Secular India, beyond the dream

The Muslim minority vote bank has been critical in government formation in India. This election will be no different

Secular India, beyond the dream


ndia, before the arrival of the British, was composed of many states and provinces, ruled by various rulers following different religions. A prominent feature common in the Indian society, whether under ancient rajas or Mughal emperors, was religious tolerance, secularism, interfaith harmony and respect for all religions.

After the Partition in 1947, two sovereign states, India and Pakistan, emerged on the world map. The Indian National Congress leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, were supportive of a secular form of government. On many occasions, it was assured that all religious minorities shall enjoy equal civic rights after independence. A good number of Indian Muslims joined the ranks of Congress and after Partition, did not migrate to Pakistan. It is worth mentioning that before the Partition, Muslims made up a fourth of the Indian population as per the 1941 Census of India.

The secular constitution of the Republic of India is a founding document that establishes the country as a sovereign, secular and democratic state. The constitution ensures that India is a nation where people of all religions, faiths and beliefs are treated equally and have the freedom to practice their religion without fear of persecution or discrimination.

Traditionally, the Muslim minority vote bank has played a critical role in government formation in India. The success of several political parties has heavily depended on Muslim voters. Currently, of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, 65 are of constituencies where Muslims constitute 30 to 80 percent of the population. These constituencies are in Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal and Telangana. In addition, 35-40 seats have a significant Muslim population. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the success of popular politicians, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh, is due to Muslim minority votes being cast in their favour.

Major political parties adopt different strategies and tactics to attract minority voters. The Indian National Congress, seen as a secular, liberal and founding party of modern sovereign India, is known for minority welfare, interfaith harmony and social justice. Parties like All India Trinamool Congress and Janata Dal (United) have also sought to secure minority votes through inclusive policies and diverse initiatives. The Bharatiya Janata Party, on the other hand, has faced criticism from day one for its perceived bias and discrimination against minority communities, particularly Muslims.

Muslims have sometimes been treated as a homogeneous voting bloc. As general elections are currently ongoing, political analysts have been closely observing the Muslim minority’s response in the electoral voting process. According to some reports emerging in the media, Muslims are maintaining a “tactical silence” to prevent polarisation and discrimination.

However, since Narendra Modi came to power, Indian media has reported that the Muslim vote bank has become insignificant. Currently minorities are not in a position to influence the election results and government formation. The opposition parties, currently united under the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance led by the Congress, are continuously accusing the Modi-led BJP of violating the secular constitution of India.

Under the BJP rule, the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens initiatives have sparked widespread protests throughout the country, whereas minority communities perceived such moves as discriminatory and exclusionary. They are of the view that the purpose behind targeting minority Muslims in a systematic way at state level is to secure Hindu majority votes under the guise of controversial Hindutva ideology.

On various occasions, I have elaborated my view that the Hindutva promoted by the BJP in India, has nothing to do with Hinduism, the religion. It is neither based on ancient religious literature, including Vedas, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita, nor a religious obligation. After Independence, the first victim of this extremist ideology was none other than the founding father of India, Mahatma Gandhi.

Although the BJP has tried hard to sideline the minorities, it has not been entirely successful. Unlike his predecessors, Modi did not include any Muslim in his cabinet, but now the BJP has been forced to give the party ticket to a Muslim politician to contest elections from Kerala. Interestingly, for the first time in nearly three decades, the BJP has decided to not contest elections in the Muslim-majority region of Jammu and Kashmir.

Which party or parties Muslims are going to vote for in this election, remains a matter of conjecture. As per media reports, minorities are showing anger and displeasure towards Modi, who has dented India’s secular identity. Various reports in the media suggest that most of the minority voters will vote for the opposition INDIA alliance. But it is also an undeniable fact that the Congress has disappointed the minority Muslims in the past.

The BJP is aware of the numbers required to achieve its targets. It is trying hard to secure votes, including Muslim votes. Ground realities currently favour Modi’s return to parliament but winning 400 seats is unlikely. In this year of karma, Modi will also have to face the consequences of his past deeds.

Let’s hope that the election results will empower our neighbouring country as a beacon of tolerance, diversity, and inclusivity.

The writer is the patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council

Secular India, beyond the dream