There was a time in the 1990s when political commentators joked about Samajwadi Party (SP) supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and his attempts to woo Muslim voters by calling him a "Maulana", an Islamic scholar. With the recent assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the talk of "Muslim vote banks" returned with vehemence - and many political observers attributed the clear SP victory to a "return" of Muslims to the party. In their surveys, political scientists did, however, not find any evidence for such a return (see here and here).

In today's blog - based on a draft paper I presented last week at Aligarh Muslim University - I argue that this contradiction might be resolved through closer attention to the local level. Based on my work with electoral roll data (see here, here and there), I unpack the "Muslim vote" hypothesis at the example of urban Lucknow. There, Muslims indeed voted more for SP - but not more than they always did (which might be different at different times, in other parts of Uttar Pradesh, or even in rural parts of Lucknow). This localized perspective nicely complements, but also complicates, existing assesments of the "Muslim vote". Since I am currently broadening the analysis to the whole of Uttar Pradesh, today's post is thus also an appetizer for a larger argument in the making.

Since I cleaned up my data anyway, I thought I might also take a deeper look at an earlier suspicion about Lucknow's urban sprawl. So I mapped the boundaries of the same according to three different datasets - the official ward boundaries notified in the late 1990s (based on census data from 1991), the builtup area as seen from NASA's MODIS satellite in 2002 (which I used in all my maps so far), and now the area in which polling stations had more than one booth in the 2012 assembly elections (which tend to be urban, while rural Lucknow has one booth per station, and one station per village). Here is the outcome (larger version):

Always, always, always look closely at raw data before doing any statistics! This was the most important lesson my statistics teacher tried to impress upon me back in undergraduate training. Funny things can go wrong when handling large datasets, so switch on your common sense and compare input with output - or so he said. He has just been proven right once more. I spent two weeks to pay for my negligence, and the following three blog posts had to be corrected:

Mapping Lucknow: party strongholds
Mapping Lucknow: Muslim life
Residential segregation

What happened? Two weeks ago, I decided to wrap up my work with the electoral rolls which kept me occupied for the last so many weeks. While copying all files in a common folder to clean up the mess on my pendrive, I saw an odd irregularity in polling station names. I looked closer. And it all blew up.

In order to create the maps and statistics mentioned above, I had to integrate datasets from four different years: election results from 2007, 2009 and 2012, polling station localities from 2009, and electoral rolls revised in 2011. I knew that 2007 would be tricky, since constituency boundaries were redrawn in the 2008 delimitation exercise. I did not expect 2009, 2011 and 2012 to be a problem though. Consequently, I just integrated these datasets based on the unique polling booth ID assigned by the Election Commission. Silly me.

Eid Mubarak! May there be justice and peace (in Assam as much as in Bangalore, in India as much as in Germany), a day full of celebration (among loved ones and among the wretched of the earth), and may God answer your prayers.

Which He sure will. Or won't He? This question figured prominently in a number of deeply engaging conversations I had during the last weeks, and was implicit in most others to the extent they concerned Ramazan. It came up in many different ways: how can I live a good life, and why don't I? How will God look upon me - now and on judgement day? And most frequently: will He answer my prayers? That I am confident that He will is a scandal for many of my Muslim friends. Often it seemd, in fact, as if our shared quest for solace leads straight into the key theological, ethical and spiritual difference between Islam and Christianity - which in turn prompted me to finally write this post (which had been lingering in my mind for quite a while anyway).

Let me clarify at the outset, however, that I do so from my own Christian standpoint without any missionary or self-righteous intentions - doing so is just plain inevitable, since the quest for solace - and the hope that God may answer our prayers - is necessarily an existential one. I am, however, not interested to start a petty sectarian turf war, and I am sure God is great enough to stand above narrowmindedness. (I am also sure that this is a very Islamic statement to make, by the way - as will become clear soon.) What I rather hope to accomplish today is to reflect upon some of my conversations and observations during Ramazan in Lucknow - by posing some hard and pressing questions.

When I posted a draft map of Muslim life in Lucknow last week, I briefly mentioned that the newer parts of Lucknow seem more strongly segregated into Muslim or non-Muslim areas than the old city. Similar comments were made whenever I discussed the map with people here. For today's post, I thus dug a bit deeper into the data to see if dispassionate statistics support this impression. By and large, they do: not only do more Muslims live in the older parts of town - people in old Lucknow also experience a more diverse setup of residential pattern than those in new Lucknow. Two graphs shall illustrate the point.