Sunday, May 26, 2024

“Muslim vote chahiye… candidate kyun nahin?”: Are Muslims being silenced in political arena?

Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

During a recent election rally, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)’s Aurangabad Lok Sabha candidate and sitting MP Imtiaz Jaleel addressed a significant discrepancy in Indian politics: all political parties actively seek votes from the Muslim community but deliberately avoid fielding them as candidates.

He revealed a troubling statistic that in the latest Lok Sabha elections, prominent political parties did not field a single Muslim candidate in 11 states, emphasizing a systemic issue of representation.

In Maharashtra, despite a Muslim population of 11.56%, not a single Muslim candidate was fielded by two key alliances, which include the Congress, BJP, two factions of Shiv Sena, and two factions of NCP.

Last month, Arif Naseem Khan, a former state Cabinet minister and one of the most prominent Muslim figures in the Maharashtra Congress, withdrew from campaigning in the Lok Sabha elections, stating, “The Congress desires Muslim votes… why not Muslim candidates?”

Khan had aspired for the Mumbai North Central ticket, which was ultimately awarded to Mumbai Congress chief Varsha Gaikwad.

Of the 614 Lok Sabha MPs elected from the state over the past 64 years, only 15, or less than 2.5%, have been Muslim. In the past four Lok Sabha elections, a total of five Muslim candidates have been fielded by prominent parties. In 2004, Congress nominated A.R. Antulay from Kolaba, who won. In 2009, the NCP and Congress each nominated one Muslim candidate, followed by one each from Congress in 2015 and 2019. All of these candidates were defeated.

The only Muslim MP from Maharashtra currently is AIMIM’s Imtiaz Jaleel, who won in Aurangabad in 2019. He is running again this election.

The Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, led by Prakash Ambedkar, which is contesting independently this time, has fielded Muslim candidates in the state.

Speaking to me, an auto driver from Aurangabad said, “Imtiaz should win; he is the only Muslim leader who has a chance of winning in the state. What’s the meaning of parliament if no one from my community can reach there?”

With Muslims comprising 17.7% of the population, the representation remains low in Bihar as well. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) fielded two Muslim candidates out of the 23 it is contesting under the Mahagathbandhan alliance with other parties. The RJD has nominated Shahnawaz Alam, the party’s MLA from Jokihat, for the Muslim-dominant Araria seat in northeast Bihar. Mr. Alam, the son of former Union Minister and veteran Muslim leader Mohammed Taslimuddin, won the last Assembly election on an All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) ticket but joined the RJD in June 2022 along with three other AIMIM legislators. The second Muslim candidate for the RJD is M.A.A. Fatmi from Madhubani.

The Congress party, which is contesting nine Lok Sabha seats in the state, has nominated two candidates from the Muslim community: senior party leader and former MP Tariq Anwar from Katihar and Mohammed Jawed from Kishanganj. Mr. Jawed, a sitting Congress MP from Kishanganj, was the lone Opposition leader to win the Kishanganj seat in the last 2019 Lok Sabha election.

AIMIM’s Aktharul Iman is also contesting from Kishanganj, where he has a potential to win.

In the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition, the Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)) is contesting 16 seats. Of these, JD(U) has fielded only one Muslim candidate, Mujahid Alam from Kishanganj in the Seemanchal area, where the Muslim population is 68%. Mr. Alam is a former JD(U) MLA from the Kochadhaman Assembly segment in the Kishanganj district.

In Gujarat, both the BJP and Congress have overlooked Muslim candidates, resulting in no Muslim representation in the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections.

Gujarat boasts a 9.7% Muslim population. Muslim voters dominate nine of Gujarat’s 182 state assembly seats.

Despite a significant demographic presence with a population of 6.3 million people, not a single Muslim candidate has secured a Lok Sabha seat in Gujarat for the past three decades.

In the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, Congress’s sole Muslim candidate was Irshad Mirza for the Ahmedabad seat, who was defeated by BJP’s Harin Pathak.

