Their community may be demanding greater political representation, but Muslim candidates drew fewer votes from one election to the next in Maharashtra, figures for the last two assembly polls show. The number of Muslim candidates rose from 265 in 2004 to 395 in 2009, while the proportion of votes they polled fell from 4.48 per cent to 3.88 per cent.
Muslims constitute 10.6 per cent of the state’s population and play a decisive role in over 40 of its 288 seats. Yet the four major parties nominated only 20 Muslims in 2004 and 18 in 2009, apparently because Muslim candidates have traditionally attracted fewer voters than non-Muslims have. In 2004, for instance, every non-Muslim candidate polled an average 16,557 votes, more than twice as many as every Muslim candidate’s 7,077. The gap widened to three times in 2009 with non-Muslims polling an average 13,766 votes and Muslims 4,453.
Political leaders accept in private that it is difficult for a Muslim candidate to find wide acceptability across voter communities. “It is a fact that a Muslim candidate has less acceptability among the voters, particularly if he is not standing from a minority-dominated constituency. As bad as it may sound, it is true that not many people are keen to vote for a Muslim candidate,” said a senior Congress leader who did not wish to be named.
The Congress has fielded only 25 Muslims in the last two elections, the NCP 10, the Shiv Sena two and the BJP one. The bulk of the 660 Muslim candidates has contested either from smaller parties or as independents. The number of Muslim candidates from smaller parties grew from 112 to 130, and the number of Muslim independents from 133 to 247.