Maharashtra ranks 4th among the states of the Union from the point of view of Muslim population. It comes immediately after UP, West Bengal and Bihar. With a population of 10.3 million Muslims, it has 7.43% of the National Muslim population and about 10.6% of the total State Population of 96.9 million (2001).
Muslims are not spread uniformly throughout Maharashtra. In 14 districts their proportion is more than the state average, but in remaining districts their proportion goes down to even less than 5%.
Maharashtra Legislative Assembly has 288 members. The average population per constituency is 3.35 lakh. The due number of Muslim MLAs in the state should be about 31. Muslim population exceeds 3.35 lakh in 10 districts and can alone generate 16 seats proportionately. But the average number between 1952 and 1999 was only about 9.5. In 2004 the number of Muslim MLAs rose to 11. However, additional eight Muslims from various parties were runners-up, and 23 more Muslim contestants were placed as second runners-up, excluding the Muslim winners or first runners-up. Thus, a total of 11+8+23 i.e., 42 constituencies had voted significantly for Muslim candidates which shows that in ideal conditions, the Muslim community can reach the due level of representation.
Maharashtra is divided in seven Administrative Divisions. Each is subdivided in districts whose total number is 35. It is possible that within a division, some districts may have high Muslim population to generate at least one or more seats. But the other districts in the same Division put together may exceed the magic figure of 3.35 lakh of Muslim population and generate a seat. A secular party may field one additional Muslim candidate in a suitable constituency in one of the others districts.
The same is true of constituencies within a district. With a large Muslim population, some constituencies may be Muslim winnable with about 25% plus Muslim population. Other constituencies which are contiguous may generate one additional Muslim winnable seat, if their total Muslim population exceed 3, 35,000.
Maharashtra has a tradition of anti-Brahmin movements dating back to two centuries. In modern times it crystallised in the form of Republican Party which claims to represent the Dalit masses. Unfortunately, this party has over the years broken into several fragments and depending upon the caste of its leaders, each faction nurses a particular social constituency and uses it to make a deal with a major party.
Socially in Maharashtra the Marathas constitute the biggest social group or community whose undisputed leader is Sharad Pawar of the NCP. Brahmins and other high castes generally support the BJP and Shiv Sena, apart from urban middle classes.
The Muslims are often fragmented on biradari and sectarian basis and even by geographical origin. Since Metropolitan Mumbai has attracted people from all over the county in search of livelihood and, new-comers generally find shelter in the localities inhabited by those who came earlier or belong to the same caste or sect. Muslim parties, during the Lok Sabha Elections, 2009, tried to form a united Muslim front but it failed to take roots
With their pattern of dispersal, Muslims cannot win many Assembly seats under the present electoral system in their own, as there are no Muslim majority seats and very few with above 25% Muslims. But they may win seats with a suitable social partner on give-and-take basis. The best choice could be the Dalits, if and only if Republican Party reinvents itself as a viable force. It has recently made a beginning by forming a Republican-Left Democratic Front (RLDI), under the leadership of the Republican leader Ramdas Athawale with the objective of providing a third alternative to the people of Maharashtra going beyond the INC-NCP alliance and the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance. The Front presently includes, apart from the RPI, the Peasant and Workers Party, the CPM, CPI, SP, JD(S) and LJP, not to mention some minor local parties. Prakash Ambedkar, a prominent Dalit leader has not joined the Front. One major national party, the BSP, with about 5 % of the voters remains out of this combination and has the ambition of contesting as many seats as possible, winning at least 25 seats and playing the king-maker, if no alliance or party emerges with a minority. Both the RLDF and the BSP are likely to cut into secular votes and weaken INC-NCP against SS-BSP.
So far, the Muslim votes have been shared by the INC-NCP, SP and BSP. By contesting against each other they divide Muslim votes in almost every constituency. If Muslims support one major well-selected contestant unitedly and massively in 30 odd Muslim constituencies of higher Muslim concentration and if the candidate belongs to the biggest Muslim subgroup in the constituency, it is possible for the Muslims to attain higher representation in the Assembly, than in 2004. Secondly, Muslims should aim at such seats, in which no other social group or community has a higher proportion.
All secular parties are however anxious to use every election to expand their influence and they insist on contesting seats even with a low concentration of their social group. But except high concentration areas, experience shows that with social affinity alone, no secular party except NCD can win many seats.
On the basis of the election results of 1999 and 2004 the estimated Muslim population in various constituencies, a district-wise chart (See Annexure) has been tabulated to locate winnable Muslim constituencies, division-wise and district-wise. But, the weakness lies in that no accurate count of Muslim voters or proportion of Muslim electorate is available. Only a local Muslim organisation is in a position to count and determine the proportion of Muslim voters. This must be done, particularly where it is likely to exceed 20%.
NEED FOR MAHARASHTRA MUSLIM FORUM
What is needed is to form a Maharashtra Muslim Forum with participation of the MMM, the JIH, the JUH, the Ahl-e-Sunnat and the Ulema Council to negotiate with the leading political players in the field to persuade them to field Muslim candidates who command credibility in the eyes of the community and are also acceptable to the non-Muslim electorate.
All eligible Muslims should be dully registered as voters, particularly those who have just crossed 18.
All Muslim voters should cast their vote.
The number of Muslim voters in every constituency should be counted, polling station-wise; only the constituency which has more than 20% Muslim voters may be claimed as a Muslim winnable seat.
Muslim opinion-makers in every constituency should form a small committee to select the best candidate from the Muslim point of view. This should be conveyed to apex Muslim Forum in the state for negotiation with major parties in the contest.
The committee should also prepare the electoral history of the constituency to find out, how much times it has been won by a Muslim candidate and how many times a Muslim candidate has lost by a small margin.
As finally decided, all Muslim voters should vote for the common candidate.
The Forum should target all Muslim Winnable Seats which should be identified by the following criteria:
Muslim voters constitute at least 20% of the electorate.
Muslim voters are more than those of any other identifiable social group.
Muslim community is not divided by biradaris and sects.
Muslim community is on good terms with other social groups, particularly, the Dalits.
Muslim community has one or more suitable potential candidates, active in public life and acceptable to all Muslims and some other social groups.
Muslim community has formed a local consultative committee to choose a Muslim candidate and project him. The local committee should advise the apex Muslim Forum to place his name before the major contestants and negotiate their support.
The agreed candidate is in a position to raise some resources from his friends, sympathisers and well-wishers, apart from the party which nominates him as its candidate.
The candidate is in a position to set up his polling machinery to conduct an effective campaign and establish contact with all the voters.