Six decades after India's partition made Muslim politics a dirty
word, parties founded by Muslims to espouse the cause of the
country's largest minority are again making a mark.
And with national elections barely a year away, leaders of these
10-odd parties - some of which remain largely unknown - point out
that the mobilisation of Muslim votes must not be compared with
the pre-1947 politics that led to Pakistan. They say they are only
articulating the aspirations and also the anger among Muslims over
their widely admitted socio-economic backwardness as well as
"police high-handedness" after every terror attack.
"Muslims are not satisfied with any mainstream political party,"
explained Abdul Raheem Qureshi, president of Majlis
Tameer-e-Millat, a five-decade-old socio-religious group in
"All the parties have failed to reflect the community's
aspirations in parliament and in state assemblies," Qureshi told
IANS, reflecting a widely held view. "But this is not a repeat of
List of Muslim
• Indian Union Muslim League (based in Kerala)
• Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (Andhra Pradesh)
• All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) (Assam)
• People's Democratic Conference of India (from West Bengal,
has merged with AIUDF)
• Welfare Party of India (West Bengal)
• Social Democratic Party of India (West Bengal)
• Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK) (Tamil Nadu)
• All India Ulema Council (Uttar Pradesh)
• Justice Party (Uttar Pradesh)
• Indian National League (Kerala)
• People's Democratic Party (Kerala)
He and many others say there is nothing wrong in forming parties
to secure the rights and the due share of every community,
religious or otherwise. Muslims account for 14 percent of
Hindu-dominated India. Their numbers, according to various
reports, range from 150 to 177 million.
On paper, all the so-called Muslim parties are secular and don't
close their doors to non-Muslims. Most also don't restrict
themselves to just espousing the Muslim cause and take up other
issues as well. Equally true in a country as varied as India, the
majority of Muslims in India still vote for national and regional
Only Jammu and Kashmir state - out of India's 28 states and seven
union territories - is a Muslim majority one.
Once the Muslim League died a political death in India following
the creation of Pakistan, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML)
emerged in 1948. Today, it is a mainstream player in Kerala.
The Hyderabad-based Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) was born in
1928 with a view to keeping Hyderabad independent. It was outlawed
after India's independence but got revived in 1958.
For decades, these were the only two Muslim parties in India and
both had localised influence. The picture is changing - slowly.
In just six years after taking birth in 2005, the All India United
Democratic Front (AIUDF) became the main opposition party in
Assam, eroding the Muslim base of the Congress and others.
With 34 percent of Muslim population in Assam, AIUDF legislator
Sirajuddin Ajmal told IANS with confidence that his party would
form the next government in the state.
In West Bengal, the small People's Democratic Conference of India
(PDCI) merged with AIUDF last year.
Two other parties - the Welfare Party of India and the Social
Democratic Party of India - stunned pundits by winning over 66,000
votes in the Jangipur Lok Sabha constituency last year. President
Pranab Mukherjee's son Abhijit then scraped through by only 1,516
votes over his CPI-M rival.
In Tamil Nadu, the IUML has always been a fringe player, aligned
mostly with the DMK. A new Muslim party, Manithaneya Makkal Katchi
(MMK), was formed in 2009 and is now with the ruling AIADMK.
The growing number of Muslim political parties "is a natural
consequence of democracy", MMK legislator M.H. Jawahirullah told
IANS. He called for coordination of all Muslim groups in India.
With a scattered and largely urbanized 12 percent Muslim
population in Maharashtra, the Aurangabad-based Jamaat-e-Islami
has not won any seat in the elections it has fought.
The dwindling Muslim representation in parliament and state
assemblies in most places worries Muslim leaders nationally.
In Uttar Pradesh, the All India Ulema Council was formed in 2009
but it failed to make any impact beyond Azamgarh district.
The Justice Party, formed later, created a stir in Uttar Pradesh
ahead of the 2012 elections. It won three seats but was routed in
Activist Naiyar Fatmi said in Patna that while there was no scope
for a Muslim party in Bihar, "on the national level there may be".
He added that Muslims were frustrated with major political
Added Asghar Nawaz Khan, a leading Muslim leader in Bangalore:
"Yes, we are disenchanted by the mainstream parties because we do
not matter to them except during elections."
Rashool Abdul of Muttahida Muslim Mahaz, a socio-religious outfit
in Karnataka, complained: "We did not get any support from the
Congress or JD-S when young Muslims were harassed or arrested on
This is a recurring theme in state after state, even where no
Muslim parties exist.
In Kerala, where Muslims form a quarter of the population, besides
the IUML, two other community-based parties exist: Indian National
League and People's Democratic Party.
IUML legislator K.N.A. Khader said major issues facing the
minority communities in other parts of India were not getting
addressed because of "the absence of a political party which works
The IUML is trying to foray into neighbouring Karnataka while the
MIM has expanded in other parts of Andhra Pradesh and also in
Karnataka and Maharashtra, winning municipal seats here and there.
In Uttar Pradesh, most Muslims now tend to vote for the Samajwadi
Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, a far cry from the times when
they all rooted for the Congress.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the story is more of alienation with the
Indian state than any resurgence of Muslim identity.
In some states, however, there is nothing resembling Muslim
politics though disaffection within the community exists
everywhere. This has also led to the rise of radical Islam in
parts of India.
But as community leaders point out, the Indian Muslim is not a
monolithic entity. Like the Hindu, he is divided into many groups.
Despite recurring communal riots post-1947, the first major
convulsion in the Indian Muslim political psyche followed the
razing of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya in 1992 and the 2002 Gujarat
Not every Muslim is for religious identity in politics.
"India is a secular country. Why should there be a separate party
based on religion?" asked Abdul Kareem of the Goa Muslim
Abid Rasool Khan, general secretary of the Congress in Andhra
Pradesh, warned: "If there is polarization of the Muslim
community, other communities will also polarize, which will be
With inputs from Gaurav Sharma, Sheikh Qayoom, Jaideep Sarin,
Anil Sharma, Mohit Dubey, Imran Khan, Sirshendu Panth, Jatindra
Dash, Quaid Najmi, Fakir Balaji, Mohammed Shafeeq, V. Jagannathan,
Mayabhushan Nagvenkar and Sanu George.
(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)