Elections, Parties, and Interest Groups
THE 1991 AND JUNE 1996 ELECTIONS in Bangladesh may indicate a change, but the earlier tendency of the Muslims in Bengal since the beginning of mass politics, about 1920, had been to support a single leader and a single issue. This tendency has been a major factor in Bangladeshi politics, as will be seen in the review of elections below. The issues in question have pertained to the Bengalis in particular and often, before independence, went against the view of the Muslim League at the national level. Even in the 1945-1946 elections Bengalis voted for Bengali issues. The leadership, too, was often drawn from the vernacular rather than the national elite.
When the franchise was broadened by the Government of India Act of 1935 (see Chapter 1) and elections were held in the winter of 1936-1937 for the Bengal Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly, much of the eastern Bengal electorate gave its support to Fazlul Haq and his Krishak Praja Party (KPP), or Farmers and Peoples Party. However, the Muslim League gained an almost equal number of seats as a result of its support from voters in the western part of Bengal, where Hindus predominated. 1 The Muslim majority of eastern Bengal did not fear numerical Hindu domination; the Muslim minority of western Bengal did. The cause on which Fazlul Haq campaigned was that of the smaller farmers against zamindars (landlords), who were generally Hindu.
In the election of the winter of 1945-1946, the issue was a national one: the separation of Muslim-majority areas of undivided India from the Hindu-majority territories. The champions of this view were Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League, which he led. The Muslim voters in Bengal gave their support to the League, which won overwhelmingly, gaining all six seats in the Central Legislative Assembly with 94.01 per-