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Wednesday, June 10, 2009, Syed Shahabuddin

 

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In 2004, 38 Muslims were elected to the Lok Sabha; in 2009 the number has gone down to 30, from 6.6% to 5.5% of its strength; Muslim deprivation level of the Muslims has risen from 46% to 55%, as on the basis of 2001 Census Muslim representation should be 72. Deprivation level varies from state to state, from 0% (in J&K and Lakshadweep) to 25% to 80% in the major states of Muslim concentration. It varies from election to election averaging 50%. No other religious minority or the High Castes or the Forward OBC’s are underrepresented as the Muslim Indians are.

 

The real tragedy lies in that the civil society and the political establishment have deliberately ignored this persistent patterns of deprivation, not only in the Union Legislature but practically in all state legislatures of the 15 states in which 98% of the Muslims live. Even the academic community is blind, deaf and dumb on this phenomenon which is neither accidental nor irremediable. Indeed, its root lies in the existing electoral system, though much depends on the conduct of the secular parties and the Muslim community itself. The Muslim society has taken note of the scattering of Muslim votes in Muslim concentration constituencies on sectarian and baradari grounds but no analyst or political thinker has raised his finger at the inherent flaws in the electoral system and the anti-Muslim bias of the secular parties.

 

At the top of the list is the Indian National Congress which had fielded only 20 odd Muslim candidates in its total of over 400, of whom 11 won. Even the Left, the second most zealous believer in secularism, fielded only about 5% Muslim candidates with 5 winners. The other major secular parties with the exception of BSP in UP had also fielded very few Muslim candidates. The result is that there were only 20 Muslim winners in the UPA list of INC, TMC, DMK, NCP, JKNC and IUML. In addition, the BSP had 4 Muslims, the Left 4,the AIMIM 1 and the BJP 1. But the community was greatly shocked when only 4 out of 20 have been taken in the Union Council of Ministers plus 1 out of 13 Muslims in the Rajya Sabha, against due share of 11 (by population) or 8 (by L. S count or 6 (by RS plus L.S. count).

 

Reasons for Underrepresentation:

It is obvious that unless secular parties field adequate number of winnable Muslim candidates from Muslim concentration constituencies, there is bound to be a shortfall.

 

The second important reason is that the secular parties did not reach any understanding even on Muslim concentration seats to keep the BJP and its allies at bay. The rivalry among the secular parties, in these seats resulted in the victory of the third party, because, Muslim votes were inevitably divided among the secular parties.

 

The third factor has already been pointed out. Despite repeated calls, appeals and advice by the Muslim leadership for Muslim unity, at constituency level, Muslim voters were never fully registered or united , more so in the constituencies of Muslim concentration. A very damaging role has been played by some religious leaders who issued appeals in favour of one party or the other, and religious organizations which put up candidates, in comprehensibly in constituencies with low Muslim concentration, against known Muslim candidates of secular parties. Newly a dozen or more Muslim parties sprang up on the election eve specially in UP. Even the new Muslim-core party in Assam, the AUDF, played its card badly, it helped 2 BJP/AGP candidates to win against INC and secured only one seat, for itself, through it was the runner-up in several.

 

Many non-political Muslim organizations which are active on the margin of politics like the JIH, the JUH, the AIMC and the AIMMM had formulated common principles and issued guidelines to select suitable candidates in Muslim concentration constituencies. But actually they worked at cross-purposes and gave confusing signals to the community. Also the idea of the JCMOE that the local Muslim community shall select the secular candidate whom it should vote for unitedly and massively did not work. The result is that many experienced Parliamentarian lost from Muslim concentration constituencies. Today, with the exception of voters like Farooq Abdullah, Salman Khurshid and E.Ahamed who have all been included in the government. Muslims have only Asaduddin Owaisi from Hyderabad, Maulana Asrarul Haque Qasmi from Kishanganj and Dr. S. R. Barq from Sambhal to raise Muslim causes.

