The Myth of Muslim Vote Bank

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With about six months to go for the General elections in India, the political battles, especially between the two major parties, Congress and BJP have already begun. In the days to come, the electoral fever in India will go up substantially. The intensity in the run up to these elections has not been witnessed in India for quite some time now. In a way, this election campaign is reminiscent of the early ‘90s, when the election campaigns were highly polarized, both on caste and communal lines. This time, the action around the electoral campaigns is being magnified by the use of social media, which was not present in the previous elections.

Both the major political parties as well as the regional parties are pitching to get the maximum vote share. Despite the claims of both Congress and BJP, none of them can be truly called a national party, given the kind of role the regional parties have been playing in Indian politics for almost two decades now. In south India, BJP is a fringe player, barring the state of Karnataka. Even Congress has almost become a fringe player in Bihar and has struggled in UP, both very important states, in the context of Indian electoral politics.

Since BJP anointed Narendra Modi to the post of Prime Minister, the party has gone on an offensive to garner votes. They are selling Modi as a mascot of development. Given that Modi is a highly polarizing political figure, it didn’t take long for the Indian media and political analysts to start asking about whether Indian Muslims will vote for BJP or Congress. Given the vitiated atmosphere that has been created by the recent communal violence in Muzzafar Nagar and the bomb blasts at a BJP rally in Patna, this question is gaining momentum by the day.

The question of who will the Indian Muslims vote for, makes for some hot TV debates, but this question doesn’t reflect the true current political reality of India and Indian Muslims. It makes one believe that Indian Muslim is a monolith who votes en-block for a particular party. This argument could hold about three decades back, when Indian politics, especially in the Hindi heartland represented a communal cauldron and Muslims would often find their religious leaders like the Shahi Imam of Delhi or clerics from Deoband issuing appeals to them to vote for a particular party. Indian Muslims would get swayed by these appeals. That was a time when Indian Muslims, especially in North India still carried the memories of partition and the bloody massacres that followed it. That generation had seen some unimaginable destruction, and political parties, notably the Congress played into this fear of Indian Muslims. They would often co-opt their religious leaders into appealing them to vote Congress into power. This strategy played on the fear psychosis of Indian Muslims and Congress generated rich electoral dividends from this strategy for quite some time.

But that was then. India has moved on since those days. A new generation of Indian voters, that is more assertive and aspirational and which does not carry the baggage of the post partition riots is taking the centre stage. The Indian Muslim voter should also be seen in this particular backdrop, with his / her own aspirations for a better and secure life. Indian Muslims are a part of the Indian mainstream and to expect them to become a vote bank of sorts is an affront not only to their patriotism and genuine aspirations but to their common sense as well. Not to forget that voters in India have a wide array of political parties to choose from and the Indian Muslim will make judicial use of the choices available when that time comes. It is high time that the media and analysts stop spreading the myth of the Muslim vote bank and instead highlight their genuine issues and concerns. Indian Muslims have realized that the politics of fear is not going to pay them any dividends. It will keep them mired in illiteracy and backwardness. The sooner the media, analysts and especially Indian political parties understand this paradigm shift, the better.

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