Representation of Muslims in Indian politics since independence has been disproportionately low, ranging between 6 – 8%, as compared to their share in the Indian population which is estimated to be around 14%, but believed to be even higher.
The reasons for such low representation are many. The lack of effective Muslim leadership may be one. It’s worth mentioning here that with India-Pakistan partition in 1947, when both the countries achieved independence from the British, a majority of the Muslims along with their leadership chose to either stay in or migrate to the newly formed Pakistan. This led to a leadership void for the remaining Indian Muslims which is yet to be filled.
Nepotism of influential politicians perpetuates the hegemony of a particular family or clan. As a majority of the Indian politicians have been non-Muslim, their favoritism naturally causes a higher presence of non-Muslims and a lower representation of Muslim politicians.
Yet another reason for low representation is that many Indian political parties, presumably, believe the electability of Muslims is too low for them to be fielded as viable candidates. The non-Muslim electorate, parties think, won’t vote for them because of their religious identity.
There are other factors such as affirmative actions in favor of Scheduled Castes/Tribes (SC/ST), which snatches away roughly 22% of the parliamentary seats and over 27% of the state assembly seats from Muslim candidates. The Muslims, being nearly excluded from SC/STs, cannot even compete in the election in the reserved seats.
Further, it has been observed that on the one hand, many constituencies where SC/STs comprise the majority of electorates are not reserved for them. On the other hand, there are a large number of constituencies where a majority or a significant fraction of the electorate is from the Muslim community and a small population of the SCs but the seats have been reserved for SCs.
This seems to be a deliberate attempt to deprive the Muslim community of its leadership. Such moves, whether involuntary or deliberate, have further reduced the chances of Muslim leadership to grow.
Another such apprehension, regarding the Women’s Reservation Bill, seems not entirely unfounded. At present, the level of Muslim women’s participation in public life has been minimal. The introduction of the Women’s Reservation Bill can very well take away some more of the seats that presently elect Muslim legislators, as it reserves 33% of the seats for women. Given the electoral trends in India, the prospect of the reverse happening, that is, Muslim women getting elected from an otherwise non-Muslim dominated constituency seems negligible.
Regarding the development of Muslim leadership, there have been many disconcerted attempts to form Muslim political parties. Although some of the parties gathered some strength at state level, however, none of them have been successful at the national level. The main cause of their failure is the diverse nature of the Indian Muslim community which is subdivided into many other religious, linguistic, and regional groups.
Together, these factors have led to a condition where the Muslim community, the largest minority group in the country, has poor representation in the country’s politics. This is, undoubtedly, not the sign of a healthy democracy. As the largest democracy hosting the third largest Muslim community in the world, India needs to ensure a more equitable representation of the Muslim community.
Further, this has been a widely-held view that an abysmal political representation of Muslims is one of the reasons for a total disempowerment of Indian Muslims, a view that the Muslim community also shares with the secular voices in the country.
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