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Lack of representation: Indian Muslims may end up as 'new political untouchables'

By Basant Rawat*, Kausharali Saiyed**, Sandeep Pandey**
Indian Muslims are a deprived community with very low participation in the functioning of the world's largest parliamentary democracy. This despite the fact that followers of Islam in India are the single largest minority -- they're about 17.22 crore, i.e., 14.2 % of total population of the country, according to the 2011 census figures.
For any functioning democracy, equal political rights and active participation of its citizens, irrespective of their religious affiliation, should be a given. But the status of Indian Muslims today is nothing more than second class citizens.
Thankfully, Muslims and other minorities can still exercise their right to vote, perhaps the only sign that they're still citizens. Evidently, the Muslim vote bank is much sought after during election time, but it seems, the members of this community do not deserve to be elected. And thus they're merely reduced to mute witnesses of their marginalisation process.
The situation today is such that the ruling party, which claims and pretends to be most interested in the welfare of Muslim community (barring a lone Muslim MP, Saumitra Khan , from West Bengal), does not have Muslim MPs despite it having the highest number of MPs - 303 - elected in the just concluded parliamentary elections in 2019. It just put up 6 Muslim candidates in all, a mere 1.1% of the capacity of lower house. Is that how much the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) thinks is due to the Musilms?
Saumitra Khan
It is likely true that keeping with its political ideology, preference and leaning, the party, which secured a huge mandate to rule the country for another five years, consciously chose not to field a single Muslim candidate in important states like Kerala, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh , where they have substantial numbers.
In 2014 BJP created a situation that not a single MP belonging to Muslim community from UP, which sends the largest contingent, even representing other parties could make it to the Lok Sabha.
This contagious thinking treating Muslims are pariahs is now affecting other parties too, including those of secular hue, which do not want to be seen so pro-Muslim that their Hindu voters drift away.
Fortunately, in 2019, there are six MPs from UP, and 27 overall, a slight improvement by 5 seats over the 2014 Lok Sabha, but still a mere 4.97%, much below in proportion to their population. The women in comparison are 14.36%, also way below their ratio in population.
The political exclusion of Muslims should be an eye opener for all. Muslims need to shed their apathy, lethargy and defensive mindset to stake their rightful claim by seeking to actively participate and shape their future in this democratic country.
This is the only way out, the only option. Or else, honestly speaking, they will have to sit quiet and accept the status of second class citizens. And never ever complain about it. This, we believe, should be unacceptable to any dignified person or community that believes in the virtues of a true democracy.
So clearly, at this crucial juncture, it is time for Muslims to introspect and proactively become stakeholders in the "sovereign socialist secular democratic republic..." The preamble of the Constitution talks about justice, which includes not only "social and economic," but also ''political'' rights.
The last, i.e. political rights, is an important precondition, without which any community, leave alone Muslims, may end up as the 'new political untouchables'. So what needs to be done and what could be the possible road map ahead?
Muslim MPs in Lok Sabha
First of all, Muslims, should free themselves from the guilt of being somehow responsible for the country’s Partition, which took place more than seven decades ago. The ones who remained behind should no more carry this burden of guilt for an act that they did not commit. The ones who wanted to live in Pakistan have left. Only the ones who chose this country as their abode remained behind.
Secondly, they know it but must make others realise that they have not been the beneficiaries of any alleged appeasement policies. If indeed they were, they would not be only slightly better that Scheduled Castes (SC)/ Scheduled Tribes (STs) in terms of various social indices. In fact, in some areas, like literacy and representation in government jobs they do worse that SC/STs. The reality is captured succinctly in Sachar Committee report for everyone to see.
Thirdly, Musilms have to convince fellow citizens that they have been unfairly targeted in terror related incidents. A number of Musilm youth who were arrested on charges of being involved in terrorist activities have been either acquitted or are languishing in jail for want of evidence required for their conviction. Hence most of them arrested were innocents.
Muslims, along with Dalits and tribals, are in higher proportions in jails compared to their population. Similarly, the victims of most mob lynching incidents were innocents and were handed punishment out of proportion to what is prescribed by the law of land, which was blatantly unfair to the community.
Lastly, they have to decide to proactively get involved in the democratic process of our country to ensure political representation. It may be launching an advocacy campaign or a new political agitation. They will have to do whatever is required to reclaim their citizenship as Indians with equal political rights to manage the affairs of the country which belongs to all "we the people," including Muslims.
Let the Muslims be heard now. They have a right to express their "Mann Ki Baat" too.
---
*Journalist (rawatbasant@gmail.com), **social activists (kaushars@yahoo.com, ashaasharm@yahoo.com)

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