RAMPUR: More than half the voters in the Indian city of Rampur are Muslim, but its member of parliament is a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s muscular Hindu-first agenda.

It is a situation repeated across Hindu-majority India, where many consider victory for Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in upcoming general elections a near certainty – and see Muslim candidates as a recipe for defeat at the ballot box.

While India’s 220 million Muslims make up a little under a fifth of its 1.4 billion population, Muslim representatives in parliament have almost halved to less than five per cent since the 1970s.

“Everyone wants a connect with BJP,” said Ghanshyam Singh Lodhi, who is confident of re-election as MP for Rampur in Uttar Pradesh state when the six-week-long elections begin on Apr 19.

Lodhi, a Hindu, replaced Rampur’s Muslim MP in a 2022 by-election, jumping ship from the last lawmaker’s party to become a BJP loyalist.

Muslim leaders worry at the lack of representation. There were just 27 Muslim MPs in the 543-seat lower house in parliament – and none of them were among the BJP’s 310 lawmakers.

Ziya Us Salam, author of a book on Muslims in India, says members of the faith had for decades placed their trust in secular parties, a process that created an “acute absence of Muslim leadership”.

Today, an overtly Muslim leader would be challenged as stoking sectarian divisions, yet few question when Modi champions constitutionally secular India as a “Hindu Rashtra”, or Hindu state.

“Nobody talks of (Modi) being the leader of only Hindus,” Salam said.

He also argues that successive gerrymandering policies since independence in 1947 have redrawn electoral boundaries to split areas with substantial Muslim populations.


Rampur has elected Muslim MPs 15 out of 18 times since 1952.

But Kanwal Bharti, a 71-year-old activist and writer from the city, said the BJP’s dominance means that it “doesn’t seem possible anymore” for a Muslim candidate to win Rampur.

Rampur’s last Muslim MP was veteran politician Mohammad Azam Khan – but he quit after more than 80 legal cases were brought against him, ranging from land grabbing to intimidating government officials.

His supporters said many of the accusations were years old and that charges had only been belatedly brought after the BJP won state elections in 2017.

Khan was jailed for three years in 2023 for hate speech against BJP rivals.


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