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Rajasthan Muslims at crossroads, search for alternatives to Congress

Is the fear of the emergence of BJP PM nominee Narendra Modi enough reason for Rajasthan’s Muslims to rethink their support for the Congress?

india Updated: Apr 22, 2014 01:04 IST
Srinand Jha
Rajasthan muslims

Is the fear of the emergence of BJP PM nominee Narendra Modi enough reason for Rajasthan’s Muslims to rethink their support for the Congress?

Such questions indicating the political dilemma of Muslim voters – accounting for 12% of Rajasthan’s electorate and being numerically strong in several constituencies including Barmer, Jodhpur, Nagaur, Sikar, Jaipur and Jhunjhunu – are being asked here and elsewhere in the state.

More than the need to stop Modi’s juggernaut, Muslims in Rajasthan seem to be battling larger issues of the shrinking secular space in the state’s polity with the perceived decline of the Congress and the need to firm up other alternatives.

“A new secular formation consisting of smaller groups and parties will emerge after the LS elections. The Congress has failed the community,” said Salim Engineer of the Jamait-e-Islami (Hind).

The reasons for the Muslims’ disenchantment with the Congress are many.

In last November’s assembly elections, the Congress had put up 16 Muslim candidates – all of whom lost. By contrast, two of the four Muslim candidates put up by the community won their seats. Between themselves, the BJP and the Congress have fielded just one Muslim candidate in these elections – cricketer-turned-politician Mohammed Azharuddin from Tonk-Sawai Madhopur.

“The Muslim share in governance has been reduced to zero because of the anti-minority policies of both the Congress and the BJP. Working towards the emergence of a third alternative, our candidates are also supporting Independents and other secular candidates in some constituencies,” Sikar-based political analyst Ashfaq Kayamkhani said.

Reflecting the churning in the Muslim political space, Rashid Hussain, state president of the fledging Welfare Party, said: “Deserving candidates like Captain Ayub Khan (who won from Jhunjhunu twice) and Rafique Mandelia (who narrowly lost in 2009) were ignored by the Congress.” He added, “Muslim boys are being branded as terrorists even before the trial begins. A systematic effort at maligning the community and preventing a Muslim leadership to emerge has seemingly been pursued.”

“On April 17, Muslims voted for BSP’s Abhinav Maheshwari in Churu, Independent candidate Jaswant Singh in Barmer and AAP nominee Virendra Singh in Jaipur,” said a spokesperson of the Rajasthan Muslim Front.

“The picture of the Rajasthan’s emerging polity may become clearer after the polls but the rumblings of a big change have begun,” Kayamkhani said.

Why Rajasthan Muslims are disenchanted with Congress
* Muslim voters, who form 12% of Rajasthan’s electorate of nearly 43 million people, are looking for options other than the Congress.
* They are supporting the BSP, Independents and others in about 6 seats, including Barmer, Sikar and Jaipur.
* Muslims are disenchanted with the Congress for its perceived failure to put up a strong fight against the BJP.
* 36 incidents of communal trouble took place during 5 years of the previous Congress govt. No effective action was taken against the accused.
* Previous Congress chief minister Ashok Gehlot did not constitute the Minority Finance Corporation and the Mewat Development Board and 18 district-level committees.
* The Haj Committee and Madarsa Board were constituted after four years.
* In her earlier term, the BJP’s Vasundhara Raje took some positive steps. She constituted the Urdu Committee, Mewat Development Board, Wakf Board, Minority Commission and Haj Committee.