Gujarat elections: Muslims isolated but still connected to Congress | assembly elections | Gujarat 2017 | Hindustan Times
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Gujarat elections: Muslims isolated but still connected to Congress

At present, there are just two Muslim MLAs in the 182-strong Gujarat legislature. The community constitutes over nine percent of the state’s population.

GujaratElection2017 Updated: Nov 21, 2017 08:42 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times, Vadodara/Bharuch
Gujarat elections,Gujarat polls,Gujarati Muslims
Juxtaposed with its over 9% share in the state’s population — or the influence it supposedly wields in 18 seats — the religious minority’s presence in the outgoing House is abysmally poor(Vipin Kumar/HT File Photo)

In electoral terms, Muslims count for little in Gujarat. Theirs was always a marginal presence in the state when compared with UP, Bihar, Maharashtra and West Bengal.

But the situation has worsened since the 1980s — the community’s representation in the assembly dwindling from
a healthy dozen to a lonely twosome.

Yes, there are just two Muslim MLAs in the 182-strong Gujarat legislature. Juxtaposed with its over nine percent share in the state’s population — or the influence it supposedly wields in 18 seats — the religious minority’s presence in the outgoing House is abysmally poor. The reasons aren’t hard to fetch. The Congress is diffident and the BJP desists from betting on Muslims. Over the past three elections, even their candidatures slipped to less than a dozen. If five out of the six fielded won in 2007, subsequent polls saw just two of the five contenders entering the assembly.

The Hindu-Muslim polarisation in Gujarat’s polity has been both overt and subterranean in the aftermath of the 2002 post-Godhra flare-up. “We’re taken for granted,” bemoaned Shafi Patel at Bharuch’s Varediya village: “Yet we aren’t upset with the Congress. We know they’re our well-wishers...” He and several others didn’t seem upset that Rahul Gandhi’s recent tour had stopovers at temples, not Muslims’ places of worship.

The reasoning Shafi gave is a fait accompli for a majority of Gujarati Muslims across Bharuch, Vadodara, Surat, Ahmedabad, Mehsana, Morbi and Rajkot. Some accept the Congress’s soft Hindutva grudgingly, others out of a sense of resignation. For most, the party’s their only option, barring a few affluent sections that are expediently supportive of the BJP. There are around 300 Sunni Muslim families in Bharuch whose individual worth is believed to be over Rs 100 crore. Having a large number of family members settled abroad, these groups are traditional Congress backers.

One among them is Ali Bhai. He said that the only time he digressed from the Congress was when he voted for VP Singh’s Janata Dal in the late eighties. The BJP has little or no support among Surti and Bharuchi Muslims settled towards the north and south of Narmada river. In 2012, the saffron party swept the five seats in Bharuch without noticeable minority vote. The story was replicated in Vadodara where it pocketed all 10 seats.

Now the party might be hard placed to defend its record in either district. A host of factors, including resentment against sitting legislators, may influence the outcome in Bharuch
and Vadodara. Residents see signs of a contest rather than a walkover in the city where Modi contested and won by a five lakh margin in 2014.

Civic facilities are in a sorry state in Vadodara, which the BJP had promised to turn into India’s Shanghai. “People here say leave alone Shanghai, return to us the city built by Sayajirao Gaekwad,” remarked a local scribe. He said the PM’s recent roadshow was a pale version of his past mobilisations. In contrast, Rahul Gandhi drew big crowds everywhere.

The game appears wide open in the five rural seats where the BJP’s victory margins were small. A lot nevertheless will depend on whether or not the Congress cuts an acceptable deal with Hardik Patel. The Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti is a factor despite it not having visible appeal in the area.

The Congress’s points of worry are many: its rickety party setup and lack of robust faces. They are the Achilles heel at which the BJP’s bound to aim the arrow. Its quiver would overflow if the Opposition party’s alliance talks fail with Hardik and smaller outfits such as the NCP. A crowded race is what the BJP desires.

vinodsharma@hindustantimes.com

First Published: Nov 20, 2017 23:20 IST