 

In the 15th Lok Sabha the Muslims will largely be voiceless; questions will not be asked. Tragic situations will not be addressed; government decisions will not be followed up and action will not be demanded and there shall be total silence on the performance of various government bodies and on the progress of various schemes. We can only hope that all Muslim MPs shall be accessible to Muslim organizations and the Muslim ministers shall exert their influence behind the scene in the Council of Ministers as well as in the Cabinet for the grievances and problems of the community being noticed.

The community is apprehensive that this may not be happen because the MPs are, more often than not, subject to the strict discipline of their parties. In the last Parliament for a year and a half, no Muslim MP or Minister raised the question that the Mishra Report, the most positive document since independence from the Muslim point of view, be tabled and discussed. No one asked for a report by the government on the progress of the PM’s 15 Point Programme for the Welfare of the Minorities or on specific initiatives taken under the Sachar Report.

 

The real causes are uneven physical dispersal of the Muslims, with 6 pockets of concentration with a total of only 30 seats, and the electoral system which goes against the minorities and the weaker sections,and reduces the representative credentials of our democracy as a whole and of the legislatures.

 

60 years after independence the existence of groups and sub-groups has become a fact of life with no national party which looks after the aspirations and commands the supports of all section of the people, in all regions of the country.

 

Every party selects its candidates preferentially from its social constituency, which forms the dominant caste or community in a given constituency and the voters belonging to weaker sections have no option but to vote for those. Introduction of reservation in favour of the SC & ST was a step forward but now we see cleavages, even within these constitutional conglomerates, as among the Muslims and the non-Muslim Backward Classes. In a sense, many voters exercise their franchise in favour of candidates whom they cannot regard as a guardian of their interests and promoter of their aspirations.

 

Need For Proportional Electoral System:

This is not the occasion to dilate upon the merits of proportional system, suffice it to say that, in order to refine our political system and make it more representative of the minorities and the deprived groups, to make the government more responsive and sensitive to all sections of the people to give all voters an equal say in the formation of the legislature and to structure a government suitable for a plural society, so full of diversities, there is no alternative except to introduce the proportional system.

 

Coming to the Muslims the proportional system will ensure that the Muslims are duly represented in the legislatures through national parties or other parties of their choice in proportion to their population. But political parties are not inclined to change the electoral system and the weaker sections cannot change the rule of the governance.

 

Reservation For All Deprived Groups:

The alternative, therefore, is to introduce reservation in the legislature for the groups which are persistently underrepresented like the Muslims as well as the Most Backward Classes. It already exists for SC & ST. Indeed the rising to demand from all identifiable groups and sub-groups and for categorization even among groups which enjoy reservation shows the way the wind is blowing.

 

Reservation will negate to a large extent the adverse effect of communalism and casteism and counter the exploitation by powerful social groups to build up their political dominance. Reservation, based on social justice, shall construct a society in which no social group is apprehensive of being denied its due share. With due representation of all groups under uniform conditions of eligibility, the society shall be at peace with itself, will generally should bias and intolerance and work together for common good.

 

But reservation is legislatures alone will not do. The deprived groups need a party which they can call their own or a party which is truly national and is committed to working equally for all. Need For Muslim-Core Party Already, there are stirrings in various parts of the country for the formation of a Muslim-core secular political party.

 

The unfortunate fact is that the Muslims of J&K, the only state with a Muslim majority which could serve as a base, confine themselves to their own problems and are mentally detached from the rest of the Muslim Indians. Even the great Kashmiri leader Sheikh Abdullah, who could have emerged as a national leader, limited himself to the Valley. So did his son and successor Farooq Abdullah, in any case he is now in the Cabinet. Therefore, we cannot count upon the J & K National Conference to play the role which it could in a federal set-up. We have the IUML in Kerala which is also in the government and like the JKNC has never ventured out of the state borders.

