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North India and south Pakistan

March 23, 2012

Email

The two regions of the sub-continent, Uttar Pradesh in India and Sindh in Pakistan to be precise, have a unique bond, and a disconnect too.

First, the bond: A huge number of Muslims from Uttar Pradesh migrated in 1947 to Sindh in Pakistan. People with Urdu as their mother tongue are 21 per cent of the province’s population now. Or every fifth inhabitant of Sindh belongs to third or second generation of migrants from India at large and UP in particular. Any reference to forefather’s villages, towns or jagirs still makes many eyes sparkle and send others into nostalgic tailspins. They all had migrated, knowingly or unknowingly, willingly or unwillingly in pursuit of a peaceful society and prosperous family lives and their children’s text books kept on reminding them over the next many decades that the cherished dream could never be realised with Hindus roaming around all over and dominating every thing.

The same Uttar Pradesh recently elected members for its 403-seat state (provincial) assembly. Muslims still live in that Indian state that is bigger than Pakistan in population. UP’s population according to a 2011 census is 199.6 million and 19.8 per cent of these are Muslims. Or every fifth inhabitant of the present-day UP is a Muslim. Muslim candidates were serious contenders for around half of the general seats of the state. In fact 68 of them won to become a member legislative assembly (MLA) and another 64 stood second in contests.

Almost every party fielded Muslim candidates. Samajwadi Party’s Adil Sheikh defeated speaker of state assembly 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 the battle to Mohammad Ghazi. No one cried foul, no allegations of rigging were hurled, no conspiracy theories of undermining Hindutva made rounds and above all no one saw the infamous ‘foreign hand’ behind the defeat of caste Hindus at the hands of ‘pariah’ Muslims.

In these elections, Samajwadi Party raised its tally of seats from 97 (in 2007) to more than simple majority of 224 as the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party crashed from 206 seats to just 80. The massive change has been caused by a four per cent swing in vote and all critics believe that it is the Muslim vote that has helped the SP rise to power. Remember that UP is the state where the capital of Urdu culture, Lucknow, is located and so is the epicenter of Hindutva politics, Ayodhya and home town of secular Indian nationalism (read Congress), Rai Braeli and the minority Muslim voters are swinging political fortunes there and tipping balances of political power. Such are the dynamics of elections and the power of democracy.

I am not saying that everything is hunky dory across the border. They 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 some unpatriotic labels. I better say it loud and clear.

A massive number of Hindus migrated from Sindh to India in 1947 and are spread all over the place with many occupying lucrative and important positions. But a few hundred thousand did not migrate knowingly or unknowingly, willingly or unwillingly. Non-Muslims in Sindh are around 9 per cent of the total population or half the percentage of Muslims in UP. Have you ever heard of a non-Muslim contesting elections on a general seat and winning too? Here are some painful facts:

There was only one Hindu candidate in the national assembly elections of 2008, who polled votes in thousands, Mahesh Kumar Malhani , PPP nominee for NA 229 Tharparkar 1. He too lost to Arbab Zakaullah of PML by a margin of more than hundred thousand. Rajveer Singh, PML-F candidate for the provincial seat of Umerkot, too stood a distant second to PPP’s Ali Mardan Shah. Dr Daya Ram of PPP is the only Hindu elected from a general seat [PS 72 Jamshoro II] in 2008.

That’s the disconnect between the two regions and the two states. It is not that Hindus in Pakistan consider politics haram, but political parties think that Hindu candidates are not halal enough for their pious voters. There were 26 Hindu independent candidates on national and provincial seats of Sindh, 9 of them doctors and others mostly engineers and advocates. That is a fair indication that the Sindhi Hindu middle class has taken the first step toward playing its due role in politics. That none of them could actually poll even a hundred votes tells that they have a long way to go. Will any party dare to give them a hand?

The writer works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group that has a primary interest in understanding governance and democracy.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.