Lack of Minority Representation Sparks Row in Jharkhand’s Mahagathbandhan

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The absence of Muslim candidates raises concerns and comes in for severe criticism within the coalition

Mohammad Alamullah | Clarion India

NEW DELHI — The Mahagathbandhan comprising Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Jharkhand Vikas Morcha, and RJD, vying for all 14 Lok Sabha seats in Jharkhand, has failed to nominate any minority candidate in the ongoing elections.

As per the coalition agreement, the Congress got seven seats, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha four, Jharkhand Vikas Morcha two, and one seat went to Rashtriya Janata Dal. But all the parties refrained from fielding any minority candidates. Oddly, Dr. Ajay Kumar, the Jharkhand state president of Congress, reiterated that ticket distribution in the party is devoid of religious or caste considerations.

However, the Mahagathbandhan has committed to nominate a minority candidate for the Rajya Sabha. This decision was echoed by Congress leader Subodhkant Sahay, who expressed the party’s intent to nominate a minority candidate for Lok Sabha but cited logistical constraints as the reason for not doing so.

Jharkhand Vikas Morcha’s Pradeep Yadav is contesting from Gowda and former chief minister Babulal Marandi from Koderma. RJD also fielded its candidates from Palamu and Chitra seats, currently held by Congress, selecting Ghoran Ram for Palamu and Subhash Yadav for Chitra. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s candidates include Shibu Soren from Dumka, Vijay Hansda from Raj Mahal, Jagranath Mehto from Giridih, and Champai Soren from Jamshedpur.

Congress, on the other hand, nominated Subodhkant Sahay from Ranchi, Sukhdev Bhagat from Lohardaga, Geeta Koda from Singhbhum, Manoj Yadav for Chitra, Kirti Azad for Dhanbad, and Kalicharan Munda for Khunti. Gopal Sahu received the ticket from Hazaribagh. 

The failure of the Mahagathbandhan parties to include a minority candidate prompted criticism. The All Muslim Youth Association staged a two-day sit-in protest in Ranchi, demanding the inclusion of a Muslim candidate. It expressed disappointment over the absence of minority representation within the Mahagathbandhan.

“There ought to have been a Muslim candidate from Gowda or Giridih,” association president S. Ali asserted. “With 20 to 22 percent of the population being Muslim, it was a prevalent demand from our community, echoing from social media platforms to the streets across the state. However, our voices were disregarded. Despite comprising 15 percent of the population, why is there zero representation for us? As per the 2011 census, Muslims constituted around 14-15 percent of Jharkhand’s population, while Christians accounted for 4.3 percent and Sikhs for 0.22 percent,” he said.

Districts with substantial Muslim populations include Gowda, Giridih, Sahibganj, Pakur, Gumla, Koderma, Dhanbad, and Ranchi. Among these, Gowda stands out as the pivotal constituency where the clamour for a Muslim candidate has been most pronounced.

Gowda boasts a Muslim population ranging from 22 to 24 percent. Previously, Maulana Samiuddin in 1980 and 1984, and Furqan Ansari in 2004, were elected as MPs from the Congress. However, in 2009, Furqan lost to the BJP’s Nishikant Dubey by a narrow margin of 6,407 votes. He faced defeat again in 2014 against the same BJP candidate, whose victory margin widened this time. In the 2019 elections, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s Pradeep Yadav, garnering 193,506 votes, emerged as the Mahagathbandhan candidate from Gowda. 

The decision to field Yadav has raised questions about why the Congress, which had previously secured the Gowda seat six times between 1962 and 2009, relinquished this traditional stronghold to the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha. Both the political and social implications of this move are being scrutinised.

Pradeep Yadav, who also won the Gowda Lok Sabha by-election in 2002, currently serves as the MLA from Gowda’s Poreyahat Assembly constituency. Over the past two months, tensions have escalated between Pradeep Yadav and Furqan Ansari due to their conflicting statements regarding the Gowda seat. 

