India's All-Important Muslim Vote

April 19, 2009

Author: Suvojit Bagchi

Source: BBC News

The Indian government's "war against terror" may cost the Congress party dearly in the election.

Arrests and alleged extrajudicial killings of Muslim youths have angered many in the Islamic community.

"People in power have branded us as terrorists and used us as a vote bank, this cannot go on," said the all-powerful cleric of Delhi's Jama Masjid mosque, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, in a recent press conference.

Speaking about the deaths of two Muslim students allegedly at the hands of police in South Delhi's Muslim area last October, Mr Bukhari said the Muslim community "wants justice".

'Safety and security'

This sense of injustice has resulted in the formation of new Muslim political parties over recent months.

These parties believe in Indian parliamentary democracy and say they are working to "strengthen" it.

The party manifestos unanimously emphasise the "safety and security" of all communities, especially Muslims.

"The security of Muslims is one big issue, as after every blast in India a series of arrests of Muslim youths takes place," said a spokesperson for the influential All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

Muslim men were "systematically killed" in routine police encounters, he alleged.

Muslims comprise more than 13% of India's population and many are aggrieved that proportionately they only have about half that much representation in parliament.

More than two dozen Muslim political parties, big and small, are contesting these elections - almost double the figure of the last election.