The average Muslim voter is self-employed, earns meagre wages, resides mostly among his ilk, does not travel far beyond his birthplace, is unlikely to vote for any one party or candidate — but is cagey about Hindutva-based politics.
Yet, ever since a Hindu fundamentalist movement led to
the destruction of the 16th-century Babri Masjid in 1992, many Muslims have frequently articulated a longing for a "truly secular" alternative to the Congress - accusing the party of often tilting to the Hindu right. That option has remained a hard-to-pin-down political mirage, analysts say.
The enduring political legacy of the demolition has been that parties began courting Muslims as a political class, often in the name of protection. Besides, the Babri incident also created a political divide between the so-called secular parties and those with a Hindu fundamentalist ideology.
Neither option - Muslims seeking a "true secular" alternative and parties vying to fit the bill - has worked consistently.
"If you really want to associate social categories with political categories, then caste has been a bigger factor," says Hilal Ahmed, a scholar at Delhi's The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies who has worked on politics around monuments, such as the Babri Masjid.
Post-Babri, Muslims get more than a fair share of wooing as they are thought to impact polls by voting as a bloc. An over-blown myth, analysts say.
Only rarely have Muslims voted as a bloc to keep Hindutva parties out. "When they see an emerging threat from Hindu nationalists threatening their identity, such as the Babri incident, they may tend to vote tactically. When there is no such threat, they tend to focus on the larger issues, such as education," said Zoya Hasan of Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Post-Mandal, Dalits — formerly a Congress constituency — had their own party. “In the absence of a core Muslim party then, the dominant political question was — where do Muslims go? That is why sometimes Muslims seek an alternative,” said Ahmed.
AR Qureshi of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, who was in the forefront of the Babri struggle, said most parties have disappointed Muslims. “We may find that elusive alternative some day,” he said. That will add another facet to an already complex political game theory.
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