When Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal appealed to Muslims for support while fasting at Delhi’s Ramlila Ground in 2011, the community preferred to watch from the sidelines. Today, Muslims are willing to give him a platform to take his politics out of Delhi.
Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan, a shrieking firebrand and claimant to the seat of the Barelvi sect of Sunni Muslims in Uttar Pradesh, Maulana Kalbe Rushaid, a Shia face, and Sirajuddin Qureishi, the president of Delhi’s India Islamic Cultural Centre, are among a clutch of leaders who have responded to his call for support. Full coverage
No longer cagey about the AAP’s brand of politics, many Muslims have feted Kejriwal. Others have publicly endorsed him, as disenchantment with the Congress grows.
“The AAP is trying out a top-down approach, reaching out to Muslim elites first, which is pretty much the usual strategy of most parties,” said Sanjeer Alam, a political scientist at the Delhi’s Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
In its heyday, the Kejriwal-led anti-graft movement was said to have alienated both Muslims – India’s largest minority – and “lower-caste Hindus”, ostensibly because its goalposts did not adequately reflect the core concerns of these social categories.
The movement used images of “Bharat Mata” (mother India) and chants of Vande Mataram, India’s national song that Muslims claim infringes a tenet of their faith, to whip up crowds. In the eyes of minorities, however, all this created a metaphor of Hindu nationalism.
“The movement had all kinds of people in it. Kejriwal’s politics was constituency-blind,” says Arshad Alam, assistant professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for the Study of Social Systems.
The tipping point came when Kejriwal fell out with Anna Hazare. The AAP started to look into specific “constituencies” and began articulating issues of social justice, Alam says.
Kejriwal’s sharp attacks on Modi have only helped. “All skepticism melted away when Kejriwal told us that communalism was a bigger danger than corruption,” says Sajid Wadood, the advisor to IICC’s Qureishi.
The biggest endorsement came in January when the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, an influential Islamist organisation, asked Muslims to shun the Congress and explore options, such as the AAP.
According to economist Prabhat Patnaik, the AAP electoral debut was that of a “left-of-centre” party with a “right-of-centre following”. In a political scenario where Muslims remain cynical of the Congress and wary of the BJP, the AAP wants to present itself as a political alternative.
“In search of alternatives we are,” said Mohibul Haq, the president of Pulses Traders’ Association in Bihar’s Darbhanga.