 

We are left with the AIMIM in AP which has a history. We have two new beginnings. The Assam United Democratic Front has the votes of the Bengali speaking Muslims and with hard work it can establish a regional base in Assam and West Bengal which at least 25 constituencies with 20% plus Muslim concentration.

 

The second initiative has been taken by the Popular Front of India in Kerala which has been trying to build a base in Karnataka. And now aspires to be an All India party. The JIH is also thinking of launching a political party. In UP, Bihar and Jharkhand the community is deeply divided on the basis of baradaris and maslaks but they have two pockets of concentration in NE Bihar and West UP. For geographical and demographic reasons, there appears to be no possibility of any other region emerging as a major Muslim base. In the next 5 years, separate initiatives in those zones can come together to form one political party, which appears unrealistic. But they can by mutual agreement form a National Front, which is feasible.

 

Giving the political experience of the last 60 years, it would be too optimistic to think that even a Front can secure a majority of the 72 Muslim concentration seats. But it is feasible and practicable that by mutual consultation and cooperation and for working intensively in their zones, in some 20-30 selected seats (outside J&K and Lakshadweep), in 8 or 9 states of Muslim concentration, each political group may take charge of about 5-6 seats for intensive mobilisation, create a political presence, select, guide and promote potential candidates for each seat in its charge, select one of them at time of the General Election 2014 and help him contest as an independent. It goes without saying that 10 independent Muslim MP’s who are committed to serve the community and rise above the lure of office shall make a world of difference in the Parliament in terms of highlighting the Muslim grievances as well as pressuring the government to ameliorate them.

 

Muslim Political Convention

In the editorial for May 2009, I had suggested that for working out the political strategy, a national Muslim Political Convention should be organized, preceded or followed by state political conferences in 8 or 9 states. These conventions should be sponsored either by the AIMMM or the JCMOE or jointly by the JIH, JUH, AIMC, AUDF and the PFI. The JKNC and the IUML would be welcome to co-sponsor the National Convention but being in the government they may find it difficult to do so.

 

The Convention should try to bring together not only the Muslims who have won in the Lok Sabha or those who are in the Rajya Sabha but also the ex MP’s and those who have shown their basic strength by securing more than 100,000 votes in their constituencies in the General Election 2009, with the participation of Muslim political scientists, sociologists and journalists, and perhaps also some potential philanthropists. This will work out the long term strategy.

 

The Muslim Indians have to build politically on the limited gains they have achieved in 2004-09; they have to educate the public opinion, on the basis of Mishra Report, in favour of reservation not only in public employment and education, but also in legislatures. They have to set up though local conventions political bases in Assam-West Bengal, UP, Bihar-Jharkhand, Kerala-Karntaka-AP and Target 30 Muslim concentration constituencies for 2014.

 

The Muslim Indians should never ask for any concession or privilege but demand just and equitable share for all deprived groups, in the parliament and in the country at large and systemic institutional and structural reforms which will transform the life of the common man and realize all that Freedom promised. They should also address national issues like Federalism, Small States, Universal Reservation, Powers for the Panchayats, Constitutional, Electoral, Judicial and Administrative Reforms, Direct Financial Support for BPL Families and Free Universal Secondary Education etc and place their views before the nation. In the short term, we have to make do with what we have.

 

Muslim organizations should eschew the quest of credit and build and nurture a common front to act as a pressure group, in the absence of a Muslim-core political party. The Muslim MP’s should revive the Muslim Parliamentary Forum, and establish a small office with experienced staff to prepare background papers, notes and briefs as well as draft parliamentary questions and statements, not only for the Muslim MPs but also other secular MPs. This Forum and pressure group are essential because the community shall continue to face setbacks and injustice and must receive due attention of the nation and the government. Only MPs can raise the matter in the highest Panchayat of the country and force the government to table reports, provide information and take action and only organisations are mobilize the people.

 

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