As the 2019 election progresses, there are three questions people ask about the Muslim vote: Are Muslims enthusiastic to vote this time? Do they want the Narendra Modi government to get another chance? And are they going to do ‘tactical voting’ to defeat theBJP pan-India?
The popular perception is that religious polarisation, the race for ‘Hindu votes’ and the declining number of Muslim candidates in the last five years has reduced the significance of Muslims as a decisive voting community. But does it have any direct relationship with Muslim voting preferences?
Do they believe in the power of the vote?
CSDS-Lokniti’s pre-poll survey 2019 is a useful source to explore these questions. The survey was conducted in the last week of March 2019 among 10,010 respondents spread across 19states of India. Thirteen per cent of the respondents were Muslims.
Out of them, 85 per cent Muslims respondents said that they were likely to vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This overwhelming enthusiasm for voting confirms that the prevailinganti-Muslim environment does not affect Muslim participation in political processes. It simply means that Muslims, like other marginalised communities – particularly the SCs and STs – still believe in the efficacy of their votes.
Do they want Modi again?
Although the BJP has always been seen as a pro-Hindu party, it has nurtured a clear anti-Muslim image under the leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. The Modi government’s reluctance to control violent Hindutva politics is a signifier of Hindu majoritarianism. Most of the Muslim respondents, like other religious minorities, do not think that the Modi government should be given another opportunity.
However, a straightforward Hindu-Muslim and/or the minority-majority framework cannot help us in making sense of this anti-Modi Muslim response.
We must remember that 31 per cent Hindu respondents also feel that Modi government should not get another term. On the contrary, 26 per cent Muslims are in favour of the Modi government. This figure is very relevant because it demonstrates that Muslims are the second largest set of respondents who want the Modi government to back in power.
Are they going to defeat BJP?
The BJP has never been the first choice of Muslim voters in India. According to the previous CSDS-Lokniti surveys, the Congress was the first preference for Muslim voters in the period 1996-2009. Although this trend continued in 2014, the Muslim vote share of the BJP increased quite significantly and went up to 9 per cent. The assembly elections that took place in the Modi era (2014-2018) also reveal that the BJP began to get some kind of electoral legitimacy among Muslims.
The recent pre-poll survey also confirms this trend. Although the Congress emerges as the main Muslim vote gainer, it does not affect the BJP’s prospects among Muslims. It reported that the BJP may get 14 per cent Muslim votes, which is going to be around 5 percentage points swing in its favour in comparison to 2014. In fact, the BJP is emerging as the second most preferred political choice for Muslims (along with BSP-SP combined).
The party competition at the state level appears to be the most significant aspect that determines Muslim responses. The BJP would gain Muslim support in those states where it had a direct one-to-one contest with the Congress or any other party, especially in Gujarat. However, the regional picture this time might be quite different.
A majority of Muslims in Assam, Gujarat and Telangana clearly expressed their preference for the Congress. This trend exists in Bihar and Maharashtra as well, where the Congress is in alliance with other parties.
The BJP, on the other hand, is going to get the maximum Muslim support from three states—Rajasthan, Karnataka and West Bengal—where it did not have an adequate Muslim mass base in the past. The party is also likely to retain 14 per cent of Muslim votes in Uttar Pradesh, which is equal to the national average.
This highly diversified and apparently non-committed Muslim response signal two important political facts.
First, political parties are made of individuals—not ideologies. In this sense, the BJP has emerged as the most powerful party and not just because of its stated ideology of Hindutva. On the contrary, the party has expanded its social base in every part of the country because a large number of powerful regional leaders, who had their own electoral mass base, have joined it.
The decline of Left parties in West Bengal and the disintegration of the Congress in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (despite victory in the assembly elections) simply means that individual leaders of these parties have joined the BJP. These leaders continue to nurture their traditional Muslim support and as a result, the BJP is able to make effective linkages with Muslims voters.
Second, the discourse of election, which is dominated by the anti-Muslim narrative, is different from the actual mobilisation of voters at the constituency level. My recent fieldwork in different parts of UP, Bihar, Haryana and Delhi confirms that Muslims at the constituency level are being approached by all parties, including the BJP. In such a scenario, the so-called ideological distinction between the BJP and others disappears, and a highly localised form of political bargain begins between the candidates and Muslims voters.
Muslim voters’ rejection of provocative Hindutva is an important aspect of contemporary Muslim electoral attitude. But they are, it seems, more intelligent than others because they know that elections are not contested in TV studios or in big rallies.
The author is a scholar of political Islam and associate professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Views are personal.
This article is part of a series by the author on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and how Muslims vote. Read the others here.
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