2024 Elections in India: No Muslim Representation in Narendra Modi’s Newly-Elected Cabinet

The longest general elections in the largest democratic state of India were held from April 19 to June 1, 2024, in seven phases to elect the 543 members of the Lok Sabha. On 4th June, the votes were counted, and the results were announced for forming the 18th Lok Sabha. Concurrently, legislative assembly elections were held in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, and Sikkim, along with by-elections for 25 constituencies in 12 legislative assemblies. In this election, the BJP won 240 seats, 32 seats short of the 272 needed for a majority, requiring them to depend on allies to form the government, while the Congress secured 99 seats. According to the announced results, Prime Minister Narendra Modi formed the government for a third consecutive term, with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) securing a majority in the Lok Sabha.

India’s President Droupadi Murmu administered the oath of office to Modi during a ceremony on June 9th at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace in New Delhi. The event was attended by thousands of dignitaries, including leaders from seven neighboring countries, Bollywood stars, and industrialists. At the ceremony, Modi was sworn in for his third term as India’s prime minister. However, his government, which reportedly comprises 30 federal ministers and 41 state ministers, does not include a single Muslim leader. This time, the Union Cabinet has 72 ministers, just nine short of the maximum strength of 81 members. For the first time in Indian history, no Muslim parliamentary member has taken the oath after the elections. In the past, the council of ministers sworn in after each general election would include at least one Muslim MP. It has been claimed that the absence of Muslim representation in the 18th Lok Sabha is reported because no Muslim MPs from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) were elected.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, prominently utilized the Muslim community as a central focus in its campaign for a third term in the 2024 elections. Historically, the BJP has employed a combination of issues – such as cow protection, Pakistan, and Muslims to rally support. While the first two themes resonated in the 2014 and 2019 elections, this year, it seemed that the focus was primarily on Muslims. Modi ascended to power by leveraging communal polarization tactics, appealing to Hindus. Starting in 2014, Modi’s first term as Prime Minister witnessed measures targeting Muslims, including laws restricting cow slaughter, curbing Muslim immigration, and purportedly combating Islamist terrorism. In his second term, which began in 2019, the BJP’s endeavors to transform India into a “Hindu Rashtra” have become more overt.

The high voter turnout in Kashmir Valley, a historically low-participation area, signals a robust resistance against the political influence exerted by the BJP. The revocation of J&K’s special status by the BJP has intensified local grievances. The election results in Kashmir indicate that the Kashmiri people rejected the BJP and its proxies, and the candidates who advocated the restoration of statehood won in the Kashmir Valley. The political narrative in IIOJK is steeped in anger over the suppression of rights, erosion of local autonomy, and demographic changes due to domicile laws. The BJP aimed to create a coalition government with the DPAD, Apni Party, and PC and has abstained from fielding candidates in the Kashmir Valley. This move attempts to split the anti-BJP vote.

Therefore, the BJP focused on the predominantly Hindu Jammu region.  In Baramulla, jailed former legislator Abdul Rashid Sheikh, an independent candidate, defeated former CM Omar Abdullah. In the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency, NC candidate Mian Altaf Ahmad defeated former CM and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti. Additionally, NC candidate Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi defeated PDP’s Waheed Ur Rehman in Srinagar. In Jammu independent candidate Mohmad Haneefa defeated INC and BJP in Ladakh. BJP candidate Jitendra Singh only won the Udhampur seat. This is the first parliamentary election in the Union Territory since the abrogation of Article 370. The elections for the five seats in the state were conducted in five phases. It is pertinent to mention that high voter turnout is interpreted by pro-govt media as support for the abrogation of special status. However, on-ground sentiment, as expressed by voters is primarily driven by a desire to reverse the 2019 decision. The election result indicates that Kashmiri people have rejected Modi’s proxies, anti-Muslim policies, and abrogation of Article 370.

Modi was initially associated with the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological precursor of the BJP. His election campaign was characterized by religious rhetoric and criticism of the opposition for purportedly favoring India’s 200 million minority Muslims. This indicates a shift away from India’s secular identity towards a Hindu-centric state, where Muslims appear to have diminished rights. To uphold its status as the world’s largest democratic and secular state, India must ensure equitable treatment for all segments of society, including minorities like Muslims, within its cabinet. National progress hinges on granting fundamental rights to every individual, irrespective of their background.

Saima Afzal
Saima Afzal

The author is a Research Scholar and Analyst; M. Phil in Peace and Conflict Studies from National Defence University Islamabad, Pakistan. Email: sarahamidkhan21@gmail.com

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