With the Lok Sabha elections around the corner, the communalism versus secularism debate has taken centre stage and the Muslim vote has emerged as a key issue.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its prime minister nominee Narendra Modi have come under attack from all corners, even as opinion polls predict an impressive show by the saffron brigade.
From Congress president Sonia Gandhi to Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati, politicians cutting across party lines have trained guns on Modi over the 2002 Gujarat riots under his watch as chief minister.
Adding a fresh chapter to the debate, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid in Delhi, has announced his support for the Congress. This endorsement comes three days after Gandhi met him.
Bukhari has said, “We have complaints against the Congress, but that doesn’t mean we will vote for people who want to divide the country.”
In the face of attacks, the BJP has for some time now projected a more inclusive agenda. Party chief Rajnath Singh has said he is ready to apologise for past mistakes.
But the question remains: will the Muslim community, which accounts for around 15% of the 814 million voters in India, support the BJP?
While decoding the political equations in the run-up to the elections beginning Monday, HT brings you a list of key states where Muslim votes will play a role in deciding the outcome.
With nearly a fifth of its population being Muslim, UP is a state where the community’s vote may play a decisive role. For non-BJP parties – SP, BSP and Congress – winning over the Muslim population will be a key factor.
Given the BJP’s edge, Muslims may opt for tactical voting, and the turnout is expected to be high to stop the ‘Modi wave’.
In Rajasthan, Muslims will influence the outcome in at least nine of the 25 Lok Sabha seats. But the community appeared ‘disillusioned’ by the Congress – all 16 of its Muslim candidates lost the assembly election last year. In the general elections, Muslims are likely to opt for non-Congress, non-BJP alternatives.
In West Bengal, the Muslim vote has been playing a key role for a long time. The ruling Trinamool Congress enjoys the community’s allegiance, which is only bolstered by Jama Masjid Imam’s Friday endorsement of Mamata Banerjee.
The Left Front, however, may give the Trinamool a run for its money after it fielded the most number of Muslim candidates among the state parties.
In Bihar, Muslim votes can influence outcome in at least nine seats. There is a big talk that Muslims are likely to vote in favour of the UPA, while the JD(U) could get the support of minorities where UPA candidates are considered ‘weak’.
Md Wahid Ahmad, convenor of the Bihar unit of the National Momin Congress, said “secular parties” should have fielded more Muslim candidates and popular faces.
As the Narendra Modi factor grows stronger, there is likely to be a consolidation of the minority Christian and Muslim votes behind the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala.
Minority votes could help the ruling UDF tide over the anti-incumbency factor. In most of the opinion polls in Kerala, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has been rated as the most suitable prime ministerial candidate.
In Assam, Muslim voters constitute about 35% of the electorate and play a deciding role in six of the 14 Lok Sabha constituencies. Muslim-dominated areas in Assam were regarded as Congress bastions. But since 2009, state’s All India United Democratic Front has fought the Congress for the Muslim vote pie, giving an advantage to the BJP that won four seats during the last Lok Sabha polls.
Muslim voters in Maharashtra are expected to vote in a strategic manner, like in most other states, to prevent the split of anti-BJP votes.
The Congress has given ticket to only one Muslim candidate, Hidayat Patel, from Akola in western Vidarbha. The NCP, Shiv Sena and the BJP have no Muslim candidate.
Inputs from HT Correspondents:
Ramesh Babu, Kerala; Sachin Saini, Jaipur; Digambar Patowary, Guwahati; Dharmendra Jore, Mumbai; Ashok Kumar Mishra, Patna; Avijit Ghoshal, Kolkata; M Hasan, Lucknow