In 2014, the resounding mandate that the BJP got in Maharashtra meant that for the first time since 1960 when the state of Maharashtra had come into existence Muslims found no representation in the state cabinet.
The resurgence of the BJP is deemed to be one of the most important reasons for the blunting of the Muslim card which used to play a decisive role in up to 40 Assembly seats in Maharashtra.
Maharashtra’s 1.30 crore Muslims constitute 11.56 per cent of the state’s 11.24 crore population. Muslims have a slightly higher concentration in Northern Konkan, Khandesh, Marathwada and Western Vidarbha. The Muslim community will play a substantial role in 40 assembly constituencies – including seats in Mumbai – where they make up over 20 per cent of the local electorate.
The Congress-NCP combine was deemed to be the natural preference for Muslim voters who have historically shared a strained relationship with the BJP. While Maharashtra has relatively been safe for the community with no cases of lynching or outbreak of communal violence under BJP rule, there has been latent hostility in the community against the BJP because of issues like beef and triple talaq ban.
Even though Muslims have traditionally flocked to the Congress-NCP, there is an increasing sense within the community to detach itself from the binary of Congress-BJP politics. The growing feeling of political disempowerment and disillusionment with the Congress-NCP has seen young Muslims veering towards the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen, Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi and the Samajwadi Party as political alternates in the upcoming elections.
One of the biggest issues that the community has been facing is the steadily declining number of Muslim MLAs in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly. Since 1990, the growing communal schism meant a Muslim candidate is assured of a win only when he stands from a Muslim-dominated constituency. In the 2014 Assembly elections , eight of the nine Muslim MLAs have been elected from Muslim-dominated constituencies. The exception is the NCP’s Hasan Mushrif, who won Kagal, a constituency in western Maharashtra. None of the nine were elected on the ticket of the Shiv Sena-BJP who are presently ruling the state.
A nominal effort has been made by both the Shiv Sena and the BJP to reach out to Muslim voters. It is however yet to be seen if it translates into large scale support for these two parties.