New Delhi: As the results of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections started to pour in on Thursday, within two hours of counting it had become certain that the Narendra-Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was on its way to repeat what it had achieved in 2014, if not more. An improved verdict of over 300 seats, with gains in key states like Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha, meant that BJP and the NDA were set to win even those seats where Muslims constituted a major chunk of the electorate, something which goes against conventional political wisdom.
Based on the 2011 census estimates, of the total 543 Lok Sabha constituencies in the country, 29 have Muslim population in excess of 40 per cent. Given the substantial concentration of Muslims in Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, Kerala and West Bengal, 27 of them fall in these states, while the other two are Lakshadweep and Hyderabad in Telangana.
As it is known that a scattered Muslim electorate has led to poor Muslim representation in the Parliament in every parliamentary election since independence, it is quite evident that over 50 per cent of all Muslim MPs who have been ever elected came from these 29 Muslim concentrated seats. In turn, the BJP, which sparingly fields Muslim candidates, had not been very successful in these seats. However, that phenomenon changed in 2014 and 2019 is not different.
In 2014, the party had won seven of these 29 seats, and none of the MPs elected were Muslims. Five of these legislators had come from Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP secured 71 of the 80 seats on its own. The seven seats that it secured were more than any other party, which included Congress with the second-best tally of six. The remaining 16 seats were together won by the other parties.
In 2019 again, five seats won by the BJP are those that have more than 40 per cent share of Muslims in the population and again, the elected BJP MPs include no members from the community. The decline of the two seats this time can also be attributed to UP where the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance trounced the BJP in seats with 40 per cent Muslim population. The BJP had won only two of these seats in 2009.
One could argue that the major reason behind this is an unprecedented consolidation of votes of communities, majorly Hindus, in favour of the BJP. As several studies suggest, Muslims do not vote en bloc in favour of one party or candidate as it is believed to be the case. So the argument of Hindu consolidation propelling BJP's success in Muslim majority seats seems to hold substance.
Apart from seats with substantial Muslim population, there are at least 19 Lok Sabha constituencies with Muslim population in the range of 30-40 per cent, and 48 others where they account for 20-30 per cent of the population. On these 67 seats together, BJP has anyway done better, and with 2014 and 2019 results, it has only improved and replicated its overall results in these constituencies. In these seats, too, the consolidation of Hindu votes by the saffron party left the Muslim votes redundant.
Of these 67 seats, the BJP had won 39 during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections; this number could go higher if counted with seats won by its alliance partners. Even in 2009, when there was no 'Modi wave', the party had won 18 of these 67 seats where Muslim population was between 30-40 per cent and 20-30 per cent, respectively. In 2019, the party has again won 39 of these seats.
Incidentally, the BJP's thumping victory in 2014 had resulted in the lowest number of Muslim MPs getting elected (22) since the first general elections, when the party itself had fielded seven Muslim candidates (none had won). Though Muslim representation slightly improved this time at 26, which is still not proportional to their population, none of the elected Muslim MPs came from the BJP, which anyway nominated just six Muslim candidates.