Why Muslims of Gujarat are voting for BJP

Muslim voters Photograph:( Zee News Network )

Hyderabad, Telangana, India Nov 07, 2017, 12.05 PM (IST) Afroz Alam

Like many others, Muslims of Gujarat are disillusioned with politics, politicians and political parties who claim to represent them. It is because of the continual shortfall between what politicians promise them and what they deliver. The most serious concern of the Muslims is the rising communalisation of the political atmosphere of Gujarat and their consequent insecurities, elections after elections.

Demographic Value and Political Representation of Muslims:

As per the 2011 Census Report, Muslims constitute 9.67 per cent of Gujarat’s population. They are mostly located in Urban Gujarat (14.75 per cent) with the poor presence in rural areas (5.9 per cent ). There are 20 Assembly constituencies where Muslims can tip the scales of victory for or against of any party. But they have never been represented in the proportion of their population.

In 2017, a large number of Muslims have shown their interest in contesting elections from BJP and Congress.
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It was only in 1980 when Muslims were last represented in the proportion of their population share. In this year, 12 Muslim MLAs were elected to Gujarat Assembly while in 1985, 8 MLAs, in 1990 2 MLAs, in 1995 1 MLA, in 1998 5 MLAs, in 2002 3 MLAs, in 2007 5 MLAs and finally in 2012, only 2 Muslim MLAs who got elected.

Interestingly, in 2017, a large number of Muslims have shown their interest in contesting elections from BJP and Congress. But neither of these two parties seems to be interested. But they are used in the campaign. It must not be understood here that Muslim interests could be represented by Muslim leaders alone. It has never been in the past and will never be in future too.

Muslim Vote in Gujarat:

Unlike many other states, Muslims have voted for the Congress Party in large number in Gujarat from 1962 to 2012 Assembly elections. Taking advantage of this voting trend, BJP has always projected the Congress as Muslim appeaser and anti-to-Gujarat. There was an interesting change in the BJP’s campaign strategy in the last Assembly election. For the first time in 2012, Narendra Modi tried to overtly reach out to the Mulsim voters by launching Sadhbhawna mission and observing 36 one-day fasts in different parts of the Gujarat and manage to mobilise a section of elite Muslims at his rallies. Ironically, Muslims have shifted to BJP in this Assembly election. Lokniti Survey data on Gujarat Assembly elections have proven the shift of Muslims towards BJP as 22 per cent Muslim voters voted for the party.

But contrary to the previous election, neither Narendra Modi nor BJP is making a direct appeal to the Muslims. Instead, the party is using its minority cell members from across India to campaign for BJP in Gujarat in 2017.

Why did Muslims of Gujarat support the BJP in 2012 that is perceived to profess an anti-Muslim agenda? First, I argue that there is nothing called monolith Muslim votes. Muslim voters like all voters are divided along individual, caste, communal, class, sect and other heterogeneous lines.

The 2012 elections already witnessed a visible upsurge in Muslim support for the BJP even when none of the 182 candidates was a Muslim.
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Traditionally, 6-8 per cent Muslims in Gujarat had always voted for the BJP before and in immediate years after 2002. For long, a sizable number of Shia Muslim sects engaged in mercantile occupations like Dawoodi Bohra voted for the BJP. Similarly, Sunni Muslims have also given their tacit support to BJP candidates in many Assembly constituencies. The 2012 elections already witnessed a visible upsurge in Muslim support for the BJP even when none of the 182 candidates was a Muslim.

Second, the decline of Congress in the state frustrated the Muslims. A majority of Muslims felt their inability to defeat BJP on their own due to the consolidation of Hindu votes. As a result, Muslims in Hindu dominant constituencies publicly supported the BJP to gain the material advantage from the local MLA and seek security in return. Third, economically poor Muslims and those living in mixed localities have voted for BJP.

The most interesting trend in 2017 is the way Congress and BJP are contesting the election with the relatively common strategy of caste and community polarisation as they cannot survive electorally without it. There is every possibility that the mobilisation on religious wedge issues will speed up with the active engagement of both the parties till the Election Day.
 

Afroz Alam

Afroz Alam is Associate Professor and Head, Department of Political Science, Maulana Azad National Urdu University
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