Following this, Congress refrained from fielding Muslim candidates in the 1998, 1999, and 2004 Lok Sabha elections.

In 2009, 2014, and 2019, Congress fielded a single Muslim candidate each year—all of whom were defeated by BJP candidates.

According to political analysts, the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat Muslim genocide worsened the condition of Muslims in Gujarat as they felt further alienated both socially and politically.

The lasting effects of widespread loss of lives, livelihoods, displacement, and destruction accelerated the process through which the Muslim community in Gujarat became a marginalized political entity, despite their significant numerical presence.

The BSP is the only national party that has fielded a Muslim candidate for the Lok Sabha polls in Gujarat. In total, there are 32 Muslim candidates out of the 266 candidates in the fray in the state, which voted on May 7. A majority of the Muslim candidates are contesting independently, while a few are from smaller parties like the Bhartiya Jan Nayak Party that has a candidate from Kheda, Log Party (Navsari), Right to Recall Party (Kheda), and the Social Democratic Party of India (Patan and Navsari).

The Muslim community in Karnataka, which represents a 13 percent share of the vote, continues to be underrepresented in the political arena. In the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, only one out of the 58 candidates fielded by the three major parties was Muslim.

The Congress party’s Mansoor Ali Khan, the son of veteran Congress leader Rehman Khan, ran for election in Bengaluru Central—a constituency with a significant minority population—against the BJP’s three-time winner P C Mohan.

Before the Congress leaders announced their list of candidates, Muslim leaders within the party had requested that at least three seats be reserved for their community.

Similarly, in the previous (2019) Lok Sabha elections, the Congress’ Rizwan Ahmed was the sole Muslim candidate, contesting for the Bengaluru Central constituency.

The only Muslim MP from Karnataka who has been elected to the Lok Sabha since 2004 is Iqbal Ahmed Saradgi from Gulbarga.

Over the past four elections, the Congress, BJP, and JD(S) have collectively fielded only 11 Muslim candidates.

The Muslim community accounts for about 19% of Uttar Pradesh’s population, making it the state with the largest Muslim population in India. This community plays a significant role in approximately 16 parliamentary seats, mainly in the western and eastern parts of UP.

Participating in the polls as part of the INDIA alliance, the SP and the Congress are contesting 62 seats and 17 seats respectively in UP. The SP has fielded only four Muslim candidates—in Rampur, Sambhal, Kairana, and Ghazipur. The candidates are:

  • Kairana: Iqra Hasan (SP)
  • Rampur: Mohibullah Nadvi (SP)
  • Sambhal: Zia ur Rahman Barq (SP)
  • Ghazipur: Afzal Ansari (SP)

Previously, the SP fielded several Muslim candidates. This time, however, SP leaders say that fielding more Muslim candidates could provoke the BJP to campaign against them.

Naseemudheen, a businessman in Delhi originally from Lucknow, expressed his disappointment to Maktoob. He supports the SP but did not expect this strategy from them. He stated, “We unconditionally support them this time, so why can’t they field more Muslim candidates? Ignoring Muslims to appease the majority community is wrong.”

Of the 17 nominees the Congress has declared, only two are Muslim candidates: former BSP MP Danish Ali from his Amroha seat and Imran Masood from Saharanpur.

The BSP has named as many as 20 candidates from the Muslim community, including women, out of the 72 nominees it has declared so far. This constitutes 25% of the total BSP candidates.

The delimitation of constituencies carried out in Assam in 2023 has been contentious. Analysts have described it as an attempt by the Hindu nationalist government to reduce the number of Muslim legislators in the Assembly in Assam, a state with a significant Muslim population. Muslims constitute approximately 35% of Assam’s population.

Districts like Barpeta and Dhubri in Lower Assam, which have large populations of Bengali-origin Muslims, often face vilification and brutal Islamophobic campaign by Hindu right wing. According to the 2011 Census, Dhubri had a Muslim population of 79.67%, and Barpeta had 70.74%.

