Critics suspect ruling BJP is moving to silence dissent by scrubbing millions of voters' names from lists before May poll
Indian activists from the Bhartiya Arakshan Mukti Dal political organization protest against a caste-based reservation system in education and jobs in Allahabad on April 10, 2018. The strike was called against India's system for allocating space in jobs and education that reserves space for members of 'lower caste' communities, following nationwide protests by tens of thousands of Dalits in early April who were enraged at a Supreme Court ruling they said weakens a law intended to protect their communities. (Photo by Sanjay Kanojia/AFP)
Millions of socially underprivileged Dalit and Muslim people are missing from India's electoral rolls as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pro-Hindu party seeks a second term in the upcoming national elections.
Activists from both groups suspect they are victims of a conspiracy orchestrated by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which they say is seeking to take full advantage of the Hindu vote by exploiting anti-minority sentiment.
At least 15 percent of all voters and 25 percent of all registered Muslim voters were missing from the electoral rolls, claims Syed Khalid Saifullah, whose technology firm recently conducted a nationwide survey.
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Some 170 million Muslims, who form 14 percent of India's 1.2-billion population, have traditionally voted against the BJP.
Keeping them away from polling booths could theoretically tilt the results in favor of the BJP in certain states and pockets of the nation.
About 900 million people are set to cast their votes to elect 543 members of parliament during a six-week-long exercise beginning May 19. Roughly 80 percent of voters are understood to be Hindus.
Saifullah's firm, based in the southern city of Hyderabad, developed an app to facilitate the study it used to try and determine how many Muslim and Dalit voters existed and were missing from the voting lists.
The findings were "surprising," it said.
Of the 200 million registered Dalit voters, a whopping 40 million were found to be mysteriously missing from the official records.
Dalit and tribal people have been protesting against the BJP government in New Delhi, saying the party's policies favor certain industries and businesses, adversely affecting their land and livelihood.
Naresh Bhagat, a Mumbai-based activist who fights for Dalits' rights, told ucanews.com their disappearance from the electoral roles is indicative of an abuse of power.
"It means something big is being hatched deep inside the corridors of power to crush the voices of dissent," Bhagat said.
The Dalit people, formerly known as "untouchables," exist at the bottom of the social ladder in India both economically and socially. The make up 16.6 percent of the population, but in some states their vote can be decisive.
"Elections are the only means for the marginalized to make their voices heard. However, that power, too, seems to have been taken away from us," Bhagat said.
According to the Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), out of 84 parliamentary seats that should have been clinched by Dalit representatives, BJP candidates managed to win 40 during the 2014 elections.
In the previous poll, the center said, many Dalits voted for the BJP as it promised major reforms to help improve their economic and social situation.
"But nothing happened in the last five years, except that the number of crimes committed against us has risen drastically and the government has failed to lift our community up," said Chader Prakash, a New Delhi-based Dalit activist.
Moulana Athar Hussain, a Muslim cleric and leader based in Uttar Pradesh, said India's Election Commission (EC) should take note of the exclusion of Muslims from polls, calling it "a deep-rooted conspiracy."
Iqbal Ahmad, a research student at Kashmir University's political sciences department, said the Muslim vote could prove decisive in as many as 218 of 543 parliamentary seats up for grabs.
Of those 218 constituencies, Muslims account for 20 percent of the vote on average in 145, he added.
"Despite Muslims generally being perceived as anti-BJP, at least 8 percent voted for the party during the 2014 election, he said.
"The disenfranchisement of Muslims could help the BJP secure more Hindu votes, especially in areas with bigger Muslim populations," Ahmad added.
"There is not even a single Muslim MP from the BJP in the federal government. Out of the 482 candidates the party fielded across the 29 Indian states in 2014, only seven were Muslims," he told ucanews.com.
He believes the only reason they filled the seven seats with Muslims is because they couldn't find anyone else.
Last September, the names of over 2.2 million voters were found to have vanished from the electoral rolls in the southern state of Telangana since 2017, just prior to the Legislative Assembly elections.
Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh after the Congress Party-led federal cabinet approved the creation of the new state on Oct. 3, 2013.
Ahmad said the EC must pursue corrective steps or deprive huge swathes of voters of their right to support the government of their choosing.
India's has 966 million Hindus, comprising 80 percent of the population. Muslims make up 14 percent and Christians 2.3 percent, or 28 million people.
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