DID THE MUSLIMS OF GUJARAT VOTE FOR THE BJP IN SIGNIFICANT NUMBERS IN THE PAST DESPITE THE 2002 POGROM? WHAT WOULD THEY DO IN THE UPCOMING ASSEMBLY POLLS IN DECEMBER, WHICH ARE CRUCIAL FOR MODI AND BJP TO WIN WITH SUBSTANTIAL MARGIN?
Abdul Hafiz Lakhani | Caravan Daily
AHMEDABAD – Gujarat’s political landscape has changed in most defining ways over the past few years and yet it has remained static in many ways. For the first time in 15 years, the state will witness Assembly elections without Narendra Modi as chief minister at the helm.
Some independent surveys suggest that about 8-10% of Muslims have voted for the BJP. But any increase in that percentage is solely due to Congress’s ineffectiveness to offer an alternative. An analysis of the Muslim electorate’s voting pattern in the last assembly polls reveals that though 11 of BJP’s 12 Muslim candidates lost, the margin of defeat was fairly thin.
In some other instances, however, it is suggested that the BJP might have won in Muslim-dominated areas mainly due to infighting amongst the Congress workers, splitting the votes amongst independents.
In some cases, Congress leaders of the area seemingly worked against their own candidate, thereby facilitating the BJP’s victory. It was in 1984 that Gujarat last elected a Muslim MP – Ahmed Patel, who is now a Rajya Sabha member.
Among the 182 MLAs only five are Muslims, all from the Congress party – a mere 2.74 per cent of the legislature’s strength. Of the 621 seats in seven municipal corporations, only 27 are Muslims – 4.3 per cent.
The question on everyone’s mind was not whether the BJP would win in December 2017 polls but what their victory margin would be. Also whether the Muslims of Gujarat would vote for the BJP? – Both these questions are very important for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to project himself for his second innings at the national stage.
In 1990, when the Congress won only 33 of the 182 seats of the Gujarat Assembly, it received 30% of total vote share. Modi was not even distantly seen on the horizon in Gujarat politics. In 1995, the Congress’s vote share stood at 32%. But in 2002, after Modi took over as the CM, Congress bagged 38% vote share and 51 seats. In 2012, this vote share further increased to 40.5% and total seats to 61. The Congress ally NCP also won two seats. So contrary to popular perceptions, the Congress’s vote share has actually doubled since Modi’s arrival.
An independent analysis based on statistics would reveal that in 2012 Assembly polls, BJP indeed snatched a good few Muslim-dominated seats from the Congress (Jamalpur-Khadia; new seat Vejalpur; Karjan; Vagra), but it must also be noted that this election was held for the first time after delimitation and Muslim votes have been divided.
They do not form the critical mass in any of these seats to offer a make-or-break result to any particular candidate. Looking at the final outcome of the victory or loss of the party, one may be tempted to believe Modi’s claim but for a scientific understanding of community-wise voting pattern, only a close analysis of booth-wise break-up can give a fair understanding.
Downward Slide for BJP
In terms of seats it has been a downward slide for the BJP. The saffron party won 127 seats in 2002 which got reduced to 117 in 2007 and 115 in 2012. The vote share for the BJP has also declined in the last 10 years; from a close to half of all votes polled in 2002, BJP could manage to get 48% of all votes in 2012. So on the first question, Modi is stuck with a drop in both vote shares and number of seats.
Some Muslims in Gujarat have recently been warming up to the BJP, but how many of them actually voted for the saffron party?
Second question is not an easy one either as there is no way of telling how any one individual might have voted. There are some exit polls that also count voters’ religion but given how off mark the exit polls have been in predicting Gujarat election, it is best to ignore those numbers and look at actual votes polled and do some analysis based on available data.
After the 2012 state elections the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi claimed that around 20-25% Muslims voted for the BJP in Gujarat.
In Gujarat, 20-25 per cent of the Muslims, and according to some reports, even as high as 31 per cent voted for the BJP in the 2012 state polls despite the BJP giving no ticket to the members from their community. In an environment where there is some level of intolerance in the country (as even admitted by Union minister Venkaiah Naidu in Parliament), this section of voters may go back to t
Muslims account for 10 per cent of the state’s population. They can influence the results of 36 seats in the state.
There are 34 Assembly seats in Gujarat where Muslims are at least 15% of the population. The BJP won 21 of these seats, Congress won 12 and NCP managed to win one seat.
If we look at the percentage of seats won then it is BJP 62%, Cong 35%, and NCP 3%. Compare this with all the seats won at the state-level by parties — 63%, 34%, and 1% respectively — and you will see that the BJP is at a slight loss here.
