A win in the Maharashtra elections for a former journalist who ran for a Muslim party has reinforced the perception that the Congress party is losing one of its most-faithful vote banks and indicated that politics in India could become more divided along religious lines…
Imtiaz Jaleel, a former NDTV journalist based in Pune, took one of the two seats won by the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) in the state by making inroads in the Muslim community, which ditched its traditional allegiance to the center-left Congress party. “Muslims in Indiahave been hearing the same refrain for Congress for a long time: ‘vote for us, or the Bharatiya Janata Party will get into power’,” Mr. Jaleel said in an interview. “That menace sounds hollow now.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing BJP party won the most seats in the State shy of a majority. But, AIMIM, a party calling on Muslims to cast their votes on the basis of religious belief also had resonance and could play an important role in one of India’s largest, richest and most populous State. The AIMIM, also known as MIM, is led by brothers Akbaruddin and , and has traditionally rallied voters in the neighboring Andhra Pradesh by pitting itself as the defender of Muslim voters from right-wing Hindu parties. In Maharashtra it gathered a sizable share of the vote in about half of the 23 seats it contested.
The surprise victories marked a strong debut for the party in that State, but more significantly it further weakened Congress’ dominance inMaharashtra where it has relied heavily on the votes of the Muslim minority. Since Maharashtra was created in 1960, Congress has been in power or in a ruling alliance apart from after elections in 1978 and again in 1995. To be sure, the AIMIM garnered only 0.9 per cent of the popular vote. Still, it came second in many places, including Parbhani and Aurangabad East, and third in several urban districts, including Versova, Kurla and Bandra East. Besides the Aurangabad Central seat won by Mr. Jaleel, the party won in Mumbai southern Byculla district.
“Muslim disaffection with Congress has been going on for fifteen years: the Maharashtra election is showing us the end game,” said Subir Sinha, a senior lecturer in Indian politics at the School of Oriental and Asian Studies in London. “Congress has not delivered on promises they made to their Muslim electorate, and they’re getting their payback.” Mr. Sinha noted that events that have marked India’s Muslim community – including the start of the process that eventually led to the razing of the Babri Masjid mosque in 1992, or the failure by an enquiry commission to single out those responsible for a 2002 Muslim pogrom in Gujarat – happened when Congress was in power in New Delhi. Both events have helped to distance the Muslim community from the center-left party, and the Maharashtra election results are a good indicator of what may happen at a national level, Mr. Sinha said.
Mr. Jaleel said his victory in his native village of Aurangabad is a natural consequence of how Indian politics are evolving. “All communities in Indiahave their own party to represent them, except for the Muslims,” said Mr. Jaleel. “That’s changing.” The trend may have wider implications forIndia, the world’s largest democracy. As voters gradually shifted to parties advancing the interest of particular sections of the population – including the BJP, which is committed to Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism – India’s Muslim community has been deprived of adequate representation in the national parliament. After May’s national vote, Muslim candidates won only 22 of the 543 seats up for grabs in the Lok Sabha, or 4.2 per cent of the total — the lowest percentage since India’s independence. India’s Muslim population accounts for about 13 per cent of the total. That’s 150 million Muslims, making India home to the third-largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan.
To silence opponents claiming that its election victory in May would jeopardise India’s delicate balance between the majority Hindu population and religious minorities, BJP leaders repeatedly claimed their party was secular. But analysts note that after the Maharashtra elections those pleas sound less substantial. “What seems to be happening is a consolidation of the Muslim vote. AIMIM candidates have been able to persuade voters that Hindus are voting for the BJP,” said Harsh Pant, who teaches international relations at King’s College London. “It poses a problem for the BJP’s claim that they’re taking votes from across the spectrum.”