A Muslim-Mukt Gujarat Assembly?

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 The polarization in the society has reached to such an extent that the Congress is now hesitating to give tickets to Muslims, even for constituencies with a sizeable population of the community.

Abdul Hafiz Lakhani | Caravan Daily

AHMEDABAD — Finally, the battleground has been set, the generals and foot soldiers have been declared for the Gujarat election with both BJP and Congress declaring their candidates for its 182 assembly seats. As expected BJP, despite its slogan, Sab ka sath, sab ka vikas, has refrained from  giving tickets to Muslim candidates. The secular Congress party has also virtually abstained from giving tickets to leaders from the Muslim cCommunity. They have given only six tickets to Muslims, of which two are from Ahmedabad.

Congress, which earlier used to be generous enough to field  12 to 15 Muslim candidates, now allots tickets to a handful. This definitely is one of the reason, but not the only one for the dwindling Muslim representation in the state Assembly. There was a time when people from other communities would vote for Muslim candidates. The society was not vertically divided as it is today. Even in seats like Thasara, Gandhinagar, Balasinor or Palitana, Muslim candidates have been elected for  the Assembly elections.

However, in the last three decade, the society has been reshaped. Now, the cash rich and socially powerful community is demanding a lion’s share in power, whereas Muslims, who constitute 9.67 per cent of the population have been marginalised.

Political analysts feel that post 1985, society has been polarized. Events like Ram Rathyatra, Babri demolition, post demolition riots in 1992, Godhra carnage, 2002 riots had definitely created bitterness, but the Sachar Committee report added fuel to the fire. Muslim voters, prior to 1985 voted for Muslim candidates because their services were appreciated but that is now a thing of the past.

Sociologist Parvez Abbasi says, “Voters have begun losing faith in their elected leaders as they never represented them in the Assembly. They lost the connect with the grass roots. This is happening with all representatives, who have created an elitist club for themselves after being elected. If representatives were honestly taking up issues, then the  Patidars would not be agitating on the streets. Same is the complaint of the minority community. Caste or religion are used only for vote banks.”

Abbasi believes that numbers of representative don’t help much, it is qualitative representations and government intention that helps a community to progress and grow. “If representatives are elected in good numbers, but the party is in opposition, it will have zero impact, especially in a time when the ruling party members are also alleging of not being heard,” he maintained.

Taking this ahead,  Zafar Sareshwala, a close aid of PM Modi, and the VC Of MANNU, Hyderabad, alleges that Congress has always loved the vote bank and not the Muslims. “They were giving tickets to Muslim candidates so there were more representatives in the Assembly, whereas BJP never made any contention about it.”

He then adds, “According to the Sachar Committee report, Muslims never progressed under the Congress regime. However, in the past 16 years, there was fewer Muslims representatives in the Assembly, but the community has progressed a lot.”

Refuting these claims and allegations, Congress’ minority community cell chairman, Gulabkhan Rauma,  maintains, “Congress was the only party that gave a platform to the Muslims of Gujarat. During the Congress regime, the community never had to complain about release of scholarships stipends, allocation of funds for restoration of religious places, which is  common during the BJP regime.”

According to Gulab Khan, the minority cell never demanded for a party ticket. “When an aspiring candidate demands a ticket, the party gives it to him if it feels that he or she will win it. The fact is that the number of Muslim representatives has gone down because of polarisation in the society. And BJP is responsible for it,” he adds.

Delimitation, is the other reason responsible for the declining number of Muslim representatives in the Assembly.  “There has been a consistent effort to reduce the Muslim presence in both society and government by bureaucrats to ensure that Muslim dominance in a constituency is reduced,” alleges Congress councillor, Shahnawaz Abdul Rehman Shaikh.

He claims that there were 25 seats in the state, in which Muslims have 40 to 50 per cent vote share. While, in 68 seats, Muslim vote share comprises 10 to 12 per cent. Yet their representation is on a decline.

Disagreeing with this argument,  Sareshwala says, “Numbers do not make a difference.” Between 2012-17, there were about 73 MLAs from the community in the UP Assembly, but the status of Muslims in the state remained to be at its worst. He adds, “It is important that no one should be used, abused or discriminated.”

Endorsing the view, BJP’s minority cell chairman Sufi MK Chisty says, “Though there are no Muslim leaders in his party, in the past one and half decades, Muslims have made a progress in Gujarat.” He claims that the per capita income of the community has increased, so has the literacy rate and employment.

Notably, the polarisation in the society has reached to such an extent that the Congress is now hesitating to give tickets to Muslims, even for constituencies with a sizeable population of the community, like Kalupur, Bharuch, Godhra, Surat (west & east), Somnath and Jamnagar. Hindus have been given tickets for these seats.

Disagreeing with this fact, Congress’ Kutch leader Adam Chaki states, “ It is the win that counts. In Kutch, Muslims voters are concentrated in Bhuj, Abdasa, Mandvi, Gandhidham and Anjar seat. In 1998, a ticket was allotted to Ibrahim Ishaq and he won the seat. So tickets were given to Muslim candidates for the Bhuj seat in 2012 and Abdasa in 2002. There was a time when voters elected Muslim candidates from Wankaner, Jamnagar, Kalupur, Jamalpur, Gandhinagar, Godhra, Thasara, Bharuch and Surat (west).”

He then adds, “With time, polarisation and delimitation has brought the number down and now, Muslims are elected from Wankaner, Jamalpur, Kalupur, Dariyarpur, Vagra. The Congress is also very selective on fielding Muslim candidates. Even with seats like Kalupur, Surat (west) and Bharuch, Muslim candidates don’t get tickets.”

Congress’s candidate for Dariyapur seat and two time MLA Gayassudin Shaikh alleges that BJP does not want to see a single Muslim MLA in Gujarat Assembly, for this precise reason,  many Muslims are contesting election  as independent candidates, especially in Muslim dominated area. He adds, “Even AAP and Janvikap morcha are working as the Team B of BJP.”

The  decline of Congress in the state has left its Muslims frustrated, who now feel that they are unable to defeat BJP on their own due to the consolidation of Hindu votes. As a result, Muslims in Hindu dominant constituencies publicly support BJP to gain material advantage from local MLAs and social security.

(Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is Ahmedabad-based senior journalist and editor of Gujarat Siyasat)

 

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