Analysis: Muslim vote bank is a myth in Gujarat, community votes on class and economic lines

By MuslimMirror News Desk,

There is a common perception that Muslims vote in favour of the Congress without taking caste, class and econmic interests in consideration. But the recently concluded Gujarat Assembly election, which was won by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), breaks this myth. An analysis of 53 seats where Muslim population varies from 10% to 55% indicates that the voting behaviour of the community varies according to its diversity in the state.

Muslims in Gujarat seem to have followed social coalitions at the constituency level suggesting the absence of statewide electoral intent. It is often argued that Muslims in India do not constitute a monolithic or homogenous group, more so in Gujarat where they continue to reflect the plurality of an estimated 87 sub-communities or sub-castes.

“This demonstrates that the phrase ‘Muslim vote bank’ is essentially political in origin and character and used to forge reverse polarisation by introducing the image of the minority ‘other’ in the social and political space,” argues senior journalist and political commentator Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay.

During the campaign, MuslimMirror came across Muslims who were not supportive of the Congress. “This once again demonstrated that post 2002, the BJP has successfully engaged with – and forged an ‘interesting’ relationship – at least the upper caste or rich Muslims who ‘accepted’ their social alienation and perforce chose to be ‘content’ with economic growth and development,” he said.

For analysis, assembly constituencies with significant Muslims population were split up into following categories: 10-15%, 15-20%, 20-25%, 25-30%, and 30% and upwards. The BJP bagged the majority of 26 seats with Muslim population in the range of 10-15%, winning 15 seats to 11 by the Congress.

Coincidentally, both parties wrested three seats each from the other. Importantly, three seats in this cluster were from Ahmedabad, including the infamous Naroda seat, which was won by the BJP with a high margin. A similar pattern is discernible in Nikol while in Dholka, the Congress candidate lost by a margin that was lower than what NOTA (none of the above) was polled. In seats where memories of communal disturbances run deep, reverse polarisation appears to be a continuing factor for BJP’s wins.

On analysing 11 seats with Muslim population in the range of 15-20%, the saffron party won seven of these to four by the Congress in contrast to the nine-two distribution between the two parties in 2012. It indicates gains for the latter at par with the trend in the region.

The Congress wrested seats from the BJP mainly in Saurashtra districts, Jamnagar and Dwarka. Out of seven seats where Muslim population is in the 20-25% range, the Congress won five, adding one seat from its tally in 2012. One of these seats, Wankaner in Morbi district, is among the three constituencies to elect Muslims to the state assembly. Barring Sidhpur in north Gujarat’s Patan and Bapunagar in Ahmedabad, the other seats in this bunch are also from Saurashtra.

There are just three seats where Muslim population ranges between 25% and 30% and the Congress won two of these while the BJP won the other. Significantly, the Congress wrested the rurban Jambusar seat in Bharuch from the BJP, indicating that the trend of BJP losing rural seats remained firmed even in high Muslim population seats.

The cluster of six constituencies where Muslim population is more than 30% and less than 55%, the highest being in the Dariapur in Ahmedabad, provides an interesting picture as the BJP and Congress won three each. Of these, Jamalpur-Khadia in Ahmedabad is the only one the Congress wrested while the others followed the trend of 2012.

The BJP has retained Bhuj, Surat East and Vagra (Bharuch district). Vagra is a rural seat and the BJP almost lost this but escaped by the skin of its teeth because the winning margin of 2,628 was lower than the 2,807 cast for NOTA. The BJP had the advantage of an incumbent MLA while the Congress fielded a new candidate. The party’s candidate in 2012 was a Muslim but it gave the ticket to a Hindu candidate.

Bhuj is a predominantly urban seat with a 30-35% Muslim population but since 2007 the BJP has been winning this seat, providing indication that at least locally, the BJP has ‘neutralised’ Muslim animosity. Similar is the case of Surat East that has been a BJP stronghold since 2007.

Despite its ‘detached engagement’ with Muslims, the Congress has won five extra seats in 27 constituencies with more than 15% Muslim population.

“The gains could have been more in the wake of a more visible engagement but this may have led to Hindu consolidation in favour of the BJP. Failure to make inroads in more seats mirrors inability of the Congress to reap more from social coalitions which emerged due to the election being fought mainly on economic issues,” he concludes.

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