Monday, March 10, 2014

Religion as a factor in Indian elections: Muslim, Sikh, Christian majority seats and constituencies that elect Upper Caste Hindu candidates

With elections round the corner, newspapers have again focused on factors like caste, community and religion, which do affect the choice of candidates as well as voting in polls in India.

Dainik Bhaskar, a leading Hindi newspaper, has come out with an interesting report on page 1.

The report tells us about how certain seats are perceived as 'Muslim seats', 'Sikh seats' or Upper Caste Hindu seats.

Most of these are constituencies that have large percent of voters of the group.

We all know that the religious or caste affiliation of the voter and the contestants do matter to some extent.

Sometimes the constituency may not have the particular group as majority or a block.

Yet, it is seen as the constituency where candidate belonging to that group is given ticket and wins easily. Interestingly, while focus is often on Muslim votes, because of a myth that Muslims vote 'en bloc'. In election season, such reports come too often. Journalists seem to enjoy filing such reports and discussing them.

But this report interestingly talks of Savarnas vote [Upper caste Hindu population] too. It says that though the Upper Caste aren't a numerical majority in most seats, still, they command wide influence and around 125 constituencies regularly send Upper Caste contestants to the Parliament.

125 Upper Caste influence constituencies or 'Savarna Seats'

The report says that Lucknow may have a large Muslim population and also strong Shia populace, but most of the parties always fielded Upper Caste candidates from here. Either Shivrajwati Nehru, Hemwanti Nandan Bahuguna or Sheela Kaul who won thrice and later, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who won five times from here.

It also lists Indore as an 'Upper Caste' seat from where 'savarnas' have been winning for 45 years. Then, there is Allahabad constituency, that elected Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Murli Manohar Joshi, Amitabh Bachchan, VP Singh and Revti Rama Singh, all upper caste Hindus.

It lists 36 seats in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where only Upper Caste candidates win. While Punjab has 32% Dalits, more than half  of the seats in the state are cornered by the Upper Castes.

The 'Upper caste' seats often have a strong Muslim population too but no party risks fielding Muslim here.

There are 172 constituencies that have Muslim, Sikh and Christian influence.

But in the 125 upper caste seats, the factor of religion doesn't work, it says.

There are 79 constituencies reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC) and 42 for Scheduled Tribes (ST) out of 543* (545) seats in the Lok Sabha. Of  course, Dalits (SCs) and Tribals (STs) can contest from un-reserved seats too.

So out of the remaining 432 seats, Bhaskar has identified seats that have a trend of winnability among a particular religion or a group. Many places have huge backward (OBC) population too but there isn't focus on their voting and election pattern.

Muslim vote can tilt balance in 92 constituencies 

The report says that 92 constituencies have Muslim influence. There are many constituencies in Kashmir, Kerala, UP and West Bengal that have 65-95% Muslims.  Then, there are constituencies like Laccadives, Kishanganj (Bihar), Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh) too.

The example is Assam's Dhubri where Muslim candidates win. AUDF's Badruddin Ajmal contested and won from here, defeating the Congress. Over all, seats that have more than 20% Muslims are included in list where the minority swing can make or mar candidates' chances.

An interesting example is Araria seat in Bihar. Now, Araria has 41% Muslim population. Yet, seven Muslims were in the fray, and hence BJP's Pradeep Kumar Singh, won Loktantrik Janshakti Party's Zakir Husain by a margin of 2,000 votes. Of these 92 seats, most of them are in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, West Bengal and Kerala, apart from J&K.

16 seats have Christian electorate's influence

There are 16  seats that have Christian influence. An example is Ernakulum in Kerala that has 38.8% Christian vote or South Goa. Then, there are many constituencies in North East and some other places in central and eastern India where Christian vote is decisive.

The Christian candidates win from Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur. Also, there are pockets in certain regions of South Indian states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. In a few constituencies in Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh, too they have limited impact. 

Sikhs are a major factor in 16 constituencies

Also, there are 16 seats where Sikhs are an important factor and decide outcome of the election results, like Bathinda that has over 75% Sikh voter. Sikhs are mostly concentrated in Punjab-Haryana region in North India.

The other seats include Amritsar 77%,  Sangrur 74%, Jalandhar 38%, Ludhiana 58%, Anandpur Sahib 57%, Fatehgarh Sahib 58%, Firozpur 51%, Patiala 55%, Gurdaspur 44%, Hoshiarpur 39%. Also, there are constituencies liek Chandigarh, Sirsa (Haryana) and Sri Ganga Nagar (Rajasthan).


Now, that you have seen these trends and statistics, there is a message for you. You don't need to blindly believe every 'fact'. Anything can happen in election. It is not purely religious or regional line on which a person votes always. With polls barely two months from now, you will see analyses and more reports.

See more on elections 2014 in upcoming posts.

[Report published on March 10, 2014. Link to Dainik Bhaskar's Epaper. See page 1 and with graphic on inside page of the same day's edition, if they remain in archive. Alternative text link is HERE]
[*India's lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha has 545 members, 543 of them are elected while two are nominated]