Muslim backwardness in Uttar Pradesh has nothing much to do with the number of Muslim MLAs

The massive victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh has led to many Left and secular critics pointing out the limitations of democracy in India. Their contention is that how come the ruling party of a state, nearly 19 percent of whose population comprises of Muslims, did not find a single Muslim good enough for being its MLA candidate. This is a valid point, no doubt. But can it be stretched too far? There can be a counter-argument to it on the ground that fielding Muslim candidates not for their worth as achievers but for their religion amounts to tokenism, a feature that has always marked the non-BJP parties, resulting in the continuing miseries of the country’s largest minorities.

A study in the Economic and Political Weekly had once shown that in its heydays (up to the 1980s) the Congress gave Muslims only token representations in the legislatures. Interestingly, Muslim candidates were fielded in areas where they did not have any chance of winning. Even those who managed to win — many of them were rewarded not for their self-endeavour but for having inherited the legacies of their parents — hardly represented Muslim interests in Parliament or in government.

In fact, the number of Muslim members in the Lok Sabha has always been disproportionate to their actual numbers in the country. In the present, that is the 16th, Lok Sabha, there are only 22 Muslim MPs (the lowest number ever); but then the fact remains that in 1957 (the 2nd Lok Sabha), the number was 23. In fact, the highest representation was in 1980 when 49 Muslims were elected to the Lok Sabha; otherwise the number has always varied between mid-20s and to mid-30s.

Similarly, Muslim representation in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly has been not commensurate with its population. In the newly constituted Assembly, it is 24; but then the fact remains that in both 1967 and 1969 elections, the number was 23. In 1957, it was 29 and in 1962, it was 30. In 1991, the number was lowest at 16. In 1993, it was 24. The highest ever of Muslim MLAs in UP Assembly was in 2012 when the number reached 67. The second highest has been at the number 46 in 1977, 1980 and 2002 Assembly elections.

A Muslim man reads a newspaper as he stands outside a closed shop in Lucknow

The point that one is making that neither tokenism in representation of Muslims nor hallowed slogans of secularism will not improve the conditions of Muslims in India. Reuters

The point thus is that the Muslim representation has always varied in the UP elections and the number this time is nothing surprising; there have been lower representations even under non-BJP governments in spite of their avowed concerns for "secularism" and welfare of the Muslims.

The question that arises is: Should the Muslims continue to repose their faith only in the non-BJP parties just because they are said to be "secular" and avoid the BJP just because it is perceived to be "communal"? Apart from the dubious "fear" of BJP's "communalism", there is nothing concrete that the Muslims can cite against the BJP. Communal riots did not happen for the first time in 2001 under Modi in Gujarat. In fact, in post-independent India, Gujarat has been one of the worst states for periodic Hindu-Muslim riots, and almost all these riots had taken place under the Congress regimes.

Any dispassionate study of communal conflicts in independent India will reveal that more anti-Muslim riots have been engineered in the Congress-ruled states than in states under the BJP. One often hears that this is a diabolical design on the part of the BJP to tell the Muslims, "Vote for us if you want safety to your life and property or else face the consequences". This is, again, a weak argument. One can counter-argue that communal riots are caused by the non-BJP parties just to perpetuate the myth of BJP's communalism and prevent it from coming to power.

Similarly, though Muslims account for 14.4 percent of the total Indian population, they are among the poorest in the country. The Sachar committee report (for year 2004-05) claimed that as much as 31 percent, precisely one-third of Indian Muslims, were dwelling below poverty line. But then there was no qualitative change of the Muslims’ condition under the 10-year-rule of the Congress-led UPA that had set up the Sachar Committee. As it is, India’s latest National Sample Survey (NSS), released in April 2013, showed how the states whose leaders talk the most about secularism are the worst in India as far the welfare the Indian Muslims is concerned.

However, and this important, it was in Narendra Modi-led Gujarat that Muslims did well in between 2004 and 2009. According to the NSS, Kerala and Gujarat emerged as the top two states in India where poverty among Muslims in both rural and urban areas declined drastically in the last ten years. In rural Gujarat for instance, the number of Muslims below poverty line (BPL) fell from 31 percent (about one-third of their population) in 2004-05 to a measly 7 percent in 2011-12. Comparison of the same period reveals that those in the BPL population in urban areas also declined from 42 percent to 14.6 percent. Meanwhile, the maximum per capita expenditure (MPCE – an indicator of economic well-being) of Muslims in rural Gujarat went up from Rs 209 to Rs 291. In urban areas of the state, it shot up from Rs 259 to Rs 328.

In contrast, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar still have a large percentage of the Muslim population below poverty line, the statistics reveal. In 2004-05, almost half of the Muslim population in Uttar Pradesh was below poverty line. It has come down to about one-third now, but the overall, and the change in the average MPCE of the community in Uttar Pradesh (for that matter in Bihar and West Bengal) in this period has been much lower compared to Gujarat.

It is equally noteworthy that Modi as the Chief Minister employed more Muslims in Police forces (about 11 percent of the total police strength when the Muslim population as a whole is 9 per cent of Gujarat’s population) than our “secular” chief ministers in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. And, there are lesser Muslims under-trials in Gujarat jails than in the jails of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.

The point that one is making that neither tokenism in representation of Muslims nor hallowed slogans of secularism will not improve the conditions of Muslims in India as long as there is no sincere attempts towards better governance and greater developmental activities(including education and small-scale entrepreneurships) in which the Muslims participate enthusiastically.

Unfortunately, our “secular” politicians do not encourage our Muslim-brethren to go beyond their passive role as a vote-bank of some select parties. They advise them to consider the BJP, Modi in particular, “untouchable”. But then imagine a situation with the BJP coming to power in most parts of the country without much Muslim-support (which is the case now), but Muslims, who constitute the country’s second largest community after Hindus, refuse to be a part of the development process. It is nothing but suicidal. Mindless opposition to the BJP does not serve the interests of the Muslim community. They should participate in Modi’s “empowering” policies and programmes like other poor, not be trapped by “entitlement” tokenisms of the “secular politics”, a variety of which in West Bengal gives monthly allowance to the clerics and Imams, costing a near-bankrupt state government Rs 126 core per year (but here the Imams are still angry because the amount — Rs 2,500 to an Imam and Rs 1,000 to a moizzin — is too small for them.

In other words, it is not the number in legislatures but the change in their mindset by breaking free of the influence of the orthodox elements (who only exploit their vulnerabilities in the name of religious-cultural identity and are invariably supported by the political parties that pay only lip-service to the cause of secularism) and focusing instead on the real developmental issues that will remove the poverty and backwardness of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere.


Published Date: Mar 14, 2017 12:34 pm | Updated Date: Mar 14, 2017 12:34 pm


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