RS can address under-representation of Muslims in LS

The Hindu Businessline, March  09, 2020

Political parties are addressing the issue of historical under-representation of Muslims in Lok Sabha by sending more people from the minority community to the Rajya Sabha, according to an academic paper, co-authored by Adnan Farooqui of the Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia and E Sridharan, University of Pennsylvania Institute for the Advanced Study of India.

The paper, which has been published as a book chapter in an edited volume by Ananya Vajpeyi and Volker Kaul titled Minorities and Populism – Critical Perspectives from South Asia and Europe. Philosophy and Politics – Critical Explorations says that an analysis of Muslim representation in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha shows that “it is possible to ensure rough proportionality in the legislative arena even under circumstances when remedial provisions such as reservation in the legislature are not available”.

“This is certainly the case when political parties both at national and State levels are willing to compensate for the shortfall in the lower house by selecting candidates from the politically vulnerable minority group to the upper house. The willingness to accommodate the representatives from the minority groups is especially the case when the said minority group is an important voter base for the party.

In the case of this study, in the absence of direct election and the use of a proportional electoral system for election to the Rajya Sabha ensures that the parties are in a position to accommodate minority representatives in their slate as the risk of alienating the majority is reduced,” the paper adds.

The paper warns that if the political system “veers towards majoritarianism and is dominated by a party or parties whose core support base does not include a particular minority, then the likelihood of the community remaining under-represented increases”.

The present under-representation of Indian Muslims in both the houses of the Indian Parliament underscores this,” the paper claims.

Citing data from the 16th Lok Sabha, when Muslim representation was 23, the paper says that political parties sent 18 Muslim representatives to the Rajya Sabha as of February 2018. None of these members belonged to the nominated category.

In the 15th Lok Sabha, 33 members were Muslims. After the 1980 Lok Sabha polls, there were 49 members, the highest tally of representation. In the current Lok Sabha (17th Lok Sabha) there is a marginal increase in the Muslim representation with a total of 27 MPs.

“India’s Muslim population since 1947 has increased from 9.9 per cent as per the 1951 Census, to 14 per cent as per the 2011 Census, both including Jammu and Kashmir. However, what is relevant is the fact that the population is dispersed in such a way that it does not enjoy a local majority at the constituency level in India except for 13 constituencies—three in the Kashmir Valley, one in the Lakshadweep Islands, four in West Bengal, two in Kerala, and one each in Assam and Uttar Pradesh (UP). These constituencies account for only a small fraction of the Muslim population of India, of less than 10 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the Muslim population is distributed so as to be a minority at the constituency level. Muslims are less than 10 per cent in 299 constituencies, 10–20 per cent in 163 constituencies, 20–30 per cent in 37 constituencies, 30–40 per cent in 20 constituencies, and 40–50 per cent in 11 constituencies,” the paper said.

It says that “because of the imperative to aggregate votes, minorities do enjoy a certain degree of bargaining power in a competitive polity because the addition or subtraction of a significant vote fraction can make all the difference to the victory prospects of competing political parties. The latter, therefore, have an incentive to cast their net wide to accommodate all ethnic groups to the extent possible.”

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