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Indian political parties scurrying for Muslim vote

By EMN Updated: Jan 22, 2014 10:40 pm

India’s Muslim community is a sought-after voting bloc in India’s elections scheduled for next year, as political parties believe they vote in unison more than any other group.

Udayan Namboodiri

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE 2014 general election for India’s 543 parliamentary seats is forecast to be the largest democratic process ever, with over 725 million people expected to participate.It is believed Muslim voter turnout surpasses that of other religious groups, and that Muslims implement “strategic voting” to ensure the community’s votes are not split between friendly parties.Jaythirth Rao, a spokesman for the election monitoring agency C-Voter, told Khabar South Asia that 35 parliamentary districts dispersed over the country have more than 30% Muslim voters.
“What is crucial for all parties to understand is that apart from those 35, there are 183 others which have upwards of 11% Muslim voters,” Rao said.
The “M Calculus”
Political strategists from all parties are plotting to get the so-called “M Calculus” – “M” for Muslim – on their side, including the Hindu right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“Wooing the Muslim vote is nothing new but in 2014, the touchstone is Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. His image as an anti-Muslim politician has divided the country but he expects that his record as a successful three-term chief minister of Gujarat state will win him national approval,” former Congress party MP Obaidur Rahman told Khabar.
Although Modi is negatively associated with the 2002 riots in Gujarat that led to more than 1,200 deaths, Muslims in his state have fared better overall than their counterparts elsewhere.
“There are more Muslims in government jobs in Gujarat than other states of India. The overall economic condition of Gujarati Muslims is quite remarkable. But the ghost of the 2002 carnage is not likely to leave him,” Irfan Ali Engineer, director of Centre of Studies in Society and Secularism, Mumbai told Khabar.
To further burnish Modi’s image, his strategists take care to pack a few of the front rows at every party rally with people from local Muslim communities.
“Only men are brought and told specifically to come in traditional Muslim attire with skull caps for added distinctiveness,” Arif Mohammad Khan, a former federal minister who is now an independent politician, told Khabar.
Secularism vs. Development?
The Congress Party, traditional beneficiary of Muslim support, is nervous about 2014. Slowing economic growth and the lack of general progress in the Muslim community during Manmohan Singh’s ten years in power, contribute to the party’s concerns.
“The two spells of Dr Manmohan Singh may not have created more jobs for Muslims, but at least they have been secure from discrimination and persecution,” senior Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi told Khabar. “I believe secularism will always be the dominant discourse in our democracy.”
Modi worked to compensate for his secularism handicap by becoming a symbol of development. Gujarat has been successful recently in branding itself, attracting investment from leading global conglomerates.
Congress, however, is seen as a lame duck on development. The government is perceived as being in “policy paralysis” under Singh, with key decisions on investment controls and land acquisition for industry kept in abeyance. Economic growth plummeted from 9% in 2009 to 4.8% in early 2013.
Meanwhile, media are playing up the “secularism vs. democracy” debate, rolling out surveys in which they ask voters which is more important.
Young Muslim voters
What do young Muslims think of this dichotomy? According to India’s election commission, more than 180 million young Indians will be voting for the first time in 2014. The exact percentage of Muslims among them is not available, but given the demographics, the figure is expected to hover in the 20-24 million range.
Khaled Mohammad Rastanvi, 19, a medical student in Delhi, told Khabar, “As a young Indian, jobs and economic expansion should definitely be my concern. But I also have to think about the future of my community, and look at the future through a different prism. Secularism has helped me come up, and so I don’t want to just [embrace] a young ambitious professional’s notion of nationhood.”
To Simran Khan, 20, a Lucknow-based computer professional, the calculus is unclear.
“The Samajwadi Party which is in power in my state, was always thought to be pro-Muslim. But three months back there were riots in Muzaffarnagar under its watch. There are reports that the riots were engineered secretly by parties just to prove the insecurity of the Muslims. We don’t know whom to believe,” she told Khabar.

By EMN Updated: Jan 22, 2014 10:40:44 pm