In his campaign, BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi did reach out to Muslims in his own way. The BJP’s surge may have pulled in slightly more Muslim votes for the BJP this time than in the past, trends show. However, that remains the sum of Modi’s achievement vis-à-vis Muslim votes.
Post-poll voting patterns show a clear Hindi-Muslim divide. Initial post-poll survey data from the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), the only one available for voting by religion, indicates that the BJP may have got around 9% of Muslim votes, while the Congress got 43%.
According to the CSDS National Election Study data, the BJP had secured 5% Muslim votes in 1998, 6% in 1999, 7% in 2004 before falling to 4% in 2009.
In the absence of any existential threat to their identity, Muslims tend to vote on bread-and-butter issues. The 2014 elections presented an unprecedented dilemma for the so-called Muslim voter: he had to stop the unstoppable Narendra Modi.
It was widely assumed that Muslims would vote for the party that could defeat the BJP. That’s easier said than done. Without an “index of opposition unity” – a term first used by psephologists Prannoy Roy and David Butler – their votes got highly fragmented.
“Muslims are the only community which stood behind the Congress in these elections,” says Sanjay Kumar, the director of CSDS.
Faced with a massive consolidation in favour of the BJP across social groups, Muslims had little legroom to exercise their mandate in any meaningful way. For example, in UP, the BJP won in all 25 seats where Muslims constituted 25% or more, barring one (Badaun, won by the SP). It is unlikely that they voted for the BJP in these seats.
Nowhere is this failure to leverage “group solidarity” more true than in Saharanpur, which saw riots spilling over to neighbouring Muzaffarnagar. Here too, a split of votes between BSP and Congress ensured a BJP win, although the Congress’s Imran Masood lost by just 65,090 votes.
This picture of confusion in UP stands in stark contrast to Bihar, where Muslims saw the RJD-Congress as a clear alternative. This enabled them to leverage their voting power somewhat and contain the BJP’s expansion.
The BJP got displaced in three of the five seats it had won in Muslim-dominated northeast Bihar in 2009. This time, the RJD won two seats here, while JD(U), Congress and NCP won one each.