//The Muslim Vote

The Muslim Vote

[ Saturday, May 13, 2006 12:00:00 amTIMES NEWS NETWORK

The likes of Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid nurse the hope of turning India's Muslim population into a vote bank, and under one national party. That hope is nothing but an illusion. The Muslim vote is real, as Muslims are.

But the Muslim vote is not a homogeneous monolith, since the community itself is not. As with other communities, Muslims too are divided on regional, class, and even caste lines. This difference or diversity gets reflected in the vote as well.

There are times when a consolidation of some kind takes place. Such binding is made possible by local, regional, national or international developments that have political or social appeal. Political movements that spot such moments and successfully mobilise people on those issues do benefit from the consolidation of community votes.

However, the dynamics of such politics is rarely uniform. The recent state elections indicate its complex and varied character. As we have pointed out in these columns, the consolidation of Muslim votes was an influential factor in this round of assembly elections.

But no political party can be singled out as the sole beneficiary of this trend. It has worked differently in Kerala, West Bengal and Assam, states where Muslims constitute more than 20 per cent of the population, and different political formations have gained from it.

In Kerala, Muslim League, a democratic outfit that had a monopoly over Muslim votes, was the loser. The Left Front, with the help of a few radical Islamist outfits, profited from League's loss. The Left was the beneficiary in West Bengal as well.

In both states, Iraq occupation and Iran figured during the campaign. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK-led front gained from Jayalalithaa's dalliance with Hindutva and NDA.

The trajectory of change in Assam has been towards a new outfit, Assam United Democratic Front, which appears to have weaned away Muslim supporters of Congress. The broad trend apart, this is not to suggest an en masse movement of community votes.

That these varied political responses can crystallise into a monolithic vote spread all over the country is a fallacy of the Muslim and Hindu right. This is a ruse for the Muslim right to bargain for political patronage whereas Hindu fundamentalists use it as a bogey to whip up majoritarianism.

One feeds the other. It is best to understand the Muslim response in the five states that went to polls as a political vote in favour of parties that also share a common ground on specific issues, especially towards US policies on Iraq and Iran.