Invisible in the House
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 continued…