The resignation of Maulana Masood Madni from the Congress Party reflects the general dissatisfaction of Uttaranchal’s Muslims with the ruling Congress government in the state. This dissatisfaction can pose serious problems for the party in the forthcoming assembly elections. Elections here have always witnessed a very close contest between the two major political parties: the Congress and the BJP. Even a marginal shift of the Muslim vote — which has thus far gone to the Congress — can seal the fate of the party.
Going by the figures thrown up in Census 2001, Muslims constitute 12 per cent of Uttaranchal’s population. Although they have cast their lot with the Congress they have often, even in the past, expressed unhappiness with the party. Take the Maulana Masood Madni issue. A local leader and a minister in the state government, he has charged the state government with conniving with the police in assaulting him. First, he resigned from his ministerial position on the issue of the deportation of some members of the Indonesian outfit, the Tableeghi Jamaat, who were visiting the state on a tourist visa. Soon after that a mosque was razed in Barra village in Udham Singh Nagar. The matter was made worse by the removal of a graveyard gate at Kashipur. The criminals involved in these incidents allegedly enjoyed the patronage of the ruling party. With the election just a few months away, the Congress is now in something of a tizzy. Knowing full well that Muslims constitute a solid vote bank for the party in Uttaranchal, both the state government and senior party leaders in New Delhi are desperately trying to pacify the Muslims of the state.
The findings of the surveys conducted by Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) indicate that during the 2004 Lok Sabha election, 61 per cent among Muslim voters plumbed for the Congress, 25 per cent voted for the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav, while 11 per cent voted for the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati. During the 2002 assembly elections, the Muslim vote had got more or less equally divided between the Congress, the BSP and the SP. During both these elections, hardly any Muslim voter came out in support of the BJP, the party that poses a real challenge for the ruling Congress.
The figures also testify to the fact that the Congress and the BJP are locked in a very close electoral battle here. It is important to note that although the Congress is in power, having won 36 of the total 70 assembly seats in the last assembly elections, the victory was not all that comfortable. In fact the Congress was only marginally ahead of the BJP in terms of votes polled. The Congress Party had polled 26.9 per cent votes, while the BJP had polled 25.2 per cent votes. Even during the 2004 Lok Sabha election, the Congress polled 38.3 per cent votes while the BJP polled 41.0 per cent votes. Even the 1999 Lok Sabha election had witnessed a close contest between the two: the Congress had polled 38.1 per cent votes while BJP, 39.6 per cent votes.
The difference in the votes polled by the two parties indicates that the 2007 verdict in the state can go either way. Of course a great deal depends on the performance of the other parties, like the SP and the BSP, but they have traditionally played only a marginal role in Uttaranchal politics. It is also important to note that neither the Congress nor the BJP has managed to increase their support base over the last few elections. Therefore, even a marginal shift in the support base of either of these two parties can change their political fortunes in the state.
The Congress Party has the additional disadvantage of having to face the anti-incumbency mood of the voters, if there is one, in the state. That is why the current mood among Uttaranchal’s Muslims should worry the Congress a great deal.
The writer is fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi
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