In 1971, the Congress party had given Rajasthan its first Muslim chief minister — Barkatullah Khan — but today, three decades later, the same party is struggling to just retain this constituency.
Muslims comprise 10% of the state’s population, but form a critical chunk of the Congress support base and their sheer indifference, if not desertion, could upset the Congress’ equations in the state.
Apparently, the Muslims are still furious over the Gopalgarh riots and hold the chief minister Ashok Gehlot responsible for the ‘firing on the namazis’ and the consequent mismanagement. Rajasthan Muslim Forum secretary Mohammed Nazimuddin had earlier told HT, “Be it Gopalgarh or Soorwal, the accused are still at large and officials responsible have been given a clean chit.”
Ten persons of the Meo Muslim community were killed in communal violence and police firing in the town of Gopalgarh in Bharatpur district in September 2011. Earlier that year, police inspector Phool Mohammad was burnt alive by an angry mob at Soorwal town of Sawai Madhopur district after a youth who had climbed a water tank, jumped from it and died.
GIVE AND TAKE
The three prominent Muslim organisations active in state politics are the Milli Council, the Rajasthan Muslim Forum and the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind.
“In 25 assembly constituencies, Muslims with a population of 15 to 20% play a decisive role, especially when the victory margin is 3 to 4%. They turn passive when angry and this could be detrimental to the Congress’ electoral prospects,” said Mohammad Salim Engineer of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind. According to Engineer, winnability is not an issue, as 12 of 17 Muslim candidates had won in 2008. Two of them were representing the BJP.
“We have demanded the political parties give us 25 of the 200 assembly seats and quota in jobs in lieu of our support,” said Abdul Latif of the Milli Council. The council was holding regular meetings to monitor key issues and would be releasing an advisory closer to elections, he said.
The displeasure with the Congress government notwithstanding, Muslim leaders admit they have little option but to support the Congress in a bi-polar state. “Vasundhara Raje is not so communal, but the BJP is controlled by the RSS. Muslims will not at any cost support the BJP even if they give us tickets,” said Engineer.
The smaller political groups in the state are also battling for their own survival. Some social activists and Jammat-e-Islami Hind are currently toying with the idea of releasing their public manifesto, besides fielding some candidates on seats they consider strong.
All this is bad news for the Congress.
Activist DI Khan, who often resolves petty Hindu-Muslim tangles in Udaipur, said, “The Congress is losing support as it has neither fielded the right Muslim candidates, nor rewarded the leaders who enjoy a clout in the community. Muslims will continue to support the party but their voting percentage can slip.”