Amid the disaster that Lok Sabha election had for the Congress, there is perhaps a small consolation. While the party performed poorly among its traditional voters, namely Dalits and tribals, the grand old party continues to have the overall support of Muslims, India’s largest religious minority.
The National Election Study (NES) shows that the nationwide Muslim vote for the Congress was 38 per cent (excluding allies), the same as it was in 2009. The question, in fact, is why the Congress did not get more votes among the Muslims given the community’s aversion to the BJP.
NES data clearly shows that in States where the Congress is in direct competition with the BJP, it got nearly three-fourths of the Muslim vote overall. On the other hand, States in which there is a presence of strong regional parties (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Delhi, Assam etc.) saw the overall Muslim support for Congress drop to about one-third, as the community also voted for the non-Congress options.
Interestingly, the BJP too saw its vote share among Muslims rise to about 8 per cent at the national level compared to the four per cent it had five years ago. While this undeniably indicates greater support for the BJP among Muslims, the increase in Hindu support, from 22 per cent in 2009 to 36 per cent in 2014, is proportionately greater.
While about two out of every five Muslims voted for the Congress in this election, upper-caste support for the BJP was one out of two. Even as the Muslims rallied behind non-BJP options, a counter Hindu upper caste and OBC consolidation — much greater in magnitude — seems to have rendered the Muslim votes ineffective, even in seats where Muslims have always been in a position to make a difference to the final outcome.
Of the 87 seats where Muslims are over 20 per cent of the population, the BJP won 42 as opposed to just 15 seats in 2009. That the voice of 15 per cent of the country’s population could be rendered ineffective expresses a paradox present in our democracy.
(Shreyas Sardesai is with Lokniti, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi)