Why is the Muslim vote important for India?

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Why is the Muslim vote important for India?

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India has a population of 1.35 billion of which 180 million are Muslim. With a 14.2 percent share, Muslims are the largest single minority in the country. 
However, their presence in civil services, military, and the economic sector is below the population ratio. In 2005, the Indian government constituted a committee, under Chief Justice Rajindra Sachar, to oversee the social, economic, and educational status of the Muslim community. The precise task of this committee was “to find causes of development deficit in the Muslim community”. 
The findings of the report were released in 2006 and placed the social status of Muslims below expectations.
Muslims are, therefore, clearly the underdogs in India. The question which demands immediate attention is —  who is responsible for the sad state of affairs? The answer is both mainstream political parties and the Muslims themselves. Since 1947, Muslims have put all their eggs in the Congress’ basket as this party espoused secularism. In the given Indian scenario, even the Jamaat-e-Islami, the rightwing party of Muslims, projected secularism as it’s national policy.
However, the ultimate irony is that in the India of today even the Congress has moved toward the ideology of Hindutva or supremacy of Hinduism, as it lures voters. The Congress party of yesteryears has undergone a cataclysmic change.
A close look at the elected lower house of the Indian parliament, which is called the Lok Sabha, reveals a lot. In the 2009 elections, 30 Muslims were elected to the Lok Sabha. With a 14.2 percent share in the population, logically, the Muslims should have won 75 seats. 
In the current Lok Sabha which was elected in 2014, the number of Muslims registered a further decline, with the number falling to 24, which constitutes 4.4 percent of the total seats. For the first time, the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) has no Muslim representatives in the Lok Sabha. Muslims in UP constitute 19 percent of its population. The erosion of Muslim presence in the parliament, services, and in the private sector is not good for India in the long run.
A robust democracy must be plural and inclusive. There are apparently two reasons for the increasing exclusion of Muslims from the Indian political scene. Firstly, they are scattered all over the country. The only state where Muslims constitute a majority is Kashmir.
Secondly, both mainstream parties are giving fewer and fewer election tickets to potential Muslim candidates — something which becomes even more true of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Muslims in India are not well organized. Compared to the Sikhs, who constitute 1.8 percent of the population, they have lagged behind in the political arena and economic activities, too.

Javed Hafeez

As far as low representation in civil and military services is concerned, I believe the Muslims themselves are to be partially blamed. They have lagged behind in education and need to compete harder in the economic field, because an affluent community can run a more effective election campaign.
Muslims in India are not well organized. Compared to the Sikhs, who constitute 1.8 percent of the population, they have lagged behind in the political arena and economic activities, too.
Sikhs have a solid majority in Punjab and use it to their collective advantage. Their representation in civil and military jobs is substantial and they are an affluent community even though they are far less than the Muslims in terms of the numbers. The Muslim vote in India could gain more traction provided it gets a sense of direction — something which demands an able leadership which is sincere to the Muslim community.
The marginalized Muslim community of India is now in search of its own identity and leadership. The so-called secular parties such as the Congress and the Samajwadi Party have used the Muslim vote to their advantage. 
When Muslim voters got disgruntled with these parties, the ruling BJP was a net gainer. The new trend in Muslim voters is to vote for their own parties like the All India Muslim League, the Jamaat-e-Islami, and the All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen. 
However, unless these small parties join hands to come up with a common strategy, they cannot achieve much. As stated above, the Muslim vote in India is scattered.
In states like Assam, Kerala, Bihar, and UP, the Muslim vote is wholesome. This is one reason why all major political parties look to woo the Muslims and sway the vote in their favor.
Because India is a vast country, it may not be possible for Muslims to take a collective decision on an all-India level. They should learn the art of collective political bargaining at the provincial level.
If the Muslims decide to vote for the most popular party in their state in a collective manner, it can make a big difference. 
In return, they should demand tickets for themselves. Only unity and smart political bargaining can ensure adequate representation in the Lok Sabha and provincial assemblies.
If Muslims are able to win more than 50 seats at the center, they could apply pressure for the early implementation of the Sachar Committee’s recommendations which urged for measures to increase the employment share of Muslims. This is the need of the hour as a happy, well represented and prosperous Muslim community can help make India truly diverse and inclusive.
– Javed Hafeez is a former Pakistani diplomat with much experience of the Middle East. He writes weekly columns in Pakistani and Gulf newspapers and appears regularly on satellite TV channels as a defense and political analyst.
Twitter: @hafiz_javed

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