The trend that was visible during the Lok Sabha elections seems to have played out in the recent round of assembly elections, too. Even as more Muslims are contesting elections, they are less likely to win, reducing their strength in legislative bodies even further.
An analysis of six recently constituted state assemblies and the Lok Sabha shows that there has been a fall of nearly 35 per cent in the number of Muslims elected. The states are Maharashtra, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi. Together they account for 968 assembly seats. The number of MLAs belonging to the minority community in these states has dropped from 35 to 20 between the two elections. And the tally of Muslim MPs at 22 is an all-time low in 62 years. Only the first general elections saw fewer Muslims entering the Lok Sabha.
Except for Delhi, there has been a fall in the representation of Muslims in all states. Rajasthan has seen the biggest drop, from 11 in the last assembly to just two now. Incidentally, both the MLAs from the minority community in the state belong to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Haryana, too, has seen a fall from six to three MLAs. Two of these belong to the Indian National Lok Dal and one is an independent. Maharashtra has seen a drop of one seat from the 10 seats that Muslims had won in 2009. Chhattisgarh has none and Madhya Pradesh has one Muslim MLA.
This has happened despite the number of Muslim candidates increasing from 832 in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections to 874 in 2014. Similarly, in the Maharashtra assembly elections, 375 Muslim candidates were in the fray this time against 357 in 2009. There is no reliable estimate of the number of Muslim candidates in the other states.
Political observers say that multiple Muslim candidates in minority-dominated constituencies and the consequent fall in their political representation could be a reflection of their growing indifference towards political parties and Muslim leaders who have represented them so far. It could also be a result of rejection of identity politics.
"The current debate on political representation for Muslims in the legislature presupposes that Muslims alone can represent the interests of their community. It also presupposes Muslims constitute a homogeneous group and tend to vote together," says Hilal Ahmed, assistant professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and author of "Muslim Political Discourse in Post-Colonial India". He argues the question of Muslim representation is a complex issue and it should be taken out from communalism-secularism debate.
There are local variations as well. While Muslims' political representation has fallen at most levels in Maharashtra but has taken a different turn in Uttar Pradesh.
Uttar Pradesh presents a different picture. Based on his study of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh politics, A K Verma, Professor at Kanpur-based Christ Church College, argues that looking at the number of Muslim MPs from Uttar Pradesh in the Lok Sabha one gets a sense that the community faces total marginalisation. For the first time in the country's electoral history, Muslim candidates did not win a single seat in the Lok Sabha elections from Uttar Pradesh.
But Muslim representation in the Uttar Pradesh assembly at 17.1 per cent is closer to the community's share of the state's population. Muslims constitute nearly 18.5 per cent of UP's population. And in urban local bodies across all regions of the state, Muslim representation at 31 per cent is much higher, he argues. His research shows negligible to very high level of representation of Muslims district-wise in the state assembly. "There is not a single Muslim MLA from 31 districts of the state. In another 13 districts, the level of Muslim representation is at 10-25 per cent, in 21 districts at 25-50 per cent and in 5 districts of Moradabad, Rampur, Amroha, Balrampur and Shravasti, 50-70 per cent of all MLAs belong to the minority community," A K Verma told Business Standard.
Drawing conclusions on political representation of Muslims based on the number of seats won by them in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies has its limitations. And variation in political representation of Muslims across states and regions could be a reflection of the churn that is taking place in the community.