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Minorities do not vote in isolation

Minorities do not  vote in isolation
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The country virtually stands at the doorsteps of elections in three important States in the run-up to the general elections, and the slew of...

The country virtually stands at the doorsteps of elections in three important States in the run-up to the general elections, and the slew of speculations and conjectures about new alignments or break-ups of the existing ones arouse understandable public interest in the present situation of flux. A Attention has thus zeroed in on possible behavioral patterns of crucial voting groups in the next Lok Sabha elections, particularly the Muslims.

What, however, is disturbing, if not reprehensible, is the tendency to single out and commodify the minorities, more specifically the large Muslim vote chunk. This certainly is not the first time that a pick-and-choose of this kind is being made as if the societal equations would have remained static in a vibrant democracy across the decades, and that the tone and tenor of political discourse had also remained unchanged.

The trend became more marked only a year back at the time of electioneering in UP last year. A However, experience of the decades has been revealing enough to show that the Muslim voting pattern has neither been uniform nor stratified at any stage during the last many elections, be it region-wise or else.

Even if definitive contours of their voting behavior surfaced during the Nehru period, the first break came with the rise of regional groupings and the emergence of the phenomenon of anti-Congressism in mid-1960s. A Ten years on there came a more perceptible shift in the electoral mood, in general, including that of the minorities during the Emergency.

Of course, the scenario went on changing with the advent of VP Singh and the Mandal/Mandir syndrome and the experiment of united fronts at the Centre. It would, however, be useful for present-day pollsters to remind themselves of the fact that the voting pattern of the Muslims was radically different in the northern States from that in other parts, more notably in the South.

This pattern in Andhra Pradesh stood in stark contrast with that of UP, and the Hindi belt in general: Andhra Pradesh stood solidly by Indira Gandhi in 1977 as against UP where not only she but the Congress Party faced total rejection. In fact, the entire northern belt returned only two Congress MPs.

Time did not indeed come to a standstill in a moving world of democracy at any juncture: the rise and fall of the Yadavs in the 1990s wrought further changes: and in the North as in the South the supremacy of regional satraps became an established reality. A Evidently Muslims have been equal partners with other mainstream groups in this process of transformation throughout.

In fact, the present debate got off to a start with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar's peroration at the JDU convention raising a dissonant note against its senior ally of the NDA-the BJP�over his party's stand on secularism. A How a particular community would vote in Bihar is yet too early to speculate and, as such, is not of national relevance at this stage.

Any blanket assessment on pure supposition would be unwarranted and be as facile as discussing the shape of the Third Front post-2014. A It is generally argued that Muslims constituting 14 per cent of the electorate vote tactically, but who decides the tactics for them is not very clear. Indeed, there are certain groups claiming credit for doing so after each election, but how authentic their own credentials are remains an open question.

However good-intentioned these groups may be, they invariably comprise a particular brand of intellectuals and ex-bureaucrats trying their hands in political matters. A The good part of it is that Muslims do not at all act in isolation; nor are they influenced by the laboratory approach of those sitting in ivory towers, and are hardly swayed by the preferences of the clerics.

Thus it is time to get rid of certain basic fallacies, and get real. A First, the Muslims are not a class apart from others and are frankly as amenable to influences as others are; they are as much part of the political mainstream as other sections are.

Yet, undeniably, they have their own social and political concerns to take care of while making electoral choices and vote accordingly. They are an important component of the overall national fabric� call it the mainstream or whatever you wish.

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