A Closer Look into the Voting Behavior of Muslims In India

In a developing country like that of India, it is inevitable to separate religion from politics. This intermingling of politics and religion has certain consequences to it. For instance, prioritisation of catering political interest often gains an upper-hand over transforming the country by means of effective policies. The tendency of specific political parties concentrating their attention towards particular groups often has multi-dimensional outcomes.

The voting behaviour of Muslims in India has been regarded as one of the most complex arenas of Indian politics. Characteristics of the Muslim community to form closed and homogenous social networks are a common observation. In addition to that there is also an observation that Muslims live in concentrated groups at a particular geographical area as opposed to uniformly distributed geographically. As a community, they are constitutionally and legally aware of their socio-religious status. Hence, before making any political choices, they evaluate their options based on the political and religious freedom a party promises them.

Yet, another interesting terminology that has gained popularity is the “Muslim vote bank” that has arisen due to political market relationship between Muslims and various political parties. Islam as a religion acts as an umbrella that brings together all Muslims in India. This however does not imply that all of them vote essentially only on the basis of religion. The voting behaviour of Muslims has also evolved over the course of time. In the Lok Sabha elections of 1999, 52% of the Muslims said that they prioritised parties over their religious interests. Similar responses were obtained in the Lok Sabha elections following the next decade including the 2004 and 2009 General elections as well. When the voting behaviour of Muslims are evaluated on a strategic basis and their vote shares per party taken into accounts, a few interesting observations are noted. For instance, the most preferred political parties according to the Muslims in India are Congress, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Left Parties respectively.

With the spread of Hindutva and with right wing politics on the rise, Muslims somewhat feel threatened regarding freedom to practice their religion. As a threatened minority, they are always on the search for an alternative political party that could unify all the Muslim votes in India and hence serve their purpose. Sharp polarisation of Muslim votes among two or more political parties in certain states like Gujarat and U.P. doesn’t serve the purpose of unification of Muslim votes.

Analysing caste-based voting behaviour at a state level might become slightly problematic because several other factors contribute to the equation. State specific requirements and previously dominant political party in that geographical area also play a significant role. Intertwined nature of casteism, religion and politics in India also gives violent turns to certain events. In response to Muslims emerging as a distinctive class, riots like those in Gujarat in 2002 and more recent ones in Muzzafarpur become a common affair. Such riots, in turn accelerate tensions between different religious classes. These political tensions are then exploited by political parties to build up vote banks and draw votes from one community.

To add to the woes of the Muslim community that feels oppressed due to the rise of right-wing politics, there is scanty representation of Muslims in the Lower House of the Parliament as well. The fluctuating nature of patterns in voting behaviour of Muslims cannot be studied completely without looking into their local engagements. Inclusion of the community into political activities without taking into account the political tensions is what needs to happen at grass-root levels. The BJP’s response to the entire plight of the Muslim community has only made things worse. The right-wingers have made efforts to further worsen the constitutional and electoral position of Muslims at a national level. The community’s response to this could be to make themselves more approachable and relevant to reverse the above strategy.

The problem of marginalisation of Muslims could be graver than it seems, considering facts like there was zero Muslim representation among 80 members of the Lower House from Uttar Pradesh in 2014. The lack in the Muslim leadership and representation has consequences that can cause intense oppression of this particular community with certain other right-wing political parties coming to power.

Picture Courtesy- Herald Magazine -Dawn

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