Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Monday met Muslims from around the country, among representatives from other minority communities, to know their “aspirations” but was confronted with a key demand: “security”.
The meet, organised by the Congress’s minority department, was aimed at directly gauging the public’s aspirations so that these could be reflected in the party’s 2014 poll manifesto.
“Economic development and schemes mean nothing without security. Did you see what happened in Muzzafarnagar?” asked Manzoor Qureishi, an imam who runs an NGO in UP.
Gandhi stressed both development and security. “Shanti aur kranti dono jaroori hai (Transformation and peace must go hand in hand),” he said. He recalled a fear-stricken young boy in riot-scarred Muzaffarnagar, which he visited on Sunday. “No caste or community should be scared in this country. We must fight politics that creates fear,” he said.
Ahead of the 2014 general election, the UPA government is banking on its minority welfare agenda to shore up support among Muslims. However, several participants wanted to know why the UPA could not pass the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill. Many participants told Gandhi that minority-welfare schemes suffered from tardy implementation. A four-year study by the Centre for Equity Studies (CES) even blamed the UPA for lacking “political courage” to directly address “Muslim backwardness” for fear of being criticised.
The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) recently found that a flagship scheme to spruce up infrastructure in minority areas were not benefiting their targeted beneficiaries because investments were being made in areas outside Muslim habitats.
“I told Rahul-ji that Muslims are looking to Congress with a lot of hope. There’s not much time. He should visit Muslims extensively,” said Shams Shahnawaz, a Congress worker from Bihar’s Sitamarhi.
Many Congress workers, who attended the meet, privately admitted that Gandhi’s effort to ramp up engagement has come rather late in the day. “It’s a welcome move that for the first time, the common man, including women, are being involved in drafting of the manifesto,” said Shamina Shafiq, a Congresswoman who was invited.
Muslims get more than a fair share of wooing during elections since they are thought to impact elections by voting as a bloc.