I admire the sentiment behind Ajaz Ashraf’s article in The Hindu on Muslim political representation (Op-Ed, “A capital test for Muslim candidate defying vote bank politics,” October 5, 2013), but I dispute his facts and conclusions.
Mr. Ashraf uses CSDS data to make the valid point that Muslim candidates do not tend to win elections from constituencies in which Muslims are not a significant proportion of the population. However, he then goes on to say that this statistic renders Shazia Ilmi’s nomination as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s candidate from R.K. Puram in Delhi, where Muslims do not form a significant proportion, unusual. It is this point that I contest, because Mr. Ashraf is not comparing like with like.
To prove Ms Ilmi’s candidature unusual, one should look at the number of Muslim candidates, not Muslim winners. A quick glance at the results of the 2008 elections shows that at least one Muslim candidate who did not win contested in at least 35 of Delhi’s 70 Assembly constituencies, including constituencies like New Delhi and Jangpura that do not have significant Muslim populations. While some were independents, others were fielded by mainstream parties including the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Janata Dal (United), the Lok Janshakti Party and the Nationalist Congress Party. Seen in this light, Ms Ilmi’s candidature is not unique.
In fact, if we go back one more election, a Muslim man — Sabir Ali of the “Jai Prakash Janata Dal” — contested the election in 2003 from R.K. Puram, the very seat from where Ms Ilmi’s candidature is being seen as unique.
Moreover, the AAP, whose act of nominating Ms. Ilmi Mr. Ashraf so admires, has so far named three other Muslim candidates on its website. They are from Matia Mahal, Ballimaran and Okhla, all three constituencies where the incumbent — and a significant chunk of voters — is Muslim. How different does this cynical calculation make them from other political parties?
I agree with Mr. Ashraf that too few Muslims are given tickets by major political parties. The AAP might be making a start at expanding the representation of marginalised groups beyond “safe seats” with Ms Ilmi, but they have done no more or less than other mainstream parties thus far. It is too soon to declare that with this, the AAP “shatter[s]..the mould of identity politics.”
There is much that is revolutionary that the AAP is doing, but a radical social agenda cannot be counted among its stated aims. When mainstream political parties have already expanded representation beyond what the AAP is now offering, why do they get no credit for this? And if mainstream parties are to be encouraged to do more, why should the role model held up to them be one as limited as the AAP?