In the 2014 general election, for the first time since independence, no Muslim candidate was elected from any seat in Uttar Pradesh, despite several of them contesting from various political parties.
In the five years since, there have been fierce debates on the future of Muslim representation from India’s most populous state. It was only in the 2018 bypoll that Tabassum Begum, contesting for the Rashtriya Lok Dal, won the Kairana seat and became the sole Muslim MP from UP in the Lok Sabha.
Now, as parties prepare to distribute tickets for 2019, many are apprehensive that fair representation will be denied to UP’s Muslims.
In 2014, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj party (BSP) together fielded 30 Muslim candidates. The number is likely to decrease, according to Syed Asif Raza Jafri, a senior journalist.
“If there are more Muslim candidates in the opposition parties, it will allow the Sangh parivar to communalise the issue,” he said. “It may result in reverse polarisation of the Hindu community in favour of the BJP. Both the SP and BSP cannot take this risk.”
Consolidation without representation
Muslim candidates of the Congress fared especially badly in the last polls – they received more than one lakh votes in only three constituencies. As a result, the SP-BSP alliance is not concerned about the Congress’ Muslim candidates. It is understood that for the community, the first choice still remains the SP-BSP, which is better placed to defeat the ruling BJP.
If rumours are to be believed, from the SP and BSP combine, there could be fewer than ten Muslim candidates for the polls.
In 2014, at least five seats – Moradabad, Rampur, Sambhal, Amroha, Saharanpur and Meerut – witnessed a tight contest between Muslim candidates of three major parties (SP, BSP and the Congress). This worked out to the advantage of the BJP.
In six seats, both the SP and BSP both fielded Muslim candidates, each of whom received reasonably high vote-share, but still failed to emerge victorious. The SP-BSP alliance will likely prevent this happening again.
Prospects in the Samajwadi Party
From SP’s 13 candidates only Shazan Masood got the lowest – 52,165 votes – while five got more than three lakh votes and seven got more than two lakh votes.
Interestingly, of the 13 seats in which SP fielded Muslim candidates in 2014, BSP has bagged seven in the new seat-sharing arrangement. One has gone to RLD, leaving only five seats where SP’s Muslim candidates may contest. The SP has a total of 37 Lok Sabha seats in the alliance.
Important faces who are likely to lose out because of the new equation include:
- Shazan Masood, the son of former union minister and stalwart Rasheed Masood,
- Shahnawaz Rana who contested from Bijnor,
- Humera Akhtar who polled nearly 3.70 lakh votes from Amroha,
- Former minister Shahid Manzoor who contested from Meerut,
- Former MLA Ghulam Mohammad who got 2.13 lakh votes from Baghpat,
- Former MLA and industrialist Zafar Alam too polled 2.27 lakh votes from Aligarh,
- Shakeel Ahmad from Sultanpur, who got 2.28 lakh votes,
- Former MP and Mafiosi Atiq Ahmad from Shrawasti.
In the five constituencies which remain with the Akhilesh Yadav-led party, the party had a close finish in 2014.
- In Sambhal, veteran leader and former MP Shafeequr Rehman Barq lost by a narrow margin of 5,074 votes.
- In Rampur, the citadel of Azam Khan, Naseer Ahmad Khan got 3.35 lakh votes but lost by 23,435 votes. There is speculation that Azam Khan may personally contest this time from Rampur.
- In Moradabad, former Mayor S. T. Hasan won 3.97 lakh votes,
- In Bareilly, Ayesha Islam won 2.75 lakh votes,
- In Kairana, Tabassum Begum is the sitting MP.
Prospects in the Bahujan Samaj Party
Mayawati’s party fielded 17 Muslims in 2014 elections. Seven of these have gone to SP under the terms of the gathbandhan.
Among BSP’s 17 Muslim candidates in 2014, Saleem Ahmad from Kanpur scored lowest – 53,218 votes– whereas two garnered three lakh votes.
The BSP is left now with ten seats where it had earlier fielded Muslim candidates. From these ten, several candidates are no longer with the party: Kaiser Jahan (3.66 lakh votes) from Sitapur, Afzal Siddiqui (2.07 lakh votes) from Fatehpur, and Mohammad Muqeem (1.95 lakh votes) from Dumariyaganj.
The BSP has, however, appointed Muslims as in-charge of six Lok Sabha seats (Amroha, Saharanpur, Ghazipur, Meerut, Bijnor and Dumariyaganj). They are also likely to contest the election as BSP candidates – byt even so, the BSP is not likely to repeat the same number of Muslim candidates as it did last time.
Prospects in the Congress
In 2014, the Grand Old Party fielded 11 Muslim candidates.
Only three of its candidates could cross the one-lakh-vote mark – Imran Masood from Saharanpur, Nawab Kazim Ali Khan from Rampur and Zafar Ali Naqvi from Kheri.
Two former union ministers, Saleem Iqbal Sherwani from Aonla and Salman Khursheed from Farrukhabad, made respectable tallies – 93,861 and 95,543 votes respectively.
The party’s tactic to field celebrities also failed as former cricketer Mohammad Kaif ended up with only 58,137 votes from Phulpur. Bollywood actor Nagma, who contested from Meerut, got only 42,911 votes.
With such a arithmetic, chances of Congress’s Muslim candidates look dim.
A few Muslim candidates who performed for smaller parties also stand to lose out in front of the formidable SP-BSP alliance.
For instance, Mukhtar Ansari of Qaumi Ekta Dal had secured 166443 votes from Ghosi while his brother and former MP Afzal Ansari got 163943 votes from Ballia.
Since the party has now merged with BSP, only one of the two is likely to get a ticket.
Similarly, Muslim outfits like the Peace Party, headed by Dr Mohd. Ayub, and the Rashtriya Ulema Council will face a serious challenge retaining its core vote-base.
These parties are looking to be accommodated elsewhere. Ayub, it is said, tried unsuccessfully to find room in the SP-BSP alliance, and has now met Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi.
In 2019, the the opposition’s joint front will pose a tough challenge for the BJP. But this had also led to a political scenario which will deny fair representation to Muslims in the country’s Parliament once again.
Mohammad Faisal is a freelance journalist.