A substantial increase in representation of Muslims in four major State Assemblies is a welcome feature of the recent elections. Of the four, West Bengal has seen the most impressive rise from 46 MLAs in 2006 to 59 Muslims this time in a House of 294.
But more significant is the outcome in Assam where a new party led by Muslims has been able to garner better share of legislative seats and vote share. To boot, it has won the popular support on a secular plank and without stirring any communal passions and excessive show of parochialism.
Even more notably, it has enabled two Dalits to get elected on its tickets. By any yardsticks the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF)’s victory on 18 seats is impressive. Kerala had the tradition of electing fair number of members of minorities election after election. It was only during 2006 that number of Muslims declined due to unprecedented rout of United Democratic Front in which Indian Union Muslim League has been a permanent fixture.
In Tamil Nadu the representation of Muslims has gone down only marginally from seven in the last election to six this time in a house of 234.
Close linguistic and cultural identification of Muslims with Hindus has, any way offered fewer opportunities for Tamil Nadu Muslims to feel aggrieved and alienated, hence the representation in terms of numbers has been less of an issue in that state. Whichever combination may come to power, the community manages its affairs reasonably well.
Ideally, in a secular polity, the religious affiliation of legislators should not really matter and one should feel embarrassed to bring this element into discussion. An elected representative is supposed to represent and look after the interests of the entire electorate under his or her constituency.
But this does not normally happen in India where State’s role in people’s life and development has been less than nominal and dismal in case of non-mainstream communities. Globalisation has removed the State still further from the poorer sections and it has almost abdicated its responsibility of providing education, health and housing, key social sectors that lead to better human social index.
During the last two decades, the Indian State has primarily focused itself on making the environment friendlier for the business class and the Multinational Corporations (MNCs).
During the last one decade it got further narrowed down to boosting the growth rate to 9% with eyes riveted on a seat in the UN Security Council.
Major motivation was, of course, a deep desire to rise from regional power to superpower status amid the comity of nations. But the fact is that India has failed to address the issue of grassroots poverty and the latest Arjan Sengupta Committee report on poverty categorizing 77% population below poverty level (earning less than Rs. 20 a day) has done enough to deflate the balloons of vanity. It is now realized that distributive justice has fallen a casualty in the race for boosting major economic indices.
That this should happen in Marxist West Bengal was more perplexing and has now led to conviction that even in a Marxist state it was Marx that was saluting the Manu all the while.
Complete marginalization of Muslims in matters of socio-economic and educational development had led to deep concerns in West Bengal and Assam, two states where Muslims constitute nearly 24 and 38 % of population. While the 34-year reign of Marxists ensured the security of the community, did nothing to elevate their status in terms of employment, economic betterment and education.
Situation in Assam was even more precarious insofar as the security and existence of the community itself came under threat. Though few people were actually identified as ‘foreigners’, and still fewer could be successfully deported, a sizeable section of Muslims came under suspicion and became vulnerable to police excesses and highhandedness of the forces fanning xenophobia.
But mere increase in numbers of legislators of a community is no panacea, nor an assurance for effective representation. Nor should one feel enthused merely because a few Huffaz and Qasimis have made their foray into the legislature. Effective representation stems from level and quality of modern education of a legislator, his or her knowledge of society and resources of his constituency and ability to deal with the nitty-gritty of development issues.
Knowledge of scripture and theology and ability to recite couplets of Iqbal or Kalidas could act as bonus in relating oneself to masses and raising the level of articulation. Individuals rising from background of cooperatives, finance and banking, educational activism, journalism, law generally prove to be better legislators rather than those coming from the fields of literature, poetry, cinema, religious activism and sports. Most legislators in the four South Indian states and Gujarat and Maharashtra prove effective and push the development agenda forward, mainly because they bring in rich experience of society and economy.
A Bachchan or Utsahi in Parliament can evoke chuckles with the description of pathos, but fail miserably when it comes to issues of bread and butter.
But a Kurien or an Adityan prove more resourceful in lending the legislation a cutting edge due to their knowledge of the expanding frontiers of development.
It is perhaps where we need to focus our attention. The 59 MLAs in West Bengal may not be of any worth if they are devoid of any social skills and knowledge and bereft of a vision for the community.
Muslim MLAs from the ranks of the Left, deficient and untrained as they were in matters of policy-making, failed to deliver anything to the regions they represented. The ones under the Didi’s thumb would prove much more incompetent, if social and economic vision continues to elude them. Perhaps a crash course in law, economics, educational planning, sociology of development process etc for the new legislators would fulfill the need and enable the community to harness their potential in this season of electoral windfall. Would someone take the initiative?