Babu Lal Marandi, the supremo of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha, contends that Pradeep Yadav has aggressively pursued issues affecting Gowda’s residents over the past five years. Yadav’s activism has included confrontations and even imprisonment concerning land disputes involving Adivasis and the Adani power plant. This stance is also supported by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, which views Pradeep Yadav as a formidable contender for the Gowda seat based on his track record of activism and advocacy.

Furqan Ansari dismissed the statements of these two leaders as nonsensical, attributing their grievances more to their state president than to the other Mahagathbandhan parties. Ansari revealed that the decision to allocate the Gowda seat to Pradeep Yadav was made by their state president, Dr. Ajay Kumar, five months ago. The recent announcement merely formalised what had already been decided. Ansari expressed frustration over his ticket being revoked by his president, despite all indications favouring the Congress. He questioned why the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha was granted this seat and what agreement transpired between the president and Pradeep Yadav. “I don’t even know,” he added, “but I have informed the party that I will not campaign for the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha in Gowda.”

Regarding his potential candidacy from any other party or as an independent, Ansari said the party’s decision is significant for him.

Journalist Raghu Mishra, familiar with the dynamics of Gowda, sheds light on the constituency’s intricate voting patterns. While Adivasi and Dalit votes constitute approximately three lakhs, the Muslim, Brahmin, and Yadav communities often hold decisive sway. Mishra notes that Congress’s “MB” (Muslim-Brahmin) formula has historically influenced this seat. Had the Congress nominated a candidate from either the Muslim or Brahmin community, their votes would likely have consolidated, enhancing the prospects of victory. However, with the Congress not fielding a candidate, there is uncertainty about the extent to which disgruntled Muslim voters will rally behind Pradeep Yadav of the Mahagathbandhan. 

According to the Election Commission, in 2014, the Gowda seat had approximately 1.6 lakh voters, with the BJP, Congress, and Jharkhand Vikas Morcha securing 23, 20, and 12 percent of the votes, respectively.

Senior journalist Faisal Anurag points out a concerning trend where even so-called secular parties hesitate to nominate Muslim candidates due to the polarised political environment created by the BJP. He emphasises that while BJP was previously blamed for neglecting Muslim representation, now Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, and Jharkhand Vikas Morcha also fear the consequences of fielding Muslim candidates, fearing further polarisation of votes.

Anurag disputes the notion that the decision to exclude Muslim candidates was solely driven by concerns about polarisation. He notes that seat distribution within the Mahagathbandhan was agreed upon collectively, with the understanding that Muslim candidates would be nominated for the Rajya Sabha. He questions the logic behind this decision, arguing that if fears of vote polarisation were a genuine concern, then Congress would refrain from nominating Muslim candidates in states like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Bihar. He stresses that the primary objective for Congress is to defeat the BJP and safeguard the country’s democratic values.

Meanwhile, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s national general secretary, Supriya Bhattacharya, asserted that the minority community stands firmly with the Mahagathbandhan, transcending considerations of religion, caste, and language. She emphasises the importance of unity in defeating what she describes as fascist forces.

In contrast, the BJP maintains its traditional stance by not nominating any Muslim candidates, continuing a pattern observed in previous elections. Jharkhand BJP spokesperson Parveen Prabhakar deflected questions regarding Muslim representation, suggesting that inquiries should be directed towards the Mahagathbandhan parties, which claim to advocate for minority interests. Prabhakar highlighted the BJP’s appointment of Muslim Rajya Sabha MPs from Jharkhand and the inclusion of minority representatives in the state government.

Senior journalist Madhokar criticised both the UPA and NDA alliances for neglecting the significant Muslim population in Jharkhand. He asserted that overlooking such a sizable community contradicts the principles of a healthy democracy. Madhokar urged voters to prioritise candidates’ qualifications and track records over party affiliations. He dismissed the notion of independent Muslim candidates significantly impacting election outcomes, asserting that voters in Jharkhand tend to vote along party lines rather than individual personalities.

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