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The Indian Council Act of 1909, popularly known as the Minto Morley Reforms, granted separate electorate to Muslims. With whatever limited franchise, some sort of election was tested on the British subjects. In retrospect, it was a brilliant strategy because it provided the British with a better understanding of the complex society, allowing them to plan and foster further divisions.

It was the success of its objective of divide and rule that the system was further expanded for Sikhs, Anglo Indians, Christians, depressed classes, women, etc. Since then, similar divisions have divided India’s electorate, which was politically exploited in the latter half of the 20th century. When the sun started setting on the Congress empire in the late 80s and early 90s, these vote banks started becoming more visible as politics became more and more competitive and the monopoly of Congress, just like the monopoly of BSNL, came to an end a decade later.

Since then, the Mandir and Mandal factions have become the two most important political jigsaws in the country. The regional parties tried their hardest to capitalise on the Mandal propositions, which meant dividing the majority along caste lines, and many new regional parties had grown too powerful as the coalition era was both the cause and the effect of this phenomenon.

80-20 formula

While working under LK Advani during the Rath Yatra, two karyakartas from the BJP understood this very well, and how the political potential of the power of religion to unite or divide could be electorally capitalized. Hindutva or Mandir politics was the antidote to Mandal and it immediately became a mission to unite on the caste lines at the cost of dividing on the lines of religion. This divisive politics was aided by the events then, from Shah Bano to Ayodhya, the Mumbai Bomb blast to riots across the nation, which culminated in rising Islamophobia and resentment in the majority, which now saw itself as a victim of tyranny of the muslims.

The BJP has been unapologetic in disowning the 20% to unite and benefit from the 80%. We all know what the 80-20 formula means. Some regional parties would have liked it to remain a 20×5 formula if Muslims, for now, are considered to act like an extended caste vote bank. This fifth vote bank was, however, called the “kingmaker” during the coalition era, because in general, when the caste votes were divided between the parties, the Muslim Vote Bank became a decisive factor. Since then, the BJP’s mission was to not just convey this but also dismantle it. The BJP’s biggest success has been in not only disempowering the Muslim vote bank as the deciding factor, but also making Muslim votes more or less electorally counterproductive. It remains their single largest mission, seen as recently as in the Hyderabad municipal elections.

From scams, anti-corruption protest, terrorism and national security issues to this digital revolution aided by cheap data prices, everything seems to fall in right place at right time for the BJP. The success of polarization is quite evident in front of us. Though there are some who have been able to see through this transition and this is what leads to someone like Arvind Kejriwal has to flaunt his Hindu identity and remain low profile during the North East Delhi Riots. Even the Left was sensitive enough to accomodate the Sabarimala Ruling.

Disenfranchisement or separate electorate

It is very difficult to generalise in a country as complex as India. There are pockets and areas where Muslim votes still matter. The BJP has been successful in sidelining Muslims, but it is secular and non-Muslim parties that have previously enjoyed Muslim votes in India that have the potential to disenfranchise (not constitutionally, but practically) Muslims in India.

The Nupur Sharma saga and the horrific killings in Udaipur and Amravati will add fuel to the fire of demonising the second largest community. The subsequent lack of effort from the Muslims to assure the majority and the loss of trust between two large communities will only further exacerbate divisions. Electorally, within the Hindu Vote Bank, there is a floating voter base or what can be called swing voters in India. The vicious online campaign and increasing insecurities will have the tendencies of shifting this undecisive voter base more firmly towards BJP and this is a bigger loss to the so called secular parties or regional parties.

As they are well aware, Muslim votes were always bonus votes for these secular parties. The erosion of base votes due to Hindutva and moderate swing voters is a double blow to these parties, and if these parties decide to abandon Muslim votes to fight for the larger pie, there are clearly chances that Muslim votes will become pointless. The rise of Muslim parties from Hyderabad to Assam will only act as a catalyst in this transition to some sort of separate electorate again. It will be interesting to see how BJP adapts, as this can be both a boon and a bane for them.

Also read: SubscriberWrites: India’s ‘system’ has failed but illusion of leadership lingers

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