Since the Election Commission of India (ECI) announced the 2019 Lok Sabha elections schedule which clashes with Ramzan (festival observed by Muslims as a month of fasting which is likely to coincide with the seven-phase election schedule), the political parties across the nation poured into discussions, debates and concerns around Muslim performing their democratic franchise along with Ramzan. Almost every political party is using this event as an opportunity to boost their political mileage. While some claim that Ramzan will benefit the Bharatiya Janata Party as Muslims refrain from work when fasting and they do not go to the office or conduct business or meeting, some believe that it would affect nothing; moreover, the rest suggested the Election Commission to shift the dates as it collide during the festival. However, the Election Commission took no time to clarify that the elections would conduct during Ramzan as an entire month cannot be excluded from the schedule but the dates of main festivities and Fridays are avoided from the timetable. The EC further added that the dates of the polls have been fixed keeping in mind the religious sentiments of the people to avoid any hindrance in the conduct of elections.
BJP MP Dilip Patel said, “Religious festivals, either be it of Hindus or Muslims, never influence the voters in India. The voters always vote as per convenience and ideology. The opposition parties are politicising the issue for their own political gain while the Muslims are not questioning the 2019 LS polls schedule. However, Muslims leaders objecting the poll timetable clearly show their agenda.”
General Elections to constitute the 17th Lok Sabha will be held in seven phases, starting from April 11 and ending on May 19, where the 543 seats of the 29 states and seven Union Territories will go into polls; the poll result will be declared on May 23. Alongside, Ramzan is also likely to start from May 5 and it will end on June 4.
Religions have played a crucial role in grabbing the mandate for political parties in India. A war of words broke out between the BJP and the Opposition parties over the issue. However, the first to flag the matter was Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Amanatullah Khan who said that holding elections during Ramzan will cause inconvenience to the Muslims and directly benefit the BJP. However, the EC condemned political statements which can hurt the religious sentiments of the people.
TMC MP Sajda Ahmed spoke to Afternoon Voice and stated, “The political battle among the political parties is going to be very tough as the LS polls are going to be held during Ramzan. This can decrease the percentage of Muslim votes. I believe political strategy exists behind the 2019 Lok Sabha polls schedule and everyone was aware that this issue is going to be politicised.”
Furthermore, Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader and Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim claimed that seven-phase Lok Sabha elections will be arduous for those observing roza in the states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. Samajwadi Party (SP) also felt and expressed that fewer Muslims may be interested in voting during the month of Ramzan.
Nevertheless, NCP Spokesperson Nawab Malik expressed, “This is not the first time when polls elections are going to be held during the month of Ramzan. Election dates clashing with Ramzan doesn’t mean that Muslims will not cast their votes; I believe that they will vote in larger numbers. However, the EC would have considered the high temperature during that time of the month which might disturb the Muslims observing fast. BJP is politicising this just to get the limelight before polls.”
Lashing out at the Opposition, BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said that it was a “communal” ploy to divide the country ahead of the elections. He pointed out at Navratas, a Hindu festival when devotees observe fast, which will also fall during the elections.
The Imam of the revered Aishbagh Eidgah Lucknow, Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangi Mahali has urged the ECI to respect the sentiments of Muslims and shift the dates of elections scheduled for May 6, 12 and 19.
Maharashtra Congress Rajya Sabha MP Hussain Dalwai said, “The EC should change the dates (May 5, 12, and 19) which are clashing with the Ramzan when Muslims observe fast through the day. It will be difficult for them to come out and vote. Moreover, the Muslim political party workers will find it difficult to contribute to their respective election duties.”
He further raised his concern saying, “The month of Ramzan is very important, holy, and auspicious for Muslims, who devote themselves in prayers. The temperature will be at its peak during that month and fasting Muslims will prefer to stay indoor to preserve energy. The EC should have kept this in mind before announcing the dates.”
While many Muslim clerics opposed the schedule of upcoming Lok Sabha polls, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen Chief Asaduddin Owaisi rejected the concerns about elections being held during Ramzan and said through his twitter handle that the controversy surrounding this issue is wrong and uncalled for. He further said, “I would like to tell the political parties that they should not take the responsibility of Muslims. Elections will come and go, Muslims will undertake roza, will celebrate Ramzan will full religious fervour, will fast and offer the namaz also. It is rubbish to suggest that fasting during Ramzan will affect the polling numbers. Moreover, on the contrary, I believe that the voting percentage among Muslims will increase as they are filled with so much religious fervour during this month.”
The first phase of the elections April 11 will cover 91 constituencies across 20 states. 97 constituencies across 13 states will cast their votes in the second phase on April 18. The third phase will cover 115 constituencies in 14 states on April 23, followed by 71 seats in nine states on April 29. 51 seats in seven states will vote in the fifth phase on May 6. The sixth phase will take place in 59 seats in seven states on May 12 and the seventh in 59 seats across eight states on May 19. As many as 90 crore voters are eligible to cast their votes. There will be around 10 lakh polling stations across the nation as compared to 9 lakh in 2014. The voters’ verifiable paper audit trail will be used for all the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).