In 1991, when Kalyan Singh-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stormed to power in Uttar Pradesh on the back of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, Muslim representation in the state dropped to its lowest.
That year, only 17 Muslim MLAs made it to the UP Vidhan Sabha. This was just 4 percent of the assembly’s total strength even as the community accounted for over 17 percent of the population at the time. Their numbers, however, improved over the following elections, achieving near proportionate representation in 2012. But that changed in the last assembly polls.
The BJP, led by prime minister Narendra Modi, registered a clean sweep in the 2017 assembly elections. The party won a record 312 seats while its allies added a dozen more. The Samajwadi Party (SP) and Congress alliance won 56 seats in total and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was reduced to just 19.
Only 24 of all those elected were Muslims, making up for about 6 percent of the total strength of the assembly. This was a sharp drop from the 17.12 percent representation that the community enjoyed in 2012 when 69 Muslims made it to the Vidhan Sabha.
According to the 2011 Census, Muslims account for just over 19 percent of the total population of Uttar Pradesh and have historically been considered a politically important demographic group. This population, however, is spread across the state, confining their say in the electoral outcomes to specific regions and seats. The community forms nearly 20-25 percent of the electorate in 70 seats and over 30 percent of the electorate in about equal number of constituencies, according to estimates.
The rise of the BJP and fewer tickets for Muslims to contest the elections are one of the major reasons for the fall in Muslim representation in the state. Only a total of 178 Muslims received tickets from mainstream parties to contest elections in 2017, the lowest nominations since 1980. Out of these, 99 were nominated by the BSP, 57 by the SP, and 22 by Congress. Only five of the BSP’s, 17 from the SP, and two Muslim contestants from the Congress emerged victorious.
The BJP and its allies nominated no Muslim on any of the seats they contested. And as BJP and its allies won 8 out of every 10 seats in the state, a decline in Muslim representation in the assembly was inevitable.
Muslims Under-Represented Even in Lok Sabha
The trend of declining political representation of Muslims is similar to the trend observed nationally with the rise of the BJP. In the last Lok Sabha elections, only 27 Muslims made it to the lower house of the parliament – just 5 percent of its total strength. Although an improvement over 2014, when only 22 Muslim MPs were elected to the parliament, Muslim representation in the 17th Lok Sabha was one of the worst since independence.
A proportionate representation of the community in the Lok Sabha would amount to at least 77 MPs. None of BJP’s 303 elected MPs were Muslim in the 2019 general election. In 2014, UP, which sends the highest 80 members to the parliament, elected no Muslim candidate for the first time since independence.
Only 30 Muslims, on average, have made it to the parliament in each general election since independence, which adds up to 5.5 percent of the total strength of the Lok Sabha and less than half of the community’s share in the population.
Muslims again makes for a scattered electorate on the national level. There are only 29 Lok Sabha constituencies across the country where the Muslim population is over 40 percent of the electorate. More than half of the Muslim MPs elected since independence have, in fact, come from these 29 seats.
The community accounts for 20-40 percent of the electorate in another 67 constituencies but remains below 20 percent in 447 of the total Lok Sabha constituencies which makes them relatively less significant in these seats.
More tickets to Muslims and a Congress landslide in 1980 and 1984 were the only general elections when Muslims saw the highest number of legislators getting elected and attained near-proportionate representation with 46 and 49 MPs, respectively. Muslim representation in the Lok Sabha thus reached 9 percent in 1980 and 8 percent in 1981, against an 11 percent share in the population.