Assam’s Chief Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma who is known for his anti-Muslim rhetorics and policies, had said that delimitation has secured the representation, if not domination, of “indigenous” or majority Hindu communities in about 100 Assembly seats.

A senior minister in his government earlier claimed that the exercise would reduce the number of Muslim legislators to 22, down from the current 31 Muslim MLAs.

In Dhubri, the total electorate in the Lok Sabha constituency amounts to 26.43 lakh voters, exceeding the average of 17.35 lakh for parliamentary seats across Assam. This constituency includes all of Dhubri district, along with three Muslim-majority Assembly segments from Barpeta district and two from Goalpara district. According to 2019 figures from the Election Commission, the population of the Dhubri parliamentary seat was previously 16.85 lakh. In Dhubri, the BJP has minimal influence, and the electoral battle mainly involves the All India United Democratic Front’s Badruddin Ajmal and the Congress’s Rakibul Hussain.

In Barpeta, a constituency that has predominantly elected Muslim representatives in almost all Lok Sabha elections since 1967, recent delimitation efforts have altered the demographic composition—reportedly to prevent future victories by Muslim candidates. Before these changes, Muslims comprised 60% of the electorate; now, they account for only about 35%. Notably, no major party has nominated a Muslim candidate for the current election in Barpeta, reflecting these demographic shifts.

In Assam, the Congress has fielded only two Muslim candidates:

  • Dhubri: Rakibul Hussain (Congress)
  • Karimganj: Rashid Ahmed Choudhary (Congress)

In Kerala, which has a Muslim population of 26.56%, the Congress fielded only one Muslim candidate out of 16. Shafi Parambil contested from Vadakara. His candidacy led to an Islamophobic campaign by the CPI(M) in the state. This young Muslim leader in the Congress was allegedly harassed on social media by users affiliated with the CPI(M).

The CPI(M) fielded four Muslim candidates out of 16: senior leader Elamaram Kareem from Kozhikode, the sitting and sole CPI(M) MP in Kerala, A.M. Ariff from Alappuzha, V. Vaseef, and K.S. Hamsa from the Muslim League strongholds of Malappuram and Ponnani, respectively.

The Indian Union Muslim League, a key ally of the Congress in the state, is contesting two seats: E.T. Mohammed Basheer from Malappuram and M.P. Abdussamad Samadani from Ponnani. The Muslim League’s longstanding demand for a third seat was once again rejected by the Congress.

Malappuram also saw a Muslim candidate, Dr. Abdul Salam, former Vice Chancellor of Calicut University, contesting on a BJP ticket.

West Bengal’s Muslim population constitutes 27% of the state’s total. There are 125 assembly seats in West Bengal where Muslim voters hold considerable sway.

The TMC has fielded six Muslim candidates: Shahnawaz Ali Raihan from Malda South, Yusuf Pathaan from Baharampur, Haji Nurul Islam from Basirhat, Abu Taher Khan from Murshidabad, Sajda Ahmed from Uluberia, and Khalilur Rehman from Jangipur.

In West Bengal, the Congress is contesting six seats with the following candidates:

  • Raiganj: Ali Ramz Victor (Congress)
  • Maldaha Uttar: Mostaque Alam (Congress)
  • Maldaha Dakshin: Isha Khan Choudhury (Congress)
  • Jangipur: Mortaza Hossain (Congress)
  • Uluberia: Azhar Mullick (Congress)
  • Birbhum: Milton Rashid (Congress)

The CPI(M) is contesting six seats as well, with these candidates:

  • Murshidabad: Mohammad Salim (CPI(M))
  • Krishnanagar: SM Saadi (CPI(M))
  • Diamond Harbour: Pratik Ur Rahaman (CPI(M))
  • Kolkata Dakshin: Saira Shah Halim (CPI(M))
  • Asansol: Jahanara Khan (CPI(M))
  • Bardhaman Purba: Nirav Khan (CPI(M))

Madhya Pradesh has a Muslim population of 6.57%, but no member from this community has been sent to the Lok Sabha in the past 33 years.

