The new Lok
Sabha has 26 Muslim members of Parliament (MPs), only three more than in the
previous legislature. Only nine of them are re-elected incumbents, including
veteran parliamentarians Farooq Abdullah (National Conference), Asaduddin
Owaisi (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) and Badruddin Ajmal (All India
United Democratic Front). Barring Shafiqur Rehman Barq (Samajwadi Party), who
is returning to the Lok Sabha for a fifth term (he lost in 2014); all other
Muslim MPs are first-time elects.
MPs hail from 11 different states and belong to 10 different parties. Nearly
half of them come from Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Kerala. The Trinamool
Congress (TMC) and the Congress are sending four Muslim MPs each to the Lok
Sabha, while the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Muslim League (ML) in Kerala,
the National Conference (NC) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) are sending three MPs
each. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had nominated six Muslim
candidates, has drawn a blank.
the significance of these numbers, one must first put them in historical
context. The argument here is that any conversation about Muslims’ under-representation
in Parliament should start with the observation that it has been a long-term
phenomenon and not a consequence of the BJP’s rise. As such, the BJP followed
and amplified a movement that can be traced back to Independence.
around 5% of Muslim MPs in the first two Lok Sabha. Muslims were barely
represented under the Congress’ dominant one-party system.
The rise of
the Opposition in the 1970s created more avenues for Muslims’ representation,
although the socialists did not include many of them in their organisations or
among their candidates. Post 1980, Muslims’ representation declined steadily in
a backdrop of strong communalisation of politics. The BJP’s rise, which
occurred over this period, did not create the political marginalisation of
Muslims. Instead, it amplified the trend as it conquered more political space.
from the national and state-based parties reveal that Muslim representation
decreased after 1984 despite the fact that the share of tickets given to Muslim
candidates increased marginally over time. The political marginalisation of
Muslims was rendered more stark by the fact that their overall share in the
population increased over time, rising from 10.4% post-Partition to 14.2% in
the 2011 Census.
As far as
2019 is concerned, even though the campaign has been marked by multiple
communal statements and provocations, the question of Muslims’ representation
has been almost completely absent for the simple reason that no party chose to
talk about it. The BJP did not – for obvious reasons. They claim inclusiveness
in word but contradict themselves in deed, refusing to nominate Muslim
Congress remained silent on the issue, too, for tactical reasons. Ever since
Sonia Gandhi’s infamous statement in March 2018 to the effect that the Congress
ought to dispel the notion that it is a pro-Muslim party, the party has
virtually stopped raising issues concerning minorities. It has not made the
violence that Muslims have been subjected to over the past years a significant
campaign point. Lastly, regional parties – with the exception of small
formations like the AUDF, the AIMIM or the IUML – have also not been
particularly vocal in defending Muslims or raising matters of particular
interest to Muslims.
result, perhaps, nominations by major parties decreased from 10% in 2014 to 8%
in 2019. But contrary to perception, this decrease did not come from the
Congress. The numbers of Muslim candidates nominated by Congress has been
stable since 1999, at 6-7%. And despite the “soft Hindutva” bend of its
electoral strategy, they actually nominated a few more Muslim candidates this
time than five years ago, rising from 32 to 35.
drop of Muslim candidates actually comes from regional parties. Some regional
parties have given tickets to Muslim candidates: the SP, the BSP, the TMC and
the Rashtriya Janata Dal. But many important parties completely excluded
Muslims, as in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Maharashtra. This is a
good reminder that Muslims also tend to be under-represented in states that are
not dominated by the BJP, mostly in the South.
representation within the BJP is anecdotal. In the last round of 28 state
elections, the BJP fielded 22 Muslim candidates of which only three were
elected, among 1,282 MLAs. In this election, they gave only six tickets to
Muslim candidates, all of them weak figures with a history of underperformance
in local elections, to boot.
factors limit Muslims’ representation. Some are obvious, like demographic
concentration. Muslims tend to get fielded in seats with larger concentrations
of Muslim voters. Some of these seats are reserved, thus limiting their
demographic advantage (the Sachar Committee report had underlined this fact,
but Francesca Jensenius has demonstrated in an article that Muslims are not
more disadvantaged than other groups by reservations).
voting is another factor of limitation of Muslims representation. Several
Muslim candidates can undercut each other and pave the way for a third-party
player – generally non-Muslim – to pull through. This has enabled the BJP to
win a few seats in Rohilkhand, for instance, where the Muslims population is
internal political and sociological barriers that are specific to Muslim communities
as well: crippling factionalism among Muslim elites, a strong party bias that
favours upper-caste Muslims candidates over the larger population of backward
very well question the validity of this exercise of headcount. In a recent
piece, Hilal Ahmed has correctly argued that Muslims’ empowerment cannot be
reduced to the number of seats they occupy in assemblies. But experience shows
that access to institutions is a key element to obtaining the State’s
attention. Looking at the representation of Muslims’ interest in Parliament
through a study of parliamentary questions, Saloni Bhogale found that
substantive representation does derive from descriptive representation. One’s
interests truly tend to be better represented once one has actual
representation in public institutions. It remains to be seen whether the recent
declaration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be translated in action. If it
does, it would reverse a much larger trend than the exclusion of minorities
that stems from his own party.