a drawback. Until now, on the basis of religion, Hindus have suffered voting for pro-Hindu parties. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a glaring example of how the ideology can go horribly wrong. Practically, the entire electorate has rejected their policies; they are struggling for a foothold in national politics. It will be sometime before anyone will trust them again.
Today non-Muslims dominate most of the constituencies. If a Muslim candidate is contesting, he is likely to lose his deposit. The few who manage to win will remain in the opposition in the parliament.
Muslims in Uttar Pradesh
Muslims form the largest minority community in Uttar Pradesh where they constitute around 19% of the state population with 20 districts having the Muslim concentration above 20%. Uttar Pradesh also hosts 22% of India’s Muslim population, the largest Muslim population of all states and union territories. But in comparison to other states, Muslims are more deprived socially and economically. Politically, their position is worse. Out of 403 assembly seats, there are only 55 Muslim MLA’s.
One of the leading political analysts Rasheed Kidwai said to “Islam Online”, “I think most mainstream political parties are not sincere about Muslims. The Congress, Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) do not up 100 or more candidates on grounds that they are 'winnable.' Even in terms of ministerial berths etc, the track record of the ruling BSP, SP and the Congress has been extremely poor. The emergence of the Ulema Council, Peace Party etc. has not helped either as communal polarization adversely affect the community.”
“I think the UPA-Congress or SP, BSP would do better to ensure better delivery mechanism in terms of fund allocation in the field of education, health, employment etc. with so much hype of 'Muslim appeasement’, the centre is spending less than 5 per cent of funds for Muslims even though the population is over 14 per cent. In terms of par capital too, Muslims fall much beyond Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe”, added Rasheed Kidwai.
The sagging spirits of the Muslims can be revived as they get more options to fight elections as free citizens of India. The entry of the Jamat-e-Islami (Hind) in national politics is a good omen. This should alert the tottering Congress, BJP and other right, left and other winged parties to heed the clarion call. Corruption has already bought the political power weights to their knees in many states. A balanced approach is now a necessity to ensure that a sustainable democracy is created in the country.
Any new party that is launched has to have the ability to have secular credentials. Then only it is likely to survive the political circus. On many occasions the voters have been able to overthrow even larger parties that have sought to play partisan politics. Today, the battle ground is UP, which sends the maximum candidates to Parliament. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and BSP’s chief Mayawati is trying to be a game changer. Will she be able to manage with the “split up resolution” of the state in 4 parts and the Muslim quota? The polls are on and the people will be giving their verdict soon.