Saturday, 13 September 2014 – 6:40am IST | Agency: DNA

Indicating the declining political representation of Muslims in Maharashtra, the number of legislators from the Community has come down in successive elections to the state assembly. Maharashtra has the fourth largest Muslim population after Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar. Muslims comprise about 10.6% of state’s population.

In 1999, a total of 12 Muslim legislators were elected, but in 2004 the number fell to 11. The 2009 elections saw just 10 Muslim MLAs being elected. Of these, six were from Mumbai, which along with Thane accounts for a third of Maharashtra’s Muslim population.

Incidentally, this is happening at a time when the state of the community is worsening in terms of socio-economic indices like education, Health and employment. A state-appointed committee under former IAS officer Mehmood-ur-Rehman, noted that 59.8% Muslims in rural and 59.4% in urban areas were below the poverty line with just 2.2% graduates. The community–the largest minority in Maharashtra–has just 4.2% representation in the police, while accounting for 28.3% undertrials (in 2007).

Muslim politicians and activists attribute the trend to changing realities and increasing religious polarisation.

Maharashtra has no Muslim Lok Sabha MP and the only Muslim nominated by a mainstream party in the Lok Sabha elections was Hidayat Patel ( Congress) from Akola, who lost to Sanjay Dhotre ( BJP). The last Muslim Lok Sabha MP was former chief minister Abdul Rehman Antulay in 2004. Maharashtra has two Muslim Rajya Sabha MPs, namely Hussain Dalwai (Congress) and Majeed Memon (NCP).

“It is true that representation of Muslims in the assembly must increase. But, sometimes parties are not willing to nominate us. And when they do, we have spoilers and rebels in the fray who chip at our support base and bring about our defeat,” said a Muslim leader from the Congress.
“Moreover, transfer of votes (from other communities) to Muslims has become difficult,” he admitted. He added that the sheer size and numbers in a Lok Sabha constituency made it tough for Muslims to contest and win.

The Congress leader, who is a Maharashtrian Muslim, complained that Marathi-speaking Muslims had been elbowed out by their brethren from North India, who were better placed in Mumbai and Maharashtra’s politics.

However, Shabbir Ansari of the All India Muslim OBC Organisation (AIMOBC) said that more than Hindu votes not being transferred to Muslims, this was about political parties not going beyond the Maratha-Kunbi construct and accommodating other communities. He pointed to how only two Muslims had been nominated by the Congress and NCP from Marathwada, despite its large Muslim population.

“This is not a good sign for political parties and the Muslim community,” said journalist- activist Sami Bubere, adding that while mainstream parties talked about the welfare of Muslims, they did not do anything substantial on the ground.

An academician from the community pins this down to the “construct of Muslims as the other by right-wing parties.” “While non-Muslims are nominated from areas with a high Muslim concentration, the presence of multiple Muslim candidates further fractures the Muslim vote,” he noted.

He mooted the need for more representation for the Muslims especially because “the community was living in circumstances akin to a pressure cooker, losing their confidence, feeling insecure… and were in perpetual doubt even if acquitted by the courts.”