Invisible in the House

The shrinking numbers of Muslims in Parliament is not new. But 2014 results are unprecedented.

Written by Christophe Jaffrelot | Updated: May 28, 2014 7:55 am

By Christophe Jaffrelot and Gilles Verniers

The induction of Najma Heptulla as minister for minority affairs in the Narendra Modi government does not detract from the reality that the 16th Lok Sabha has the lowest number of Muslim MPs ever: 23. This nadir has obviously not come about out of the blue. It is the culmination of an old trend. Since 1980, when there were 49 Muslim MPs in the LS, their number has steadily declined to stand at 25 in 1991 (before theBJP became the first party in the LS). In 1999 and 2004, this number increased somewhat, with 32 and 35 Muslim MPs respectively, but in 2009 it fell again (30).

This decline becomes even more drastic when contrasted with the increasing percentage of Muslims in the Indian population. In 1980, Muslim MPs represented 9 per cent of the LS when the Muslim community represented 11 per cent of the population. In 2014, they represent 4 per cent of the LS whereas their community represents 13.4 per cent of the population according to the Census. While the shrinking numbers of Muslims in Parliament is not new, the current elections point to unprecedented developments in this area, as in others.

In terms of states, first. While in 2009 Maharashtra had no Muslim MP, this year it is the turn of Uttar Pradesh. This is a remarkable occurrence not only because UP has 80 seats, but also because in 32 constituencies, Muslims represent more than 15 per cent of the voters; yet, barring two seats picked up by the SP, the BJP won them all.

Does this mean that Muslims have not voted for Muslim candidates or that the polarisation strategy of the BJP did indeed have its effect? An examination of the vote-share distribution across the state shows that the BJP received its highest vote share in western UP, with riot-hit Muzaffarnagar at its centre, far more than in any other sub-region of the state.

This is all the more remarkable, as in the 2012 assembly elections, Muslims had, for the first time, achieved proportional representation in the Vidhan Sabha, composing 17 per cent of MLAs. There is clearly a disconnect in the state and general elections’ trends.

The rise of Muslim representation in UP has been contingent on the capacity of Muslim candidates to rally the support of non-Muslim voters. One might hypothesise that in the context of polarisation of the state, it did not take place this time.

If Muslim MPs do not come from UP, where then do they come from? From neighbouring Bihar and Jammu and Kashmir, but only to a limited extent, since these states have elected four and three Muslim MPs, respectively. The largest contingent comes from West Bengal, with eight Muslim MPs distributed across three parties. The Trinamool Congress had distributed a large number of tickets to Muslim candidates (23), but only five in West Bengal, where they actually stood a chance to win. Four, though, have been elected. Beyond that, the usual pockets sent their lonely or couple of MPs: Hyderabad, Lakshadweep, the IUML pocket in Kerala, and Assam, where Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front succeeded in wresting three seats from the BJP.

The rise of this small Muslim party in a state that counts 30 per cent Muslims is interesting as its performance comes in the context of sharp polarisation in the Northeast, as evident from the recurrent Bodo-Muslim violence. The AIUDF fielded six Muslims out of 10 candidates and also contested in West Bengal.

In terms of parties, never in the past had the winner of general elections in India counted zero Muslims among its MPs. In the case of the BJP, this reflects a certain strategy. This involved identifying the minority groups that would not extend their support to the BJP and aiming at attracting all the others while working towards creating rifts and preventing members of the identified minority groups from allying locally with other groups. Indeed, out of 428 candidates, the party fielded a mere seven Muslims, that is, a little less than 2 per cent.

That said, the Congress did not do much better this time, with 5.8 per cent. Not a single Muslim was given a ticket in Maharashtra. So, who is giving tickets to Muslims these days? Naturally, small “Muslim parties” like the AIUDF, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, the Kerala Muslim League and the Peace Party (24 out of 51). But they were not in a position to win many seats.

Some regional parties also tend to distribute a larger number of tickets to Muslims, such as the SP (36 out of 195), the CPM (14 out of 95) and the BSP (48 out of 501). But barring the CPM, the majority of these tickets were distributed outside their regional strongholds, in Gujarat for example, where the SP lined up six Muslim candidates. In 2009, a significant number of Muslim MPs had been elected on BSP tickets. But then this time, the BSP has no seat at all. The party that has the largest number of Muslim MPs this time, the TMC, fielded 23 Muslim candidates out of 130, that is, 17 per cent of the total. But despite the TMC’s good performance, only four were elected.

So, if one takes a bird’s eye view on party affiliations, it is striking to observe that the 23 Muslim MPs come from eight different states and 11 different parties, which will not help them to build a cohesive presence in the House nor to weigh much within their own parties. If one excludes Muslim independent candidates, the percentage of Muslim candidates hovers slightly below 10 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But the proportion of the successful candidates among them has dropped to 4 per cent, as mentioned above. Which means that the success rate of Muslim candidates is rather low, and there may be even fewer Muslim candidates next time.

