Except in 1980,when the percentage of Muslim MPs in the Lok Sabha 9 per cent was roughly equivalent to the percentage of Muslims in the Indian population 11.4 per cent according to the 1981 census this minority has always been under-represented in Parliament. The gap increased in the late 80s,to fall to about 5 per cent in the 90s,the decade when the BJP remained the first party in the Lok Sabha for quite some time; it then increased slightly in 1999 and 2004 thanks to the good performance of parties which had nominated a large number of Muslim candidates,mainly the BSP and the SP. In the outgoing Lok Sabha,Muslim MPs represent 6.4 per cent of the total MPs while Muslims represent 13.4 per cent of the Indian population,according to the 2001 census.
The situation may not be very different this time if we go by the candidate lists. There are a very high number of Muslim candidates in the fray: the fates of about 780 are becoming clear as you read this. This figure reflects the will to take part in the political process of the worlds largest democracy,a will also reflected in the usually high turn-out of Muslim voters that retain faith in the electoral process,even,and especially,post-Ayodhya. But in most of the states including Muslim-majority J&K the percentage of Muslim candidates is far below the percentage of Muslims in the general population. In
Assam,where Muslims represent 30 per cent of the population,they are 19 per cent; in UP,where Muslims are 18.5 per cent,they are 11 per cent of candidates; a similar proportion in Bihar strive to represent a state where Muslims are 16.5 per cent of the population. The only significant exception is Maharashtra.
More importantly,in most of the states,a majority of Muslim candidates are independents. In Maharashtra,precisely 52 per cent contest as independents; in Gujarat and MP,54 per cent; in Haryana,66 per cent; in Rajasthan,80 per cent! These reflect the reluctance of the parties especially national parties to nominate Muslim candidates. If one does not expect the BJP to behave otherwise (the party has nominated only 5 Muslims this time) the Congress has never paid so little attention to Muslims,if that is judged by the percentage of its candidates that is Muslim. Excluding in J&K,less than 30 Muslims have been given Congress tickets this time an appallingly low number and interestingly,none in Maharashtra. Similarly,the communists do not make much room for Muslim candidates,not in West Bengal,with half a dozen candidates,nor in Kerala,where there are only a couple of Muslim candidates on the lists of the CPI and the CPM. The only national party giving prominence to Muslim candidates is the BSP. In UP,its stronghold,the BSP has actually nominated more Muslim candidates than its rival,the SP (13 against 12). Mulayam Singh Yadav might lose sections of the Muslim vote to the BSP anyway because of the entry of Kalyan Singh in the party. In Maharashtra,too,the BSP is the party which has given more tickets to Muslim candidates than any other party,including the SP (9 against 6). Similarly,in Karnataka and in Kerala; in the latter it has given more tickets to Muslim candidates than the communists and the Muslim League! It is possible that the BSP aims to become the new political channel of expression for Muslims by reconstituting the old UP Congress coalition of Brahmins,Dalits and Muslims. This would certainly be a significant development if it enables Muslim communities to remain part of the institutional framework,defusing centrifugal forces which could take the form of a Muslim party or even extra-constitutional modes of action. To ensure political voice is even more important at a time when this minority is discriminated against in the labour and housing markets,as has become evident from recent surveys. One thing to look at in the results is whether the BSP has a chance at being this voice.
The writer is at CERI,Sciences Po,Paris and has co-edited Rise of the plebeian? The changing face of Indian legislative assemblies. This article was co-written with Virginie Dutoya,Radhika Kanchana and Gayatri Rathore.