Have parties done enough for minority representation?

Minority Report: While parties bicker, have they done enough?

JD(S) MLC B M Farooq says the Muslim leaders have to be equally blamed

Muneer Katipalla, State President, DYFI and Rizwan Arshad, MLA, Shivajinagar. Credit: Special Arrangement

In a humorous, scathing dig at the Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah, JD(S) Legislature Party leader H D Kumaraswamy recently dubbed him the “terminator of minority leaders in Congress.”

Kumaraswamy’s allegation was that Siddaramaiah had snubbed the growth of Muslim leaders in Congress, while only promoting his loyalists. 

Siddaramaiah’s aide and Congress MLA Zameer Ahmed Khan shot back, daring Kumaraswamy to choose a Muslim as the chief ministerial face of the JD(S). 

With the Hangal and Sindagi bypolls around the corner, both Congress and JD(S) are leaving no stone unturned to establish their secular credentials. Not to be left behind, even some BJP leaders were seen at a dargah, attempting to woo Muslim voters.

Both constituencies have a significant Muslim population, constituting at least 20% of the electorate. 

While political parties are accusing each other of hypocrisy, the Legislative Assembly, at present, has just seven Muslim MLAs, the lowest in recent times, raising questions on the role of all parties in nurturing Muslim leadership in the state.  

Be it Azeez Sait, S M Yahya or Nazir Sab, Karnataka had tall Muslim leadership at one point.

Also read: Muslims aren’t minorities, they should work for the nation: Congress leader

“However, political parties did not nurture the next generation of leaders and were only concerned about immediate electoral gains. They promoted only certain loyalists who could garner the votes in a particular constituency. They didn’t encourage independent Muslim leadership to grow,” Democratic Youth Federation of India’s state president Muneer Katipalla explains. 

With the rise of communal politics in Karnataka, especially in the coastal region, parties vowing allegiance to secularism have positioned themselves as the “protectors” of the minority community, rather than nurturing independent leadership. “They didn’t address the socio-economic issues of the community at all,” Katipalla adds. 

Some other Muslim leaders who spoke to DH share this sentiment. “No political party has done justice to Muslim representation. Today, in an extremely polarised atmosphere, political parties are also hesitant to promote Muslims as the face of their leadership. Ultimately, it is about electoral gains for everyone involved,” one leader says. 

On several occasions, Muslim leaders in both Congress and JD(S) have expressed disgruntlement. Leaders such as C M Ibrahim, Zameer and Iqbal Ansari quit JD(S) citing lack of opportunities. In 2019, a section of the Muslim leaders in Congress, led by former Congress leader Roshan Baig, lamented that except for Zameer, others were being sidelined. 

With Muslims constituting 12.92% of the state’s total population, today, newly emerging Muslim leaders face at least two distinct ground-level challenges. One is the issue of delimitation. “Constituencies have been carved in a way that splits the minority population. This makes it extremely difficult for Muslims to get electoral mandate,” at least two leaders explain. 

The other is lack of social capital. “Muslims have scant representation in corporate, industry or government sectors. Elections have become expensive over time and there is little financial backing for the community. How is a new leader supposed to win elections with no funding unless they are from an affluent family with a political background?” they ask. 

JD(S) MLC B M Farooq says the Muslim leaders have to be equally blamed. “There are MLAs elected multiple times who have become wealthy instead of working for the community’s welfare. We need leaders who have a vision for the socio-economic upliftment for the community,” he opines. 

Congress MLA Rizwan Arshad feels the Muslim community today needs support and handholding. “More the polarisation, fewer the opportunities for new leaders to emerge. When you are excluded from the mainstream, your main struggle is for inclusion,” he says.

Some BJP leaders are unabashed in saying that they will not field Muslims because they simply won’t get votes. In 2019, the then BJP state president B S Yediyurappa told DH that the BJP would field Muslim candidates if they can win. “It might take a long time for us to take that community into confidence.”