It was an unusual sight in February, the Shiv Sena’s saffron-coloured banner was seen fluttering over the rooftops of Behrampada, a Muslim-dominated slum pocket in Bandra, after the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) poll. The slum was the site of some of the worst riots between December 1992 and January 1993, so it was surprising that its residents elected a Muslim candidate contesting on a Sena ticket.
Between the Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the saffron parties won nearly 75% of the seats in the BMC election, but despite their success, the number of Muslim corporators in the 227-member municipal corporation went up from 23 in 2012 to 32 in 2017.
In Uttar Pradesh, a similar success for the BJP — the party and its allies won nearly 80% of 403 seats in the state’s assembly and decimated Muslim representation to 5.9% from 17.1% during the 2012 polls. Something similar happened in 1993, following the Babri Masjid demolition and riots of 1992 and a few points higher than their numbers in 1991 (25 members — 4.1% in the assembly) — the lowest ever. The outgoing House had 43 Muslims, the highest ever.
About a fifth of Uttar Pradesh’s population is Muslim and the community forms a similar proportion of Mumbai’s population too. So, why did the remarkable success of Hindutva parties lead to divergent results in Uttar Pradesh and Mumbai as far as Muslim representation is concerned?
Politicians have found it difficult to compare the results of the two elections. Congress Party’s Asif Zakaria, who was re-elected to the BMC from a cosmopolitan Bandra constituency, said, “In fact the number of Muslim representatives in the BMC could have gone much higher if the AIMIM had not taken away Muslim votes, thus benefitting the Sena and the BJP.”
One reason why Muslims managed to retain their representation, according to community members, could be the growing religious ghettoisation in Mumbai, especially after the 1992-93 riots. The winning Muslim candidates are largely from areas that have a concentration of Muslim voters — Central Mumbai, Govandi-Mankhurd, Khar-Santacruz (East) and Malwani in Malad . “One of the consequences — there are many negative ones — of the ghettoisation of Muslims in Mumbai is that there are now constituencies where they form 65-70% of the population,” said Abdul Shaban, professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences. “Only Muslim candidates can win in these areas.”
This kind of concentration is difficult in large rural constituencies like those in Uttar Pradesh, where so-called minority dominated constituencies — mostly in the western region — have Muslim population of 40% to 50%. Also, the religious polarisation that is seen in elections to national and state legislative bodies is not so apparent in local elections, said Shaban. “This is because the (monetary) pie is smaller in municipal elections, so the stakes are lower. In Vidhan Sabha and Parliamentary elections, they (religious divides) can make huge difference.”
What explains the acceptability of a party that has been indicted — by the Justice Sreekrishna Commission that investigated the 1992-1993 riots — among Muslims? “Supporting so-called secular parties for so many years has got them nothing. Localities where Muslims stay are a mess; no one is providing them civic amenities,” said Dr Moinddin Raut of the Muslim Kranti Morcha. “So the thinking was: why not go with parties that can get some work done. Everybody is thinking about what is good for them.”
Community associations said that parties like Sena had toned down their sectarianism. Firoz Mithiborwala from Muslims For Secular Democracy, said that the Sena spoke a different language in this election. “It tried to reach out to other communities and parties, in order to take on the BJP. It is an interesting development.”
Javed Shroff, former chairperson of the Maulana Azad Financial Development Corporation, has a different viewpoint. “Had right candidates been fielded by the secular parties, the Sena candidates would not have won from Muslim areas,” he said.
Also read: BMC poll results: Whose Mumbai is it anyway?