Indian minority empowerment through political representation

By M. Ayub Khan
Published March 16th 2005 in Milli Gazette

Numerous studies of democracies around the world have shown that minority representation strengthens representational links, promotes positive attitudes toward government, and encourages political participation. One study of the United States and New Zealand showed that redistricting of electoral constituencies to maximize the number of black voters in the former and reserving of seats exclusively for voters of Maori descent in the latter has led to a marked increase in minority representation in their national legislatures (Minority Representation, Empowerment and Participation by Susan Banducci, Todd Donovan and Jeffret A. Karp). It is a known fact that minorities in India are not adequately represented in the nation’s political institutions. Correcting this flaw in our democracy demands the urgent attention of the decision makers before these communities get further marginalized.

Several innovative as well as not so innovative solutions to this problem have been suggested. Dr.Krishnasamy of Tamil Nadu’s Puthiya Thamizhagam for instance is calling for a separate electorate for schedule castes and tribes. This demand was first made by Ambedkar in 1931. Krishnasamy dismisses claims that separate electorates would further divide the society: "It is a fact that Indian society is divided along caste lines. Even after 57 years of independence, nowhere in the country are inter-caste marriages a norm." In this regard, the Puthiya Thamizhagam and Piranthamann Trust of Tamil Nadu even organized a national seminar last December with several politicians, activists and academics of note in attendance. Surprisingly, there was no reaction to this seminar from the Sangh Parivar.

But when Dr.Omar Khalidi, the Hyderabad born MIT academic, suggested another way for improving Muslim representation, he was attacked for allegedly advocating the "Islamization" of India. Explaining his call for creating Muslim majority districts in an interview to the Radiance he said : "We need Muslim-majority districts for three reasons. First, concentrated areas provide security. Second, they provide an environment that is conducive to our cultural independence. Third, they provide a political base through which our people can be elected. At present, constituencies have been created in a way that our numbers don't add up to elect adequate legislators.... Hyderabad and Rangareddy in Andhra Pradesh and Gulbarga and certain talukas could be merged to create a Deccan province. Similarly in Bihar, the regions of Katihar, Kishanganj and Purniya can be made into an Urdu-speaking province or a Union Territory. There are regions in Bengal and UP where Muslims can be in majority. Though, a large number of Muslims would still be left out, having these strongholds is important for their future. This would ensure proper political representation in States and we would have our voice in Parliament.... A decade ago, it was not fashionable to talk about reservation for Muslims. Today, Muslims have reservation in Kerala and Karnataka. In Andhra, too, we are likely to get reservation. Don't judge everything from what's happening today. Huq liye jaten hain pesh nahin kiye jate."

Dina Nath Mishra writing in The Pioneer (Feb.26, 2005) claimed that Khalidi’s suggestions are nothing but a call to "Islamise the whole world."

"Jehadis are fighting for it. In India, they, too, have an agenda. Dr Khalidi has just put it in words and has, in fact, given a clarion call. Jinnah propounded the 'Two-Nation Theory' and carved out a nation of Dar-ul-Islam (land of believers). The rest of India is Dar-ul-Harb (land of non-believers) which needs to be conquered," Mishra wrote.

One is at pains to understand where in the interview has Khalidi given such a call. Examining his thesis in the light of current events reveals that there is some merit to it. Security is of utmost importance for all Indian Muslims after what happened in Gujarat in 2002. A community cannot pull itself from poverty and illiteracy if it lives in constant fear for its safety. Muslim concentrated areas if not an ideal solution seem to be the only alternative for the near future. As a matter of fact such ghettos are already a reality. After the indiscriminate Gujarat massacres even the educated elite has permanently moved to Muslim areas. Investigative reports by NDTV and others have shown that even if they want to, Muslims are unlikely to get accommodation in majority dominated neighborhoods in urban areas. Apart from safety such concentrated areas ensure that Muslims are able to maintain their cultural identity in the multi-cultural democracy of ours. These politico-cultural enclaves will, more importantly, send Muslim candidates in numbers that are proportional to their numbers to political office.

It is important to note here that Khalidis’ is but one possible solution to address the dismal figures of Muslim and other minority representation. Several other options like the open list proportional representation system where parties are given seats in proportion to votes that they get via their candidates can be explored.

Far from leading to another partition or "Islamizing" of India such an exercise would further strengthen the faith of Muslims in India’s democracy and remove the divisions and disparities of the society. Doubters are advised to read what experts have to say on this issue. "It is increasingly being recognized that an electoral system can help to "engineer" co-operation and accommodation in a divided society. Electoral system design is now accepted as being of crucial importance to wider issues of governance, and as probably the most influential of all political institutions," says The International IDEA Handbook of Electoral System Design," published by International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Stockholm, Sweden. It is high time for India’s electoral system to undergo an overhaul.