Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The newly elected 140-member Kerala Assembly will have a total of 32 Muslim MLAs. (File image)
Muslim public representatives continue to, largely, find their métier with India’s regional parties.
In the just-concluded assembly elections to four states and one Union territory, Muslim candidates have emerged winners in Bengal’s All India Trinamool Congress (TMC), Assam’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) from Kerala, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu and a handful of little-known regional fronts.
To be sure, Muslim candidates have also won on Congress and Left Democratic Front tickets in Assam and Kerala.
Of the 827 seats that went to polls in the four states and one Union territory (UT), Muslim candidates won 112 seats, which works out to a little over 13% of the total assembly seats won in the recent elections.
Says journalist and author Urmilesh: "Traditionally, for the minorities, Congress was the large umbrella platform, which offered them opportunities as an all India party. With the decline of the Congress and the BJP less than welcoming, it is the regional parties that are offering them the opportunity to win elections from general constituencies. Parties like the RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) and SP (Samajwadi Party) in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have always offered them a platform. The regional parties now constitute the real opposition to the BJP.”
Hyderabad-based daily Siasat Daily wrote: "The results of five state assembly elections that were announced by the Election Commission on Sunday revealed that Muslim candidates in the contest barely showed any significant rise in tally.” But a rise, it noted, nonetheless.
A look at the numbers reveals the picture. Assam and Kerala have registered a slight rise in the number of Muslims elected to the assembly, while their total has gone down in West Bengal. In Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, it is status quo ante – six and one seats, respectively, as were won in 2016.
In politically polarised West Bengal, 42 Muslim MLAs have been elected out of 294 newly elected members, according to data released by the Election Commission.
Of the 42, 41 belong to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC). The non-TMC Muslim MLA-elect is Mohammed Naswad Siddique, who won the Bhangar assembly constituency on the Rashtriya Secular Majlis Party (RSMP) ticket, a hitherto unheard-of political entity.
However, to the surprise of some, the election of Muslims to the West Bengal legislative assembly reveals a declining trend. In 2016, this number stood at 56, which itself was a comedown from the 2011 tally of 59.
In 2011, Mamata Banerjee had displaced the over-three-decade-old Left Front government in the state.
Those who believe that Bengal is polarised, obviously haven’t travelled further east to Assam, where Muslim candidates improved their tally to 31, compared to previous assembly elections figure of 29 in 2016 and 28 in 2011. The strength of the Assam assembly is 126.
This is the second-highest number after the 33 who were elected in the controversial 1983 elections held during the peak of the Assam Agitation.
Of the 31 winners, 16 were fielded by the Congress and 15 by the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).
BJP too fielded eight Muslim candidates in Assam, but all of them lost. Little wonder that the party has decided to dissolve its state minority cell, even though its own performance of 60, adding up to 75 assembly seats with the allies, puts the ruling coalition in a very comfortable position in the state.
In Assam, the polarisation is clinically complete because illegal migration is an issue in the state like nowhere else. Virtually the entire opposition, save a few, are Muslim MLAs, while all non-Muslims, including the tribes, are with the BJP and its allies.
In Kerala, too, the number of Muslim MLAs has registered an increase. The newly elected 140-member Kerala Assembly will have a total of 32 Muslim MLAs, according to the Election Commission.
As many as 15 Muslim MLAs elected to the Kerala house are from Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). Of the rest, three are from Congress, nine from the CPI-M (Communist Party of India [Marxist]), one each from Indian National League and National Secular Conference, while three others are independent.
In 2016, the Kerala assembly had a total of 29 Muslim MLAs.
In Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, Muslim MLAs have maintained their 2016 assembly election tally. While six members were elected from Tamil Nadu, one lone MLA was returned to Puducherry.
The six in Tamil Nadu are from the DMK, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK). The one Muslim winner from Puducherry belongs to the DMK.
In another twist, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) failed to open its account in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, where the party had fielded seven and three candidates, respectively.
In West Bengal, the Asaduddin Owaisi-led party contested the elections alone after being snubbed by Indian Secular Front’s Abbas Siddiqui, who joined the Left-Congress alliance.
Likewise, in Tamil Nadu, AIMIM had joined hands with the TTV Dhinakaran-led AMMK but drew a blank.
Says writer, film maker and history buff, Sohail Hashmi: "In a democracy, communities hardly matter. But under the prevailing circumstances, given the increased marginalisation of Muslims, it is an indication of rising communalism."
He says that in all General Elections in India since the first, Muslims have voted as part of the general population. "They have never voted as Muslims. The whole notion of vote bank is a total fallacy,” Hashmi says. Maybe, that is why regional parties are offering the minorities a platform, because they too are increasingly reflecting national aspirations, now that the Congress appears to be in terminal decline.