STATE OF PLAY Comment

Competing for Muslim votes in Karnataka

Muslim students in Kundapur, Karnataka during the hijab ban controversy. FIle photo for representation.

Muslim students in Kundapur, Karnataka during the hijab ban controversy. FIle photo for representation. | Photo Credit: AP

Certain attempts to polarise votes on communal lines have gained ground in Karnataka, which is heading to Assembly polls barely a year from now. While the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes to reap a rich harvest by consolidation of Hindu votes, the two opposition parties — Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) — have backed the Muslim community in varying degrees on a slew of issues that have been raked up, be it Muslim girls not being allowed to wear hijab in classrooms or disallowing Muslim traders to set up shops during festivals at Hindu temples. There is a political one-upmanship between the two to boost their “Muslim-friendly” image.

Watch | Karnataka's hijab controversy explained

Meanwhile, players like All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) are keen to carve their spaces in the political arena. Though AIMIM and SDPI have been floating candidates, they might at best become "spoilers" for non-BJP entities as in other States. The tussle for electoral space is bound to become more intense with the entry of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

With the space getting crowded, the Congress and the JD(S) are in the race for giving political posts to Muslim leaders. JD(S) appointed former Union Minister C.M. Ibrahim as the president of its State unit.Congress has appointed U.T. Khader as deputy leader of the party in the Assembly. It has elevated Mohammed Nalapad, considered a protégé of State Congress president D.K. Shivakumar, as president of the party’s youth wing.

Muslims constitute nearly 13% of the State’s population. In the 2018 polls, Congress and JD(S) fielded 17 Muslim candidates each, largely in north Karnataka. While seven Congress candidates were successful, JD(S) drew a blank. In the by-elections held to Sindagi and Hangal constituencies in 2021, JD(S) fielded Naziya Shakeel Ahmed Angadi and Niyaz Shaikh, respectively. Both lost their deposits. The ruling BJP, banking on the Hindu vote bank, had not fielded a single Muslim candidate either in 2018 or in by-elections.

The JD(S) contends that its Muslim candidates lost in the 2018 Assembly elections due to the then chief minister Siddaramaiah’s "false narrative" of branding JD(S) as "BJP’s B team." The Congress leader alleged that JD(S) tried to divide the Muslim votes to help the BJP. However, it was a different story that after the fractured mandate, Congress and JD(S) came together and formed the coalition government which eventually collapsed.

In the run-up to the next elections, the JD(S) has been taking credit for providing 4% reservation for Muslims in education and jobs and says it has every right to seek minority community votes. But it was the Devaraj Urs-led Congress government in 1977 which first passed the order for providing quota for Muslims under Other Backward Classes.

This was challenged in the High Court and commissions were set up to review the OBCs list. Finally, in the process of fixing OBC quota at 27% as per the Mandal Commission case, the Muslim quota was fixed at 4% in Category II (B) in 1995. The same quota continues to this day.

Traditionally, Muslims have been voting for the Congress. There is a belief among political parties that Muslims vote en bloc strategically to defeat the BJP. With the BJP and right-wing organisations unlikely to end raking up communally-sensitive issues till the Assembly polls, it would be interesting to see whom Karnataka’s Muslims would look to, to protect their interests. With more than one contender in the fray to stake claim to their votes, it is a moot question as to whether there will be a consolidation of votes at all.

(nagesh.p@thehindu.co.in)


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Printable version | May 17, 2022 4:29:32 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/competing-for-muslim-votes/article65375613.ece