Only those who think that groups need to be represented by some of their members in democratic institutions may consider this development as problematic. Others would assume that any MP can defend the interests of the minorities in Parliament. But this is an assumption that is at odds with India’s overall political philosophy which, decades ago, resulted in reservations in all kinds of assemblies.

Muslims did not have much voice in the previous Lok Sabha either, but they did have a ruling party that was disposed to take measure of their socio-economic condition and acknowledge that they suffered from specific forms of marginalisation. They could also count on some regional parties, for which they constituted an important part of their support base, to speak on their behalf. That, however, did not suffice to ensure effective implementation of the various recommendations that emerged from the Sachar Committee and the Srikrishna Commission.

The post-Sachar evaluation committee report led by Amitabh Kundu, which was only submitted to the government of India recently, highlighted the lack of progress in almost all areas of deprivation of Muslims in India.

It is up to the new government to decide if it will take it up or not, signalling, in the process, if Heptulla’s presence in the cabinet is merely symbolic. But given the new balance of power in the Lok Sabha, it remains to be seen if anyone will lend their voice to a minority that is increasingly absent from public life at the national level.

Jaffrelot is senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/ CNRS, Paris, professor of Indian politics and sociology at King’s India Institute, London, Princeton Global Scholar and non-resident scholar at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Verniers is a PhD candidate at Sciences Po, Paris, and faculty at the Young India Fellowship and Ashoka University

For all the latest India News, download Indian Express App now

First Published on: May 28, 2014 12:45 am
  1. I
    Ishan Ishan
    Mar 4, 2015 at 2:04 pm
    That's great news for India
    Reply
    1. C
      C
      Nov 25, 2015 at 3:26 pm
      Christophe, is Baudelaire the reason Gilles is your acolyte?
      Reply
      1. C
        C
        Nov 25, 2015 at 3:46 pm
        Why the caste system amongst the whites needs to be clearly unpacked? Jaffrelot-French-commander Verniers-Belgian-acolyte
        Reply
        1. C
          C
          Nov 25, 2015 at 3:27 pm
          Reply
          1. A
            Anonymous
            May 28, 2014 at 7:41 pm
            Smacks of vote bank politics. This does not help in the long term development of democracy.
            Reply
            1. I
              IndianWellWisher
              May 30, 2014 at 8:45 pm
              Cow slaughter was legitimized by Britishers by exploiting muslim sentiments since the British 'needed' beef for their soldiers. They lured the muslims into demanding their right to beef in India where cow was the foundation of our agricultural economy. It is important to observe that cattle is absent in the middle east and the muslim potion there typically ate camel and not cattle - see "The British origin of Cow Slaughter" by Dharampal. This Christian writer is employing a similar approach - he wants to pursue his agenda (anti-Hindu and anti-India) by exploiting muslims again. Beware!
              Reply
              1. B
                Bebu Bala
                May 30, 2014 at 8:20 am
                Jaffrelot is from Paris. That is what written. Now France is secular country and talking about religion and displaying religious symbols are disfavored. Sir, all this analysis is waste of time and have no sense at all. Actually , Indians should not talk about religion and majority and minority is a myth propagated by British to rule this country. We should not allow these foreign elements to talk on religious lines about India. They are secular and many are non believers. If a Muslim woman wears a veil they wont allow it. That is correct. No religion and display of religion in public. Then why the he should say that Muslim interest in India will be protected only by Muslims. I say Indian interest will be protected by Indians and not by a French Man, I do not know whether he is one. Religion is not one's choice, it is accidental. We are Indians and do not believe in any religion and we do not want any sermon from a White. And you Indian Media, this is role you pla through out the history and you were all stooges of British. We know you media morons, especially English media, want to divide India and have a feast on spoils. You are worse than Hyenas.
                Reply
                1. J
                  jay
                  May 30, 2014 at 9:52 am
                  Why did IE allow to publish this article ? Such religionbased analysis should be avoided .Result of election-2014 has shown that webadly want to come out from such presumptions .As for as implementation ofrecommendations of various committees are concern these can be done with orwithout their representation in parliament ,only will power is required .I hopepresent Modi government will take care of every one having citizenship of Indiawith their slogan of "SABKA SAATH ,SABKA VIKAAS"
                  Reply
                  1. J
                    jay
                    May 30, 2014 at 9:58 am
                    it can't be simplified like that.
                    Reply
                    1. D
                      Druva
                      May 28, 2014 at 6:00 pm
                      This concept of reservations is creating all kind of problems. No more reservations. Provide free education for all the poor people.
                      Reply
                      1. A
                        aaplok
                        May 30, 2014 at 8:19 am
                        This "get smart" foreign correspondents should stop talking about under representation of Muslims, its tantamount to talking about bringing in cursed quota /reservation system into the very doors of parliament.I,you can in similar vein talk women who consute 50% are under represented,( this hold good not only in India but throughout the WORLD in all parliament and legislative bodies women are under represented) or any other minorities , or several regions / states , or even castes if we consider so called majority "Hindus" as a loose conglomeration of different castes and offshoots of believers of Ramayana and Mahabharata In short it brings all the evils which founders of consution wanted to cleanse from the Indian fabric. In a secular country one should stop talking about religion and politics in same vein, and should stop people talking about religion / caste when in comes to governance and political freedom. .
                        Reply
                        1. M
                          Mohd. Majibul
                          May 28, 2014 at 12:54 pm
                          What citizens wants, that is most important for us. No need to make Hinduism, Muslimism, Sikhs, Chrisrtian, It should be one nation for all Indian. Religion is not a priority for any country, it depends upon the good leadership. so always choose best leadership and try to make number one nation in the world...
                          Reply
                          1. P
                            Patriot Indian
                            May 28, 2014 at 5:49 am
                            Why should we have reservations? All are equal and have equal opportunities and should compete in a level playing field. It is absurd to have a reservation policy.
                            Reply
                            1. J
                              Janardhan Rao Maddu
                              May 30, 2014 at 11:44 am
                              Let the Muslim join the mainstream politics and come out of the mindset of defeating the BJP on behest of so called secular parties.
                              Reply
                              1. R
                                Rajendra Kumar
                                May 30, 2014 at 7:06 am
                                Christophe Jaffrelot displays the combined naivete of a foreigner, who considers himself an expert, and a typical Indian secularist. India was never a secular country in the true sense of the word. Hindu- Muslim relations remain the same as they were when India was divided in 1947. Hindu mes are socially and politically as distrustful of Muslims and Muslims as separatist as they were before Independence. The communists and casteists like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Yadav and the cunning opportunists like Mamta Banerjee cynically exploit Muslim fundamentalism for the sake of their votes. Sonia hi's appeal to Imam Bukhari for secular votes was not surprising nor the Hindu reaction, which decimated her party. Rajendra Kumar Mishra
                                Reply
                                1. R
                                  Rajendra Kumar
                                  May 30, 2014 at 7:24 am
                                  Communalism has come to mean Hindu communalism whose victims Muslims are. One seldom hears of Muslims as communalists. The so-called Hindu secularists, who include casteists Mulayam and Laloo and opportunists Mamta and Nitish Kumar, are in fact the worst enemies of Indian Muslims. They don't give a for their progress. They only want their votes.
                                  Reply
                                  1. S
                                    Shrieks
                                    May 29, 2014 at 6:13 pm
                                    India's democratic model is based on proportional representation of people of ALL religions put together, not of each religion.Need similar studies done for Christians, Parsis, Sikhs etc. to put this study in perspective.
                                    Reply
                                    1. D
                                      Devil
                                      May 30, 2014 at 8:25 am
                                      So called Secular parties themselves are to blame for this by keep on harping about fear to muslims from BJP which resulted in en me voting of Muslims against BJP which led to counter consolidation of Hindu votes in favour of BJP. As long as you keep doing these pseudo-secular vote bank politics, the representation of muslim MPs will be skewed in the Parliament. Start fighting based on issues rather than religion/caste, you will see proper representation of all in the parliament.
                                      Reply
                                      1. V
                                        Vijay Ranade
                                        May 27, 2014 at 10:27 pm
                                        I am confident that BJP led by Narendraji will look after all minorities properly including muslims of this country. We have great respect for Abdul Kalamji and therefore Muslims are safer here than any other muslim countries of the world.
                                        Reply
                                        1. $
                                          $72993826
                                          May 31, 2014 at 5:32 pm
                                          Does UK count how many of their MPs are Roman Catholic? Does USA count how many of their senators and congressmen are Roman Catholic or Jewish? The answer is neither do. Nor do their media. And yet we consider them balanced democracies. So why do we in India expect that xyz number of Muslim MPs should be in Parliament to establish our credentials as a secular democracy. Do any of our worthy 'secular-wallahs' ever sit and count how many Christian or Jain or Pe MPs we have? Partition in economic growth is what our Muslim brethren need most of all. The very economic growth their so called secular politicians denied to them for 10 years.
                                          Reply
                                          1. S
                                            Sphinx
                                            May 28, 2014 at 5:09 am
                                            They can have reservation for parliamentary seats like SC/ST.
                                            Reply
                                            1. Load More Comments