Fifth Columnist: Identity Politics
Mar 17 2017
The Muslim card, played successfully by politicians for decades, now lies buried
As the latest one-sided victory of the BJP in UP has established beyond any reasonable doubt, the ghost of Muslim factor in the country’s electoral politics has finally been laid to rest.
Ultimately, it is a case of overkill running out its course. Traditionally, the ‘minority’ wooing of the Congress kept the party in power for several decades. It also helped to keep the Bhartiya Jan Sangh and its later avatar BJP on the back foot, when it came to campaigning during elections.
In political parlance, working for the welfare of minorities – read Muslims - came to be identified not with the uplifting the common man, but using the Ulema or the mullahs to woo community votes. Their role from things ecclesiastical to political became blurred and from the benefit of hindsight, it would be easy to conclude that there is no bigger beneficiary of this lop-sided asymmetry than the saffron party.
Recall the larger than life role played by the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid in his parleys with the Congress party in the late 1970s. It became fashionable for the Shahi Imam to issue ‘fatwas’ for voters to support a particular party. It worked tactically for a couple of elections, until three decades later when the Imam’s successor, his son, is now unable to push his own candidates in the list of nominees of the Samajwadi Party.
How the so-called secularists have played into the BJP hands can be gauged from the UP results, also the cultural home for Muslims in South Asia. While the BJP, as a study in contrast, did not put up a single Muslim candidate in India’s largest state, yet won everything, the opposition parties, who had packed their candidate list by members of the Muslim community, were virtually ravaged.
The BSP put up as many as 99 Muslim candidates out of 403 to beef up its Dalit-Muslim vote plank while the SP, the traditional messiah of Muslims had 56 members of the community on their list of candidates.
The whole concept of a monolithic Muslim vote bank itself was delivered a body blow, the deep division of community votes in full display in the UP assembly elections, 2017. A man can be Muslim by birth, but any notion of ethnic commonality ends there; after all, he can be a weaver, an MBA professional or a government servant, like any other community.
Before we jump to any outlandish conclusions, it is fair to say that this willfully-imposed asymmetry by the so-called secular parties is as divisive and polarising as BJP’s so-called wooing of the ‘majority’ vote bank.
The results are there for all to see. Post these UP elections, Muslim representation in India’s most populous state has plummeted to 5.9 per cent as compared to 17.1 per cent in 2012, figures from the Election Commission reveal. In the 2012 UP assembly elections, the first time since independence, Muslims achieved political representation nearly proportional to their population, which stood at 19.2 per cent, according to the 2011 Census figures.
There is little point in blaming any community. For a generation of Congress politicians, bred on the politics of Muslim League and after the creation of Pakistan, came to the conclusion that Muslims are a monolithic vote bank and keeping them on your side meant that a substantial number of community votes would ensure permanence in office.
For a number of decades it worked well for the so-called secularist parties, pandered to well by a media, which devoted endless broadcasting hours and reams of newsprint to keep the fiction of Muslim vote bank alive.
Such communal posturing had to someday take its toll. And it has. To suggest, repeatedly, that any government could only be formed if Muslims voted for a particular party, set the stage for a so-called Hindu resurgence – it just needed a politician like Modi to bust that halo. If the so-called Muslim alienation was the hall mark of election campaigns during the years post the Independence, the community’s real alienation may have begun now.
This over-representation of Muslims in the 2017 UP assembly polls not just confused the Muslim voters, but consolidated the Hindu vote bank in favour of BJP, regardless of caste. The results have proved to be disastrous. Only a handful of 25 odd Muslims have been voted to the new UP assembly as compared to 69 Muslim MLAs in 2012, the highest number since Independence.
Sage analysts now wonder if Muslims can ever influence Indian politics in a way they were supposed to have during the last five decades or so. Even more critical is the question whether politicians pandering to and living by such politics, are willing to give up on their well-stated positions.
This despite repeated opinion polls, which revealed that Muslim voters like any other voter, is more concerned about bread and butter issues, about employment, price rise, corruption and economics than about purely communal and caste identities. Pollsters recall that many of those surveyed were increasingly resentful about being asked about their communal or caste identity – and that too by know-all urban slicks who para-drop into an election scenario, sprouting pearls of half-baked wisdom. Little wonder now that the so-called secularists are looking at a ‘mahagathbandhan’ or grand alliance in UP to take on the BJP juggernaut.