The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) won just two seats in the Maharashtra assembly election, but even this limited success has attracted massive media attention. The reaction to the MIM’s success has been mostly alarmist: many fear that the Hyderabad-based party’s rise in Maharashtra could cause a tear in our social fabric.
This concern is genuine, considering the vitriolic speeches its leader, Akbaruddin Owaisi, made during the campaign. However, the MIM did not grow in a vacuum. It fed off the growing feeling of political disempowerment among Muslims and the realisation that it was increasingly becoming difficult for a Muslim candidate to get support outside his community.
This was not always the case. Till 1985, Muslim politicians were getting elected from rural and mixed population constituencies, including Shrivardhan, Ratnagairi, Amalner, Ramtek, Kamptee, Jalna, Khed, Basmath, Akole, Akkalkot, Parbhani, Beed, Omerga, Partur, Pathri and, once, even Bhavani Peth in Pune. Since 1990, the growing communal schism has meant that a Muslim candidate is assured of a win only when he stands from a Muslim-dominated constituency. Even this time, eight of the nine Muslim MLAs have been elected from Muslim-dominated constituencies. The exception is the NCP’s Hasan Mushrif, who won Kagal, a constituency in western Maharashtra.
A look at the past three assembly elections indicate that more than half the Muslim MLAs have been elected from Mumbai constituencies, though Mumbai Muslims constitute only 21 per cent of the total Muslim population of Maharashtra. Votes polled by Muslim candidates have also been steadily falling since 1990. For instance, the number of votes polled by Muslim candidates came down from 18.7 lakh in 2004 to 17.5 lakh in 2009, though the size of the electoral group increased by 8.3 per cent. In 2009, the average votes polled by a non-Muslim candidate was 13,766, while a Muslim candidate attracted only 4,453 votes. Many parties point to these figures as the reason why they refuse tickets to Muslim candidates. Many politicians claim that putting up a Muslim candidate in a mixed population area is a losing proposition. The fear that a Muslim candidate would polarise the electorate and lead to the consolidation of non-Muslim votes meant that, despite having a substantial presence in 40 assembly constituencies in the state, only 45 Muslim candidates were put up by the five main political parties in the 2014 election. In many cases, Muslim candidates were pitted against each other.
However, the entry of the MIM — 24 candidates, including four Dalits — into the electoral fray has changed the picture. It contested constituencies in Aurangabad, Nanded and Solapur, which has a substantial number of Muslim voters. Interestingly, mainstream parties had shied away from fielding Muslim candidates in these constituencies despite local demand, fearing it could lead to consolidation of non-Muslim votes. Take the case of Aurangabad, which had a Muslim MLA till 1985. After the Shiv Sena wrested the seat from the Congress following a communally charged campaign in 1990, mainstream political parties refused to field a Muslim there. The MIM broke the unspoken consensus and put up a Muslim candidate, who won. The MIM presence has been reflected in the vote share as well. For the first time in 15 years, the number of votes received by Muslim candidates across the state has risen. While the sporadic vitriol that the MIM spews must be criticised, we also need to be critical of political parties and voters who have, in past elections, chosen to overlook the claims of certain candidates only because they belonged to a particular faith.
(The Indian Express, 31 October 2014)