The South Asian Times

24 September 2017 18:48 PM

Disenfranchised: Muslim representation in UP assembly at historic low

By Mohit Dubey

Lucknow, March 12: For all the focus on Muslims in the Uttar Pradesh elections -- demonised by the BJP and actively wooed by the BSP as well as the Congress-SP combine -- the number of people from the community in the 17th Vidhan Sabha has touched a historic low of 25.

This is far short of the 68 members the community had in the 403-member assembly after the 2012 election which saw the Samajwadi Party (SP) romp home with 224 seats.

That was the best-ever showing for Muslims - comprising almost 19 per cent of the state's 22 crore population -- who have been sending, on average, about 40 legislators to the house in every election.

The poor showing this time around, many Muslim leaders here feel, does not augur well as it implies that a "sizeable population is being kept away from mainstream politics".

Former Chief Minister Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), who saw the community as key to her electoral success, had fielded more than 100 candidates this time round, and a large number of Muslim outfits and groups had exhorted the community to vote for the party.

The BSP, however, finished a poor third with just 19 seats - six of whom are Muslims.

The community was also seen as crucial for the Congress-Samajwadi Party (SP) alliance and received a fair share of tickets from the combine. The alliance, however, returned with just 54 legislators, of whom 19 are Muslim -- 17 from the SP and two from the Congress.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ally Apna Dal - which together won a whopping 321 seats - did not field a single Muslim candidate and were also accused of communalising the campaign in a bid to polarise Hindu votes.

The BSP and SP wooing has left some in the community disenchanted. As in the past, welfare measures for a community that fares poorly on practically all social indices did not go beyond handing out tickets to us, says Ali Zafar, a prominent Muslim voice in the state.

He also slammed the SP, BSP and Congress for their "aggressive outreach for the Muslim vote, so much so that it antagonised the majority Hindus".

There are as many as 143 seats in Uttar Pradesh where it has traditionally been believed that Muslims can make or mar the fortunes of political parties. Of these, in 70 seats Muslims have 20-25 per cent presence, and in the remaining 73, they account for 30 per cent or more of the population.

Political observers here say there are many reasons why Muslims fared so poorly this time despite such significant presence in so many seats.

For one, the community sought to send Muslim candidates to the assembly, irrespective of political affiliations. This split the vote between the Congress-SP and the BSP. As Rizwan, a BSP worker in Indiranagar, Lucknow, put it: "There was no coherence in the Muslim pattern of voting this time."

The result is there for all to see - just 25 legislators at a time when recent elections had seen a rising trend in elected Muslims. The numbers had been steadily rising in last five elections: 28 legislators in 1993, to 38 in 1996, 46 in 2002, 56 in 2007 and, of course, as many as 68 in 2012.

There has also been talk of some Muslims, especially the youth and women, having voted for the BJP, after the triple talaq stand taken by the party. While this is difficult to corroborate, but in the celebrations at the BJP state headquarters here after the landslide win on Saturday, many burqa-clad women were seen dancing and raising "Modi, Modi" slogans.

Yunus Parvez, a student at a polytechnic here, believes there has been a certain churning in the Muslim populace, if not in favour of the BJP, then against the political parties that have "used us as mere vote banks", adding that the "community will have to think beyond narrow issues".

The students union of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) had, before the elections, appealed to the community to shun all political parties and instead use the None Of The Above, or NOTA option on the polling machines.

The BJP has been unapologetic about not giving tickets to Muslims. Its state chief Keshav Prasad Maurya reiterated on Saturday that the party would not give tickets to Muslims in the 2019 general election or the 2022 assembly election. He said the party believed in giving tickets to candidates depending on their "winnability" and not to appease any particular community.

Clearly, pushed to the fringes of the mainstream and rendered largely irrelevant, the community will need to strategise anew on the best way to once again emerge as a relevant electoral force. It will also need to battle the perception - used cleverly by the BJP to consolidate Hindu votes in the just-concluded elections - that the community votes tactically and en bloc, though there is little evidence to support this.

Update: 12 March, 2017

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