After Aslam Sher Khan, who won the Lok Sabha election from Betul constituency in 1991, no other Muslim candidate has won a parliamentary seat from the state.

In 2009, the Congress gave a ticket to Khan from Sagar, but he was defeated, and since then, the party has not fielded any Muslim candidate. Earlier, in 1998, Arif Baig was given a ticket from Bhopal, and in 2004, Sajid Ali contested from the state capital.

Arif Baig had previously become an MP from Betul constituency on a BJP ticket in 1989, after which the party did not give a ticket to any Muslim candidate. Historically, there was always a Muslim MP from the state before 1991, with they winning elections in the Satna and Betul constituencies.

Despite the Muslim community constituting at least a 10% vote share and holding considerable electoral influence in at least 10 Lok Sabha seats and 100 assembly seats, Rajasthan saw no Muslim representation in the elections this time. Out of 26 seats, neither the BJP nor Congress alliances fielded a single Muslim candidate.

Former cabinet minister in the then Ashok Gehlot-led government and senior Congress leader Amin Khan expressed his concerns on X, stating: “The Muslim community, which has always stood strong with Congress, is feeling betrayed and marginalized. They have been neglected even in the distribution of tickets for the Lok Sabha elections. The party leadership is urged to address this issue promptly to avoid significant damage to the party in the elections.”

Historically, Congress has fielded at least one Muslim candidate in general elections since the early years, including in the elections of 1962, 1967, and 1972. In the 2009 and 2019 elections, Congress fielded Rafique Mandelia from the Churu Lok Sabha seat, though he was unsuccessful. However, this time, instead of Mandelia, Congress chose former BJP stalwart Rahul Kaswan, who recently defected to the BJP. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Mohammad Azharuddin contested on a Congress ticket from the Tonk-Sawai Madhopur seat.

It is noteworthy that Rajasthan once had a Muslim Chief Minister; Congress’s Barkatullah Khan served as the state chief minister from 1971 to 1973.

In Tamil Nadu, where Muslims make up 6% of the population, there is only one Muslim candidate fielded by the INDIA bloc from the IUML, who is the sitting MP, Navas Khani from Ramanathapuram. On the AIADMK side, there is also just one Muslim candidate, Mohamed Mubarak from Dindigul. He is the state chief of the SDPI, which is contesting as part of the AIADMK alliance.

Leaders like M.H. Jawahirullah, an MLA and one of the senior Muslim leaders in the southern state, have been advocating for political parties to field more Muslim candidates to ensure equal representation.

Telangana’s Muslim population is near 13%. The Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), formerly the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), has not fielded any Muslim candidate in the state with 17 Lok Sabha members.

AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi is seeking his sixth term in Hyderabad, while Congress’s sole Muslim candidate, Mohammad Waliullah Sameer, is contesting against him.

The Muslim population in Andhra Pradesh is 80.82 lakh (9.56 percent) of the total 8.46 crore, according to government estimates. Voters from this community can play a decisive role in some constituencies in Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra. However, no Muslim candidates were fielded by the prominent parties in the state.

In Delhi, the national capital, the Muslim population is 21.59 lakhs (12.86 percent) of the total 1.68 crore. Despite this significant demographic, no Muslim candidates were fielded by Congress, AAP, or BJP across the 7 constituencies.

While speaking to two rickshaw pullers from Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, they echoed the same concerns as Jaleel, Naseem Khan, and Jawahirullah: “The parties only need Muslim votes, not Muslim MPs.” “Sometimes, they don’t even come here. They take our votes for granted,” the duo added.

Aslah Kayyalakkath
Aslah Kayyalakkath
Aslah Kayyalakkath is a Founding Editor of Maktoob. He tweets @aslahtweets

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