The two regions of the subcontinent, Uttar Pradesh in India and Sindh in Pakistan, have both a unique bond and a disconnect. First, the bond: a huge number of Muslims from Uttar Pradesh migrated in 1947 to Sindh. People with Urdu as their mother tongue comprise 21 per cent of Sindh—every fifth inhabitant of Sindh belongs to second or third generation migrants from India, in particular from UP. References to forefathers’ villages, towns or jagirs still moisten many eyes and inspire nostalgia. They all had migrated willingly or unwillingly in pursuit of a peaceful society and prosperity. Their children’s textbooks kept on reminding them over next decades that the cherished dream could never be realised with Hindus roaming around and dominating everything.
The same Uttar Pradesh recently elected members for its 403-seat state assembly. Muslims still live in that province that has a population higher than Pakistan. UP’s population, according to the 2011 census, is 199.6 million. Of these, 19.8 per cent are Muslims. Or, every fifth inhabitant of present-day UP is a Muslim. Muslim candidates were serious contenders for around half of the general assembly seats. In fact, 68 of them went on to become MLAs; 64 Muslims stood second in the constituencies they contested in.
Almost every party fielded Muslim candidates. The Samajwadi Party’s Adil Sheikh defeated assembly speaker Sukhdev Rajbhar, former minister Nand Gopal Gupta was drubbed by SP’s first-timer Haji Parvez Ahmed and four-time BJP winner Inder Dev Singh lost to Mohammad Ghazi. No one cried foul, no allegations of rigging were hurled, no conspiracy theories of undermining Hindutva made the rounds and, above all, no one smelt the infamous ‘foreign hand’ behind the defeat of caste Hindus at the hands of ‘pariah’ Muslims.
The Samajwadi Party raised its tally from 97 (in 2007) to more than a simple majority of 224; the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party crashed from 206 seats to a humble 80. The massive reversal was caused by a four per cent swing in votes, and critics attribute SP’s ascendancy to winning the Muslim vote. Remember that UP is where the capital of Urdu culture, Lucknow, is located; so also the epicentre of Hindutva politics, Ayodhya, and the hometown of secular Indian nationalism (read Congress), Rae Bareli. It’s here that minority Muslim voters have so decisively swung political fortunes. But we were always told that in a democracy where Hindus outnumbered us, we would be forced to live miserable lives on the margins. I was flabbergasted. Does it not turn our history into a farce?
I am not saying that everything is exceptionally bright across the border. People in India too face mammoth challenges—but wait, I think I should not be apologetic about what I want to say and subdue my argument before actually forwarding it, to avoid being labelled unpatriotic. I better say it loud and clear.
Thousands of Hindus migrated from Sindh to India after Partition and are spread all over India. Today, many are prosperous. But, willingly or unwillingly, a few hundred thousand did not migrate. Non-Muslims in Sindh are around 9 per cent of the population, or half the percentage of Muslims in UP. Have you ever heard of a non-Muslim contesting elections and winning too?
They couldn’t even think of such a feat till 2002, when non-Muslims were corralled into reserved seats under the separate electorate system, while Muslim candidates vied for their co-religionists’ votes alone. Two elections ago, we moved to the joint electorate system; since then, only one Hindu candidate for a national assembly seat has polled votes in thousands—Mahesh Kumar, a Pakistan People’s Party nominee. He lost to Arbab Zakaullah of the Pakistan Muslim League by a margin of over a hundred thousand. Rajveer Singh, a Pakistan Muslim League-Functional candidate for the provincial seat of Umerkot, too stood a distant second to the PPP’s Ali Mardan Shah. Dr Daya Ram of the PPP is the only Hindu elected on a provincial seat to date.
That is the disconnect between Sindh and UP. One’s faith in democracy is unwavering, while we have heaped scorn over it for its inability to deliver, and instead have been beating dead horses hoping it would take us to a cherished future. We were told that democracy doesn’t work for us Muslims. It is alien to our culture, and comes to fruition when pollinated by secularism alone, which is heretic. Let me confess today: if being secular means having faith in democracy, I profess it, as I have seen it work miracles.
(The writer works for Punjab Lok Suhag, a research and advocacy group in Pakistan, with an interest in understanding governance and democracy. He also writes a regular blog in Dawn.com)