Secular parties are dividing the Muslim vote, uniting castes

The evidence is that Muslims are going to vote solidly against the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. But the unseemly lunge for the Muslim vote by so-called secular parties may end up achieving the exact opposite

R Jagannathan April 08, 2014 15:23:23 IST
Secular parties are dividing the Muslim vote, uniting castes

One should pity the humble Muslim voter this time. His heart would like to vote for someone who can defeat the BJP and Narendra Modi – if they are a force to reckon with in his constituency. But such has been the unedifying lunge for the Muslim vote this time, that the so-called secular parties are likely to achieve the exact opposite of what they intend: an easy win for Modi.

In many constituencies where the Muslim vote matters in the battleground states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which is where the BJP's fate will be decided, there is more than one "secular" claimant for the Muslim vote.

Secular parties are dividing the Muslim vote uniting castes

Does the Muslim voter really have a choice? AFP

The Indian Express says today (8 April) that Aligarh is seeing a situation where the Muslim vote is divided while the Hindu vote is coalescing due to the Modi factor. Normal voting theory states that Muslim votes unite while Hindu votes divide along caste lines. But this time it is the other way round. The Muslim vote in Aligarh, says the newspaper, "appears split between the Samajwadi Party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and, to some extent, the Congress. It is the Hindu vote that seems to be consolidating behind Modi, even breaking caste barriers."

Another report, this time in The Economic Times, says the Muslim vote in western Uttar Pradesh is headed towards the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Mayawati, while in Bihar Chirag Paswan, son of LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan, may win if the Muslims divide their vote between Lalu Prasad’s RJD and Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal(U). A second Express report today confirms this theory that the Bihari Muslim is torn between Nitish Kumar, who sacrificed his alliance with BJP over Modi, and the RJD-Congress alliance, which did nothing for Muslims but appears to be more viable than stranded Nitish Kumar. Muslims would have liked to stand by Nitish, but he cannot defeat the BJP. So their vote could be split, helping the BJP.

These anecdotal and on-the-ground reports suggest that Modi’s key role has been to break the caste barrier even while opening up the divide for the “secular” vote to flow to many parties.

In fact, all the secular fights relate to Muslim versus Muslim this time. In Saharanpur, Congress candidate Imran Masood dished out his “boti, boti” video in order to make himself a superior claimant for the Muslim vote, which his Samajwadi Party candidate (and cousin) Shadan Masood looked set to capture.

In Delhi, even as the Jama Masjid’s Imam Bukhari batted for Congress and Sonia Gandhi, his brother Syed Yahya Bukhari, said the Aam Aadmi Party deserved the Muslim vote. Again, even Muslims are divided on which secular party to vote for.

By creating so many rivals to himself in so many parties, Modi has inadvertently and effectively divided rather than united the opposition against him. And an opposition united against him has effectively divided the Muslim vote.

The Muslims are caught in a trap. After decades of falling for the secular parties’ protection racket, they thought this time they had the option of experimenting with parties other than the Congress at the centre, especially with the arrival of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi and some other places.

The secular parties will clearly be to blame if the Muslim vote fragments this time. The reality is that over the last few decades they have managed to do little for the minorities even while irritating the so-called majority by appearing to pander to minority sentiment. The optics of the secular parties’ actions were pro-minority, but the reality was pro-majority.

The secular parties have thus achieved the impossible: erased the caste divide to push more Hindus towards Modi, and pissed off the Muslims so much that they now are forced to either vote for those they wanted to teach a lesson, or divide their vote and make Modi’s win a certainty.

What a dilemma to be in.

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