Much has been talked about representation or rather lack of it by the Muslim community and rightly so. But the fact of the matter is even if by some divine means the political parties have a revelation and the change of heart results in proportional representation it would not translate into effective policymaking for the targeted upliftment of the Muslim community.
So long as Muslim leaders are just Muslim faces of their respective parties, they are obliged to the party and not the masses. They vote on party lines when a division is called for over any bill that affects the minority community. They are bound by the whip, a parliamentary procedure of deterrence that aims at keeping the political party’s stock intact, violation of which results in forfeiture of the seat by the dissenting member. The fear of losing their seat casts a long shadow over the Muslim representative struggling to come into his own.
Fearful of losing his seat and the accruing privileges the Muslim representatives are left with two options. They can either abstain from the debate or deliver a dictated speech by the party high command. This curtailment of free speech of the elected representatives bears badly on not just matters concerning minority interests but every legislative matter on the floor of the house.
Once a person joins a political party, he mortgages his free will. His opinions are taken for granted and his mental faculties are put to rest. The representative who otherwise moves with much pomp is merely a puppet dancing to the invisible strings of powers that be.
Under the circumstances even if Muslims get proportional representation, the question is what purpose it would serve if the representatives are going to be reduced to what they have always been, party mouthpieces. What would happen to the debates where the policies concerning Muslims are drawn and redrawn. If despite sufficient number in the house, such as one proportionately representative of the community, the flaws, bias and irregularities inherent in any draft bill cannot be highlighted and the amendments cannot at least be tabled, of what value is that much-revered magic number.
There remains only one way out from the trap laid down by the political parties for a morally upright representative. If at any point of time he feels that his stand in the house is detrimental to the interest of the community, he can speak his mind on the matter of contention both inside the house during the debate and outside and thereafter resign. This though may not effectively alter the fate of the bill, Muslim representatives being part of different parties and alliances, but would at least have the effect of raising Muslim grievances at the forum where it matters the most. This leads us to the solution i.e. a united front which should be a natural corollary to the idea of proportional representation.
Besides the ills emanating from the parliamentary procedures, the idea of proportional representation suffers from another major shortcoming. The Muslim representatives even if present in sizeable numbers but belong to different political groups inside the house cannot be an effective force. This because at no point of time there is any guarantee of congruence between the interests of different political groups. The Muslim representatives hence can effectively raise Muslim issues only if they stand together as a separate group inside the house.
The unity of Muslim representatives under one banner will help critically examine every legislative matter for any possible communal bias. It can be an effective body for advocating affirmative actions for the minorities. It can act as a lobby with a significant bargaining position. It can forge an alliance with all like-minded parties acting on a common minimum programme. The formation of such a united force comes up with unlimited possibilities for the upliftment of not just Muslims but all marginalized communities but is humbled by the question of leadership.
Hence, we have seen that the possibilities of proportional representation being harnessed by a united political force hinge on one last critical factor that of leadership. To bring together the warring factions and diverging interests within the Muslim community and to give it a shape of a political outfit, such that it becomes a significant force in our parliamentary democracy, calls for recognition and commitment to one supreme leader. Can the community give birth to one such leader hence is the ultimate question? Without that single unifying character to fall behind, the community cannot exert its political agency. Without the capacity to exert its political agency, no increase in representation to the level of proportionate share can be a guaranteed safeguard for Muslim interests.
That the Muslim representatives acting as party mouthpieces serve no good is a point already made. Yet, with proportional representation nowhere in sight, we work towards maximizing this token representation of Muslim representatives across all parties. This quite sums up the Muslim despair.