World’s Largest Democratic Exercise Threatens Minority Groups

As the world’s largest democratic exercise, spanning a period of six weeks, is currently underway, concerns continue to rise for the Indian Muslim community who are consistently underrepresented in India’s parliament. The outgoing parliament features only 22 Muslims of 543 politicians, presenting the lowest Muslim representation in five decades which featured a peak in Muslim representation in the 1980s at 9.6% of the country’s parliamentarians. As the nation undergoes another democratic exercise, divisive language has become increasingly prominent amongst candidates and officials.

The owner of a travel agency in New Delhi’s Jamia Nagar informed Al Jazeera that “the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) has polarized votes” resulting in political parties becoming “reluctant to give tickets to Muslim candidates.” However, the marginalization of Muslim representation has not occurred due to poor campaigning or unfavourable pledges made by the Muslim candidates. Rather, Al Jazeera reports that many blame the BJP’s use of anti-Muslim rhetoric. Gilles Verniers, a political scientist based at Ashoka University, argues that the “BJP very consciously and explicitly aims to exclude Muslims from the public sphere.” Yet Nalin Kohli, a spokesperson for the BJP, strictly denied such actions, stating that the “BJP doesn’t discriminate or distinguish between Indian citizens,” citing Article 14 of the constitution of the right to equality, Al Jazeera reports.

Muslims are neglected in the political sphere. Whilst Muslims constitute 14% of the country’s population, they are represented by a mere four percent of its parliament. During the term of the Hindu nationalist BJP, the nation’s ruling party under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Al Jazeera reports that young Muslims are increasingly pessimistic about Muslims rights and the future of India for the Muslim minority. Mr Modi’s decision to name Pragya Sing Thakur, a woman accused of orchestrating a bombing responsible for killing six Muslims in 2008, as the candidate for the city of Bhopal, embodies the party’s clear ignorance and lack of respect for the Muslim community. Moreover, it is not only the BJP party which has demonstrated discriminatory behaviour. Rather, the Indian National Congress, a party which prides itself on its plurality and secularism, has cut back on representing the Muslim population out of fear of electoral backfire and loss.

Despite growing neglect towards India’s Muslims, the actions of a select few must not be dwarfed. Kanhaiya Kumar, a 32-year-old graduate from Begusarai, has emerged as the face of hope and compassion. Speaking to the local media, Kumar stated that he “feels he has no other choice” but to run, the Los Angeles Times reports. A strong critic of Modi’s BJP and the umbrella group it is associated with, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Kumar’s campaign is largely built upon unity, particularly between religious groups, and has gained popularity amongst the young and poor, two very dominant demographics.

With the first phase of the multi-phase general elections having begun on Thursday 11th April and the seventh-phase concluding on Sunday, May 19th, the voters may expect results to be announced on Thursday, May 23rd. The elections will see voters from 29 states and seven federally-administered territories elect 543 members to the Lok Sabha (the lower house of parliament). There are approximately 900 million individuals who are eligible and registered to vote in the 2019 elections.

As the world’s largest exercise of democracy, equal representation is key to ensuring a stable and peaceful society. By failing to field Muslim candidates in a country that is home to approximately 170 million Muslims, political parties are marginalizing the needs and wishes of an entire faction of their community. In order to avoid conflict, increasing discrimination and harmful rhetoric, and consequential threats and violence, individuals in positions of power, such as leaders of political parties, must ensure they are doing everything possible to represent and protect all minority groups across India.

Zoe Knight