In the US, there is a Trump Distress Syndrome. If you suffer from it as many do, you cannot rationally react to whatever Donald Trump does. These people are offended that Trump was elected at all. He got fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. But rules are rules and the rule is that the winner must win enough counties whether he gets a majority of the popular vote or not. Trump won enough counties to get elected.
India has people with Modi Distress Syndrome (MDS). Whatever Narendra Modi does must be bad, authoritarian, divisive etc. Many believe if the Congress is not in power, democracy has died. Foreign press also suffers from MDS. TIME magazine called Modi ‘Divider in Chief’. He won the election with over 37 per cent vote share overall and more than 50 per cent in many states. His support was across all income groups and across men and women, across caste Hindus and Dalits.
Ah, but not Muslims! Only 15 per cent support from Muslims. Someone in London, a well-informed fellow member of the House of Lords, expressed to me the horror that no Muslim had been elected to the Lok Sabha this time around. I told him that was not the case. Twenty-five Muslim MPs are in the Lok Sabha, as many as in 1952. But that is way below their proportion in the population. True, but that has always been the case. There have been one or two fewer, and during the long coalition period in the 1989-2014 period, more than 30 sometimes. At 15 per cent share in the population, it would require 75 Muslim MPs for proportionality, which has never been the case.
But why should we believe that only Muslims can represent Muslims? All MPs should represent all groups in the population. There were reserved seats for Muslims with only Muslim voters before Independence. B R Ambedkar won reserved seats for Dalits from the British in 1931, but Gandhiji went on a fast unto death to reverse that. Ambedkar was furious by what he thought was emotional blackmail. The Gandhi-Ambedkar agreement was that there would be seats reserved for Dalit candidates but the voters should be all voters — caste Hindus and Dalits and other minorities. After Independence, that has remained the case. Dalits represent all voters, Dalits and others. (A much bigger under-representation is of women. They constitute the largest minority but they are grossly underrepresented. Who cares?)
There is a crucial tension between the views of Ambedkar and Gandhi. Ambedkar wanted reserved seats for Dalits to be elected by fellow Dalits as he thought caste Hindus will not choose radical Dalits but only pliant ones. Gandhiji wanted to consolidate the Hindu vote so he merged Dalit vote with the Hindu vote.
The issue of whether only a member of a vote bank can represent its members is a politically explosive one. There needs to be a widespread discussion on this issue. If you take the Ambedkar view that each distinct group should be represented only by its own members, there may not be enough seats in the Lok Sabha to accommodate all the demands. Mandalisation has fragmented the caste Hindu electorate even without reserved seats. Seat reservation would fragment it further. If we take the Gandhi view, the majority has to respect minority rights in return to make democracy work.
This article first appeared in the print edition on July 14, 2019 under the title ‘ Out of my Mind: What about the Muslims?’