Wooing Muslim Voters in Karnataka

One of the biggest areas of concern for all political parties in Karnataka has been the support of Muslim voters. Every political party in Karnataka has been extremely careful in ensuring a good number of tickets to Muslim candidates because Muslim voters have been playing a key role in deciding the future of the state of politics.

The share of Muslims electorate is 12.5 percent out of the total 4.19 crore electorate of Karnataka and they would decide the fate of key political players, mainly the secular ones like the Congress and the JD(S). Out of the total of 224 Assembly segments, Muslim voters would decide the fate of Candidates in not less than 65 Assembly constituencies.

There are at least 7 to 8 Assembly segments including  Mangalore( 50.7 percent), Pullakeshinagar in Bangalore( 49.3 percent)  Gulbarga( 49.7 percent), Bijapur city( 47.3 percent) Narasimharaja in Mysore(44 percent), Sarvagnanagar, previously known as Bharthi Nagar segment in Bangalore  ( 40 percent) and Chamrejpet(43 percent) in Bangalore city where the Muslim voters dominate.

In the same way, there are at least 12 Assembly segments including Kudachi in Chikkodi (30 percent) , Belgaum North ( 34.7 percent) Humnabad in Bidar(33.4 percent), Raichur(31.4 percent) Bidar( 31.8 percent) Shiggaon in Dharwad ( 30 percent), Kolar ( 36.2 percent), Hebbal in Bangalore ( 37.6 percent)  Shivajinagar(32.9 percent) and  Jayanagar(34.8 percent) in Bangalore apart from Ramanagaram(30 percent) and Bidar City(30 percent) where Muslim voters are the decisive factor.

Ironically however, their presence in Karnataka Assembly during last 30 odd years despite their significant population in the state has just hovered around 6 to 12 seats only.  It was only during the 1978 elections where a record number of 16 Muslim MLAS were elected when the Congress government came to power in Karnataka. As compared to that just about 12 Muslim legislators got their presence in Karnataka Vidhana Soudha during 1972, 1989 and 1999 Assembly polls.

Compared to that, the share of Muslim legislators remained rather low in 1994 and 2004 when only 6 Muslim MLAs came to the Assembly while there were 9 Muslim MLAS in 2008 elections. However, there representation was lowest in 1983 when Ramkrishna Hegde government came to power. There were just two Muslim MLAs in the Assembly then.

The Muslim voters became more conscious of their presence and significance in the electoral chess board of Karnataka after the resurgence of Hindutva wave in 1990s and they votes en masse against the saffron brigade in Karnataka as in other states. Muslim voters have two issues in mind. They are trying to consolidate their votes against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and they are concerned about development and infrastructure issues in the city. There was an increased awareness that Muslims need to consolidate their votes in order to defeat the BJP and that is why the Muslim candidates flocked mainly to Congress party and the JD(S) for tickets.

The BJP in Karnataka has continued to show its utter disdain for the Muslims by refusing to field a single Muslim candidate in 1983,  1995 and even in 2008 Assembly elections. It did field one Muslim candidate each in 1989 and 1994 and two candidates in 2004 but none of them could win. In the current election, the BJP despite being a National party has not given ticket to a single Muslim candidate.

That means, the Muslim candidates had to confine their choice between the Congress and the JD(S) alone. There is nothing on record to show the preference of KJP for Muslim candidates. The same is the case with B Sriramulu’s BSR Congress.

In the last five years, the Muslim voters had shown their inclination towards the Congress particularly in coastal Karnataka and northern parts of the State as well. It was expected that the Congress party would field a larger number of Muslim candidates than its political rivals. However, the JD(S) has stolen the show by fielding 20 candidates as compared to Congress party’s tally of 19 candidates.

As every 8th voter happens to be a Muslim in Karnataka, the stakes are clearly very high for major secular parties in their desperate bid to increase the tally of seats. More so, when Karnataka is poised for a multi-cornered in almost every Assembly segment, every Muslim vote becomes crucial.

The JD(S) led by Deve Gowda, has been rather liberal in its approach towards despite the fact that it does not have a written and announced agenda for the Muslims in the State. It goes purely by local factors and gives preference to Muslim candidates.

However, both the Congress and JD(S) have been suffering from the same  problem of  ‘ fixation” by fielding Muslim candidates only in those areas where Muslims are in sizeable numbers and the result has been disastrous because Muslim votes have got divided among both candidates and the  BJP has been the winner in  a few places.

In other words, these parties have been going through the same motion of “social engineering’ by trying to tom- tom about giving fair representation to Muslim candidates and at the same time, ensuring that most of them don’t make it to Vidhana Soudha.

There are at least two examples to be quoted in this context. One is that of CM Ibrahim having been fielded by Congress party in Bhadrawati in Shimoga at the cost of sitting MLA Sangamesh. Everyone knows that Ibrahim would come as a popper there and yet the motion of “minority representation was carried through”.

The second is the case of Hebbal constituency in Bangalore city where both secular parties- congress and JD(S) have fielded Muslim Candidates.  Former Union Minister CK Jaffer Shaerif‘s Grandson Abdul Rehman Shaerif is pitted against JD(S) Muslim candidate and retired ACP Abdul Azeem. This would split Muslim votes into two camps and the BJP would emerge a clear winner yet again.

Even otherwise, Muslim voters constitute between 13 to 14 per cent of Bangalore’s population and their numbers will play an important role in several constituencies in the city. Of the 28 constituencies in Bangalore city, Muslims form between 20 and 50 per cent of the voters in seven constituencies, 10 to 20 per cent in six, and five to 10 per cent in 12 constituencies.  But the logic and selection of candidates in specific areas has been rather shoddy.

The Congress party which is yet to release its Election manifesto has been trying to cobble up some existing schemes for the Muslims in Karnataka. It has entrusted the task of putting up a few manifesto points to a retied Muslim IAS officer Zameer Pasha, who in all probability, would curl out some of the recommendations of the Sachar Committee to woo Muslim voters.

However, it remains to be seen how the overall Muslim population in Karnataka would vote. The choice is between the Congress and the JD(S) here and the secular credentials of the Congress party in particular would be at stake if they are able to win less number of seats.

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