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Muslims are politically deprived, says study

By Ehtasham Khan in New Delhi
November 15, 2003 03:00 IST
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Delhi's Hamdard University proposed, on Thursday, the introduction of a new electoral system to ensure the full participation of all minorities and suppressed groups in the country's political process.

The proposal was the result of a 300 page study, 'Electoral System And Inclusive Democracy: Muslim Under-representation', by Professor Iqbal Ahmed Ansari. According to the study, Muslims have not, in comparison to their demographic strength, been adequately represented in Parliament or most of the state assemblies.

The study, which is based on the number of Muslim candidates elected to Parliament and 12 state assemblies since 1952, the year independent India's first Parliament was elected, says this has led to a feeling of 'discrimination and alienation' among Muslims, who form about 13 per cent of India's one billion population.

Hamdard University Vice-chancellor Siraj Hussain said the study is aimed at bringing this under-representation to the attention of academicians, lawmakers, political parties, media and activists.

India's democratic system allows all citizens to contest elections if they fulfil certain conditions. Certain constituencies, however, are reserved for the scheduled castes and tribes because of their high numbers in those constituencies. This reservation was meant to empower them politically.

The study claims that many of these constituencies actually have a Muslim majority. This denies Muslims the opportunity to contest elections from constituencies where they are most likely to win.

It also alleges that political parties have been prejudiced when it comes to naming Muslims to represent them in the electoral fray. They believe that Muslim candidates will lose in areas with a Hindu majority. This fear has increased after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. The study found the Congress party to be the worst offender in this matter.

Some of the study's findings are:

  • There should have been 47.45 per cent more elected Muslim representatives in Parliament from 1952 to 1999. The expectation is based on India's Muslim population in the same period.
  • The level of Muslim deprivation -- in terms of electoral representation vis-à-vis population -- in state assemblies has ranged from 13.79 per cent in Delhi to 79.27 per cent in Gujarat. Gujarat, in fact, has five Muslim MLAs against the expected 24.
  • The Madhya Pradesh assembly that was constituted in 1993 did not have a single Muslim MLA.
  • Rajasthan had only two Muslim MLAs from 1952 to 1994, while the community's share in the state's population demanded at least 21 representatives.
  • Muslims achieved a satisfactory representation of about 76 per cent in the five Delhi assemblies from 1951 to 1998, though their representation in the Lok Sabha was poor. Only one Muslim has been elected from Delhi to the Lok Sabha in 50 years, whereas their numbers in the national capital would have suggested seven members.
  • Muslims attained the highest level of representation in the Lok Sabha and many state assemblies from 1978 to 1984; the political climate during this period was Muslim-friendly. In 1980, Muslims from Uttar Pradesh were actually over-represented in the Lok Sabha.
  • Some constituencies with marginal Muslim populations have elected Muslim members to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies in every election.
  • According to the study, the reasons for persistent under-representation of Muslims in elected political bodies are:

  • Inadequate nomination of Muslim candidates by political parties, especially the Indian National Congress, and their near exclusion by the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Congress has given tickets to just 6.67 per cent Muslim candidates since 1952 when the number should have been about 13 per cent. The record of the Communist Party of India, Marxist, in this matter has been satisfactory. The nominations by some Janata Dal formations since 1989 and the Bahujan Samajwadi Party and Samajwadi Party have been generally fair to the minorities, but this has not always translated into an equitable share of seats.
  • The second reason is the single-member constituency and the first-past-the-post system.
  • Prof Ansari's study suggests certain remedial measures, including switching to a proportional representation system. This would ensure fair representation to women, the minorities, and backward castes under a single formula by allotting certain 'uncontested additional seats' to the election's 'best losers'. It would also increase the number of seats in Parliament and in the state assemblies. Currently there are 543 seats in Parliament. The number of seats in the assemblies varies from state to state.

    Prof Ansari believes this format, which is used in Mauritius, would help Muslims, women and other suppressed groups achieve representation in elected bodies that would be in tune with their demographic strengths.

    Implementing this solution would require an amendment to the Representation of Peoples Act. To put this format into play, a certain percentage of Lok Sabha and assembly seats would have to be reserved as 'uncontested' under the law. After the election results are declared, the 'best losers' -- those candidates who lost to the winner, but still got a decent amount of votes -- from among women, religious minorities, and backward castes would be allocated a certain percentage of seats to bring their level of representation to a certain pre-defined number. Even among the minorities, the seat-distribution formula would take care of gender, religion, and social class.

    "These reforms," says Prof Ansari, "will help all segments of society get a fair share of representation, promoting inclusive democracy in the country."

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    Ehtasham Khan in New Delhi