India Decides 2015: The Muslim Vote

India is widely known as the world’s largest democracy coupled with diversity spread across its 29 states that is at best unrivalled and unparalleled.

 

Independence from the old colonial master Britain in 1947 gave the nation a new sense of identity and belonging putting it on course to become a true superpower. If we fast forward 70 years ,the India of today is unrecognisable and the pace of progress has been truly remarkable. The recent census shows that there are approximately 177 million Muslims in India which equates to it being the third largest group within the global Muslim diaspora and is deemed to be the largest minority Muslim group on the planet. These figures clearly demonstrate the sheer power that the Muslim vote bank hold in the world’s largest democracy.
 
However, as the 2015 Indian elections approach, the Muslims of India have some serious and stark choices to make in terms to who will form the next government. Congress has undoubtedly dominated the political landscape of India since 1947 but is now finding itself under real pressure from none other than in the form of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led by the ever popular and charismatic Arvind Kejriwal. This upcoming election will be one of the closest and exciting races in living memory but where does this leave the Muslim vote nationally.
 
The Muslim vote had been described as a ‘banker’ for the ruling Congress party (INC) for several decades but in recent times the BJP and less so the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) have made great strides to appeal to the Muslim vote bank. Indeed, it should be said that the typical Muslim voter is very much in tune with current political trends in India compared to the past where all concerned voted Congress partly due to a lack of genuine political parties on the horizon. If we look at the voting patterns across several Indian states with sizeable Muslim populations such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat to name a few,  a distinct pattern has emerged whereby the Muslim voters have demonstrated their tactical acumen culminating in depriving the ruling Congress party of seats at a local and national level. The inevitable question that will now arise concerns the view that have Indian Muslims truly recognised the power they hold through the possession of the dread weapon of choice namely the ‘tactical vote’ that threatens to truly transform the political landscape of India?
 
If we analyse the internal politics of India through the critical eye, one finds that Indian Muslims have now found themselves at the bottom rung of the social mobility ladder. The Sachar Committee Report published in 2006 marked a watershed in highlighting the plight of Indian Muslims who now found themselves at the bottom of every socio-economic group indicator indicating large scale deprivation.  It would be rather unfair to put the entire blame on the political establishment for the woes of the Muslims in India over the last 70 years as the latter shares responsibility for its current predicament in the general scheme of things.
 
The Indian political establishment also has to look at itself in terms of whether they have genuinely attempted to provide meaningful assistance to its 177 million Indian Muslim inhabitants. Undoubtedly, India will only thrive for years to come once all its citizens Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists and Christians share the prosperity and the wealth that is at the nation’s doorstep. If we are to look long term, it would be true to say that Muslims in India certainly need to look to empower themselves in order to rise from the bottom and aspire to be at the top of every socio-economic indicator.
 
If we take a closer look at the manifestos of the respective political parties, one comes to the conclusion that each is serving up a distinctive brand of politics aimed at capturing the hearts and minds of the Indian voter. Congress has in recent days offered a distinct progressive reform-minded socio-economic plan with the sole aim of capturing the voter’s imagination. Proposals to create pensions and state funded benefits for the masses are truly visionary and groundbreaking and may well prove to be the major difference in winning the forthcoming election.
 
The opposition BJP has recently been rejuvenated and for the first time since 1996 poses a substantial threat to the governing Congress party. The BJP lead by the Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi is aiming to become Prime Minister through the promotion of its much vaunted Hindutva (Hindu Nationalism) policy. However, it remains to be seen whether the promotion of Hindutva with its secularist flavour sits well the Indian Muslim minority who may well feel even more marginalised in the coming years.
 
There is a distinct possibility that the a significant number of affluent Muslims may well vote for the BJP due to their pro-business agenda  aiming to create wealth and prosperity for all. PM designate Modi has already declared that if he becomes PM he will make Uttar Pradesh state that contains a largest concentration of Muslims the new Gujarat promising fresh and huge investment.
 
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has in many observers eyes taken Indian politics by storm in recent times campaigning to secure the passage of the Lokpal Bill through parliament aimed at eliminating all vestiges of corruption in public life. The charismatic and evergreen leader of the AAP Arvind Kejriwal has created a ‘third front’ that has captured the imagination of the Indian public and publicly declared he will contest the Varanasi seat that CM Narendra Modi is vying for in the coming days. AAP may well spring a surprise in this year’s election especially in Gujarat where they are fielding a candidate in every single constituency.

Election year one predicts will be a fascinating and has the potential to deliver a number of sensational results. It has never been a better time to be an Indian Muslim especially when they hold the key in several states as to who forms the next government and becomes Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy. The world awaits the result of Election 2014 India Decides.

By Dr Abdul B Shaikh
Deputy Editor of PI Magazine