NEW DELHI: Barring a few exceptions, the fact that fewer Muslim MLAs were elected in the recent Bihar Assembly elections falls into a pattern witnessed in recent years.
Wherever and whenever the Bharatiya Janata Party and its alliance partners have performed strongly, coming to power in most cases, the number of elected Muslim representatives has gone down, like in Bihar where it dropped from 24 to 19.
Conversely, where non-BJP parties have done well, Muslim representation in the elected houses has generally increased, an analysis by this newspaper found.
Take, for instance, the Karnataka elections in 2018 and Uttar Pradesh in 2017.
In both states, the BJP did well and the number of Muslim MLAs dived.
The steepest fall was in UP where the BJP stormed to power with a crushing threefourths mandate. In the outgoing Assembly where the Samajwadi Party was in power, the state had 68 Muslim MLAs; that figure dropped to 24.
Percentage wise, it dipped from 17% of the total strength of the Assembly to 6%. In Karnataka, the number of Muslim MLAs fell from 11 to seven.
Contrast them with the elections in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh in late 2018, Odisha in mid-2019, Maharashtra and Jharkhand in late 2019, and Delhi in February this year.
In all these states, the Congress and regional parties upended the BJP and the Muslim MLA count grew, even if marginally in some cases.
The biggest increase was in Rajasthan — from two to eight — where the Congress wrested power from the BJP. In Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress ended 15 years of continuous BJP rule, Muslim MLA numbers went up from nil to one and one to two, respectively.
Maharashtra and Jharkhand are also interesting, as the BJP lost power, and the number of Muslim MLAs increased.
Exceptions to the trend were Gujarat, Assam and Tripura, where Muslim representation went up though they are ruled by the BJP.
On the flip side, the Muslim MLA count dropped in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Punjab, where the BJP has negligible electoral presence.
‘Rational delimitation of SC seats must to address Muslim under-representation’
The 2006 Sachar Committee report had underlined the political under-representation of Muslims and suggested ways to improve it, including a more rational delimitation of Scheduled Caste seats for Parliament and state Assemblies.
The committee conducted a detailed study on delimitation in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal and found 27 reserved Assembly constituencies where Muslims were more in number than Dalits.
It also pointed to 28 general constituencies in these states where the Dalit population was more than in reserved constituencies while Muslims were fewer in number.
“The big picture is that Muslims are thoroughly under represented in Parliament, assemblies and local bodies. There are reasons for this, as pointed out in the Justice Sachar Committee report,” said Syed Mahmood Zafar, officer on special duty on behalf of the central government in the committee.
Mahmood said there were many constituencies reserved for SCs that had a substantial Muslim population.
As these seats fell in the reserved category, Muslims are not allowed to contest. “Section 9(1)(c) of the Delimitation Act mandates that those constituencies be reserved in Parliament and Assemblies where the Scheduled Caste concentration is the highest in the state. That law has been violated in the last seven decades and the loser in the process is the Muslim community,” Mahmood said.
“The Committee had recommended that the matter be referred to the delimitation commission asking it to fix the anomaly but no government has done anything. I have been writing to successive prime ministers, including Narendra Modi for this,” he added.
Aditya Nigam, a senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, blamed the Hindutva brand of BJP politics and what he called the ‘othering’ of Muslims, or treating them as the ‘other’ community in disdain.
Wherever the BJP was ascendant, the ‘othering’ was greater, he said. “The BJP’s politics functions on the othering of Muslims. There is no doubt that Muslims will pick any side that gives them an alternative. The Citizenship Amendment Act made it more divisive. It makes it even more imperative for the Muslims to find a non-BJP alternative,” Nigam said.
As an example, he cited the Delhi polls where the AAP, which fielded a number of Muslims, came across as a strong anti-BJP alternative and found resonance with the community.
This consolidation, Nigam argued, resulted in an increase in the number of Muslim legislators.