If we just look at seats with Muslims share in population 20% or higher, then we are left with just 15 seats. BJP still captures the majority of these seats but the Congress performance improves significantly.
The BJP won 9 seats (60% of 15 seats) while the Congress with 6 seats improve their performance to 40% wins. In terms of number of votes also, the Congress does better in these 15 seats when compared to their state-level performance.
The Congress captured 41.4% of all votes polled here which is an improvement over all Gujarat vote share of 40%. BJP which received 48% of state votes reduced its share in these 15 seats to get 46%.
The BJP is definitely getting more votes and seats than the Congress but latter’s performance improvement in these seats is important to note. If you look at four seats that have more than 40% Muslims in the population then the Congress is on an equal footing with BJP with both parties winning two seats each and even in the vote share the Congress with its 44.3% share is head to head with BJP’s 45%.
That too when Jamalpur-Khadia, a Muslim majority seat saw a triangular contest with two Muslim candidates fighting it out and giving BJP an additional seat in the process.
The Congress gave tickets to 7 Muslims while the BJP had no Muslim as its candidate. If we look at seats where the Congress’ Muslim candidates were contesting, we can see that except in Jamalpur-Khadia where Muslim votes got split between two Muslim candidates, the Congress nominees manage to get more votes than Muslim share of the population there.
Given the polarized communal situation in Gujarat, it is difficult to imagine that Muslims of those areas overwhelmingly voted for the BJP and other communities replaced those numbers by voting overwhelmingly for the Muslim Congress candidate.
However, this does not mean some Muslim did not vote for the BJP. Let’s look at Jamalpur-Khadia a bit closely. This seat is estimated to have 61.3% of Muslims, of the total 10 candidates trying their luck on this seat, seven were Muslims.
If the total number of votes polled by all Muslim candidates works out to be 60.4% votes, very close to their share in the population. Of course, these seven Muslim candidates or at least the Congress nominee must have attracted some non-Muslim votes too so the percentage of Muslims voting for BJP should be higher than 1%.
Bharuch is the only seat from our list of 34 where Congress candidates polled (35.5%) less than the Muslim share in the population (38%). BJP won this seat by polling 59.5% of votes indicating clearly that Muslims here voted for the BJP. But it is difficult to say if Muslim votes for the BJP crossed more than a single digit percentage.
Unfortunately, other six seats with Muslim Congress candidates also give no clue as to what percentage of Muslims may have voted for the BJP. In all those seats combined total of votes polled by all Muslim candidates is higher than their share in the population in those areas.
Muslim Candidates Attracted Non-Muslim Votes
This suggests that in fact, Muslims candidates were able to attract some non-Muslim voters. But then we have examples of Murtuza Khan Pathan in Vejalpur who lost the election with a margin of over 40,000 votes as he failed to get enough support from outside his religious community. And then there is Javed Peerzada who won from Wankaner capturing 39% of all votes polled even though Muslims in that are only 23%. Similarly, Amir Ali Lodhiya in Bhuj managed to win 39% of the votes when Muslims are just 15% there. However, he lost by a margin of 8,973 votes.
So did the Muslims vote for the BJP? There is nothing in the data to suggest that Muslims voted for the BJP in any significant number in the past but there is ample evidence to suggest that the Congress benefitted more in those seats where Muslims had a significant presence.
The Vadodara-based human rights activist Professor J S Bandukwala said that the Muslims have been dealing with the BJP and before that with the Jan Sangh since independence. “The central theme of this party has been to espouse the cause of Hindus. Nothing wrong with that goal. The problem arises when that target is to be achieved by inciting hatred against Muslims. As Dr Ambedkar said, Hindus are divided into countless castes, often at odds with each other. But they will all unite against Muslims,” he said.
“The writings, speeches and actions of their principal leaders Guru Golwalkar, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Vajpayee, L. K. Advani and Modi, reflect a deep hatred against Muslims. We saw what happened in Gujarat in 2002. About one thousand Muslim women were molested, many were raped and murdered in the post Godhra riots. Can we forget all this and give the BJP a fair chance, as some of its leaders suggest?” Bandukwala asked.
Modi and the BJP cannot afford to lose Gujarat this year. The impact of any adverse result in Gujarat will resonate beyond the boundaries of the saffron fortress. It was the “Gujarat model of governance” that Modi showcased between 2002 and 2013 and it won him the prime ministership in 2014, pointed out Dr Bandukwala.
Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is the Editor of Gujarat Siyasat newspaper and General Secretary of All India Milli Council