'Treated as Mere Vote Bank,' Say Muslims Left Out of Jharkhand's Grand Alliance

While the community expects such treatment from the BJP, they say parties that "claim to be secular and inclusive" are also not giving tickets to Muslims.

Ranchi: Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, there is anger amongst a section of the Muslim community in Jharkhand – the reason being that the mahagathbandhan (the state-level grand alliance of parties) has not given a ticket to a single Muslim candidate in the ongoing polls.

“I am not saying that give a ticket to a particular person, but there has to be some representation of the community in the national election,” Nadeem Khan, a prominent member of the community and an activist based in the state capital told The Wire.

An angry Khan went on say: “I don’t care if Muslims are not given a ticket by the BJP and their allies because they are openly communal, but it is appalling that the parties that claim to be secular and inclusive are also not giving tickets to Muslims, not a single seat.” He then went on to question, “How long will we be treated as a mere vote bank?”

According to him, the political representation of any community, especially marginalised ones, is crucial for its empowerment. “If secular forces fail to ensure due political representation of the community, it will give a boost to conservative forces amongst the community,” he said.

As per Census 2011, Muslims constitute nearly 15% of the state and are concentrated in different districts of Santhal Pargana division such Deoghar, Godda, Jamtara, Sahibganj and Pakur apart from Lohardaga and Giridih districts.

Also read: The Missing Muslim Vote and Voice in 2019

While 30% of the population of Sahibganj and Pakur districts is Muslims, the figure in Deoghar, Godda, Jamtara, Lohardaga and Giridih districts stands at 20%. The state capital has nearly 15% Muslim population. Notably, most of the districts with a substantial Muslim population also come under the most backward districts of India.

According to Afzal Anis of the United Milli Forum – a socio-political organisation working with Muslims in the state – the Muslim vote plays a key role in at least four Lok Sabha constituencies: Godda, Chatra, Lohardaga and Rajmahal (a reserved seat for Adivasis). When asked how the community feels about the mahagathbandhan not giving a single ticker to a Muslim, Anis said: “Though there is resentment about it in the community, it is unlikely to impact the Muslim voting pattern in the state, except in Godda.”

“There are bigger issues facing the community in the state right now and people feel that the issue of Muslim representation can be set aside for now,” he added.

Speaking about the Godda seat, which has a substantial proportion of Muslim voters, and is the only constituency from where a Muslim MP has been elected since the formation of the state in 2000, Anis told The Wire, “If Muslim votes get divided here, the BJP will win again”. Notably, senior Congressman and former Godda MP, Furqan Ansari was seeking a ticket from this seat. However, after he was denied, his daughter is now likely to contest the election as an independent candidate or on a BSP/TMC ticket.

Currently, there is no Muslim Lok Sabha member from the state. Ansari successfully contested from Godda seat in 2004 and was the last Muslim representative in the Lok Sabha from the state. In the 2009 polls, Ansari lost the seat to Durga Soren, the elder son of veteran Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader and former chief minister of the state, Shibu Soren.

Also read: Jharkhand’s Hoarding Game: Local Issues Missing From Congress Poll Narrative

In the last election, he lost to Nishikant Dubey of the BJP. Interestingly, a section of Congress party workers had shown resentment over Ansari getting a ticket. This time, the seat has gone to the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM), a partner in the grand alliance. The local MLA, Pradeep Yadav is contesting on the party ticket.

Lok Sabha elections in the state will take place in the last four phases, starting April 29. The Congress is the dominant partner in the alliance and is contesting on seven out of the 14 seats. Other parties include Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (contenting on four seats), Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (contesting on two seats) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (one seat).

On being asked why Congress has not given any seat to Muslims, state president Ajoy Kumar told The Wire: “Congress doesn’t allocate seats on the basis of caste and religion”. Denying the charge that the party is not serious about the representation of Muslims, Kumar said, “The alliance has decided that a member from the minority community will be nominated in the Rajya Sabha.”

Senior Congress leader and former cabinet minister, Subodh Kant Sahay said that since “the seat from where the party wanted to give a ticket to a Muslim candidate has gone to an alliance partner, we will nominate a Muslim to the Rajya Sabha.”

However, a local journalist told The Wire that JMM’s Supriyo Bhattacharya already made it clear that his party has the first right over the Rajya Sabha nomination. Hence, it seems unlikely that Congress will be in a position to nominate someone in the upper house of the parliament.