Political Parties of Secular India Flying High on Muslim Minority Vote Bank

India is a ‘Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic’, yet the question arises- is India a truly secular democratic republic? As projected by the Independence movement and the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty – a secular nation is one where many religious, linguistic, and ethnic identities could co-exist peacefully, and this is the essence of the Indian constitution. India has a population of about 1.32 billion consisting of 80% Hindus, 15% Muslims, 2.3% Christian, and 1.9% Sikh. But over the times with changing political equations and voting trends of the 18 crore Muslims, minority voters have emerged as the key to the throne of the nation.

Secularism has made way for minority appeasement; as a result, minority appeasement politics has taken center stage with all the front-ranking political parties relying on the vote bank of more than 18 crore Muslims to rule the nation. With Muslims comprising more than 15% of the Indian population and holding the key to more than two hundred seats,  Muslim votes are not just the deciding factor in many seats, but they are the kingmakers or rather the kings in the Indian political scenario.

The Indian National Congress which ruled over the nation for the majority of the period since India independence in 1947 has been framing policies for the appeasement of the Muslim community and has used Muslims against Hindus to serve its political purpose. The Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) turned a blind eye to the massive influx of illegal Muslim migrants from Bangladesh in Assam and West Bengal. It caused numerous instances of violence and mass carnage, ultimately forcing the government to go for the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam.

The late Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi’s knee-jerk reaction in the shape of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill on the Supreme Court of India judgment in Shah Bano brought to the fore the Muslim appeasement politics of the Congress. Shah Bano, a Muslim mother of five children, who was divorced by her husband in 1978, won the right to alimony from her husband in a criminal suit in the Supreme Court of India. The then Congress government led by the late Rajiv Gandhi first welcome the judgment and fielded Muslim Minister Arif Mohammad Khan to laud the SC judgment, and thereafter buckled under the pressure of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and enacted the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986.

The Act contained a controversial provision which gave the right to maintenance just for the period of iddat (about three months) after the divorce and shifted the onus of maintaining her to her relatives or the Wakf Board. The Act was discriminatory, as it denied the right to essential maintenance to divorced Muslim women which women of other faiths had under the secular law of India.

The main Opposition Party, Bharatiya Janta Party led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been banking on Hindu vote bank to rule the nation. The BJP, with the help of the RSS and the VHP, created massive Hindu vote-bank in the North Indian states using the contentious issue of the Ram Temple/Babri Mosque in Ayodhya. The BJP’s ideology and mobilization strategies created divisions in the Hindu society and alienated the Muslims. By this strategy, the BJP successfully moved from a mere 2 seats in 1984 to 86 seats in 1989 and 120 in 1991. By mid-1990s, particularly after the destruction of the Babri Mosque on 6th December 1992, the BJP leadership began to realize the limitations of its communal strategy. The Bharatiya Janta Party, having politically “exhausted” the Hindutva issue, was desperate to lure the Muslim vote bank.

The Supreme Court verdict on triple talaq, Instant Divorce declaring it unconstitutional in its judgment dated 17 August 2017 came as a shot in the arm for the Narendra Modi-led BJP government. The Supreme Court judgment created a rift in the Muslim community with males opposing it and women supporting the decision. In spite of the opposition of the Muslim Community and political parties of India, the BJP government moved in swiftly and framed a law to ban triple talaq with an eye on the Muslim women vote bank. The division of Muslim votes has directly helped the BJP even in seats where Muslims make more than 50% of the population. The BJP which is held as the Hindu communal party also trod on the path of Muslim appeasement politics like other political parties of India.

The trend of minority appeasement indicates that Muslims will continue to take advantage of their position in Indian politics. Elections are won and lost in the Lok Sabha with the difference of merely a couple of thousand votes of Muslims in almost every other constituencies in Assam, UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, and elsewhere. This indicates that the Muslims can not only just swing the mood in favor of one party or candidate, but they are also the deciding factor in more than two hundred seats across the country.

Muslims were and will remain relevant for political parties to rule over the nation. With all the national and regional political parties, such as the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC), the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Janata Dal (United), and others, competing with one another to lure the Muslim vote bank, Muslim appeasement politics is here to stay in one form or the other.