The question has the ring of a national pastime: who will the Muslims go with in 2014? Before and after every major election in this country, political analysts and pollsters go into overdrive with their prognostications or post-mortems on the voting patterns of the minority community. But do Muslims really vote en masse as part of a tactical approach to keep forces inimical to their interests out of power?
Independent Rajya Sabha member Mohammad Adeeb says: “Muslims do resort to tactical voting. They do so out of compulsion. Hindus and Muslims were together in the freedom struggle but after Independence the minority community developed a sense of fear. They felt that their identity was in danger. So they voted for secular parties. Muslims have generally gone with the Congress. They are in futile search of another Gandhi.”
Khalid Ashraf, lecturer in Delhi's Kirori Mal College, echoes Adeeb: “Tactical voting by Muslims is a compulsion. The issue of security is top priority for them.” He laments that “communalism and casteism are ingrained in this country’s DNA”. He adds: “Only a small segment of the population is non-communal.
Otherwise it's only a matter of degrees. Some are very communal, others are less so. This is true of every community.”
Former Rajya Sabha member Shahid Siddiqui dismisses the theory regarding tactical voting by Muslims: “It is a myth. Muslims do not vote only for Muslim candidates either. They vote for anybody who they find suitable whereas that is not true with Gujjars, Brahmins or Yadavs. If anything, Muslims vote sensibly. They do not vote for one party or one community. They vote for the Muslim League in Kerala, the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen in Andhra Pradesh, JD(U) in Bihar, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party or the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, the Left or Trinamool Congress in Bengal and the Congress in Karnataka.”
Siddiqui elaborates: “The Congress fielded the largest number of Muslim candidates in the last UP Assembly elections, but the community didn’t vote for them. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, however, Muslims had supported the Congress.” He adds: “The media treats Muslims as a herd. The impression is sought to be created that Muslim vote en masse. That is absolutely wrong. In the last UP Assembly elections, 60 per cent Muslims voted for SP while the rest voted for other political parties. By and large, the Muslim community votes like the Hindu community. Both vote differently in different states”.
Navaid Hamid, general secretary of the Movement for Empowerment of Muslim Indians, says: “Post-1986 elections, Muslims started exploring the strategy of tactical voting. The Shah Bano agitation and the hype of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement created serious reservations among Muslims regarding the Congress and obviously BJP. The new situation forced them to think about a new political alignment. The Bhagalpur riots, the Nellie massacre, and a sequence of communal riots led to disillusionment with the ruling Congress party. So wherever there was an alternative to the Congress Muslims voted for that alternative. But where there was no alternative, Muslims stayed with the Congress like in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi.”
He believes that as of today, the Congress would get the Muslim vote because there is no third front. “Unfortunately, issues like corruption get a secondary place because security and discrimination come to the fore as they are directly linked to Muslims. The corruption issue gets sidelined also because the principal opposition party, BJP, is itself involved in large-scale corruption,” adds Hamid.
President of Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen Asaduddin Owaisi, MP, stresses the need for Muslims to develop their own political entity because even tactical voting has failed to serve its purpose. “In Assembly elections, regional considerations come into play. Wherever there is an alternative other than the Congress Muslims do vote for them. However, in states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi or Maharashtra there is no choice, so Muslims by default vote for Congress. It is time Muslims develop their own political space. We are not the sole torch-bearers of secularism.”
“It is a tragedy that a large section of the population does not accord importance to national issues like corruption and misgovernance and votes just to keep one political entity out of power. This approach can neither serve the interest of the nation nor of any particular community. People may call it tactical voting but for me it is insensitive voting,” says Rajesh Kumar, special correspondent of The Pioneer and resident of Bihar’s Sitabdiara (the birthplace of Jayaprakash Narayan).
Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have significant Muslim populations. The two states account for 120 Lok Sabha seats. So how the Muslims vote in these two states does impact the final outcome of the general elections. Senior journalist Zafar Agha visualises three possible scenarios for UP in the 2014 elections.
Scenario 1: If the present phase of economic reforms works out, fetches results, money starts flowing, everything improves and no Assam-like riots erupt in the Congress-ruled states, then Muslims could go with the Congress.
Scenario 2: If Modi wins in Gujarat and BJP projects him as its prime ministerial candidate and the fight narrows down Rahul versus Modi, Muslims will go with the Congress. In this scenario, the decision of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar would also be a deciding factor.
Scenario 3: In case the decline of the Congress continues and BJP projects Modi as its candidate then Muslims may go with the regional parties. In that situation the chances of a third front emerging brightens as Muslims will do tactical voting to keep both the Congress and BJP out and facilitate the formation of a third front government with the outside support of either BJP or Congress.
Shahid Siddiqui says: “SP would be the biggest loser in western UP in the next Lok Sabha elections as the number of Yadavs is not significant in this area. Here, Muslims would vote for the main force at the Centre and Congress could gain. In eastern UP, however, all the key parties will have a chance. In 2014, Muslims would certainly not vote the way they did in the Assembly elections. The Lok Sabha election is a different kettle of fish.”
Predicting a poor show by the Congress, Mohd Adeeb says: “In 2009, Muslims voted for the Congress thinking that the party would carry forward the work of UPA-1. They believed that it would fulfil its promise of implementing the Sachar Committee recommendations. These recommendations have remained on paper for the last seven years. Though the Congress would suffer setbacks in the 2014 elections and regional parties would gain, the possibility of any third front coming to power is rather remote.”
In Bihar, too, Muslims appear to be losing faith in regional parties. They are beginning to look towards the Congress. Therefore, if the Congress goes in for a pre-poll alliance with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) then the BJP-led NDA could face the music in the next parliamentary elections. Another factor that looms large over the minds of Bihari Muslims is the possibility of BJP projecting Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. Though the minority community appears to be happy with Nitish Kumar for now, the Modi factor could undermine the chief minister’s chances in 2014. Patna native Arif Siddiqui, who works in Delhi, says: “There has been overall development in the state, and the law and order situation has improved appreciably. So Muslims in Bihar will vote for Nitish.”
However, there are those that club Nitish and former Bihar CM Lalu Prasad Yadav together and allege that both are opportunists who have only exploited the community. The Bihar state president of the International Human Rights Security Council Arif Hussain says: “In the last 22 years, the ruling parties have sown the seeds of casteism among Muslims. Muslims are now sub-divided into several castes and this has been done by the regional parties. This factor could also tilt voters towards the Congress. What is the harm in projecting Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate? He has a clean and secular image”.
At present, JD(U) has 22 members in Parliament whereas BJP has 13 MPs from Bihar. If this alliance breaks then the present tally could change and Nitish's tally could go up. Muslims constitute 14 per cent of Bihar’s population. In 12 of the 40 LS seats in the state, the Muslim vote is decisive. These seats include Kishanganj, Araria, West Champaran, Sitamarhi, Darbhanga, Madhubani, Katihar, Bhagalpur, Gopalganj, Munger and Patna Sahib.
Social worker Ashfaq Husain says: “Lalu used to say he would not allow Praveen Togadia to enter the state. Nitish targets Modi in a similar manner. But Muslims here are leaning towards the Congress.” Hussain believes that Nitish will back BJP at the Centre no matter how the alliance fares in Bihar. Muslims are unlikely to ignore that eventuality when they go out to cast their vote in the 2014 general elections.