Gujarat elections: Muslims rely on Congress but unhappy about party ‘dumping them’ for Patidars
Gujarat assembly elections 2017: The fear that BJP might go back to its hardline Hindutva agenda if it sensed trouble was forcing Congress to change its strategy.GujaratElection2017 Updated: Nov 04, 2017 07:47 IST
Has the Congress discarded secularism? It is a question that has troubled 40-year-old Sufi Anwarhusen Sheikh for some time now.
And there are many more in this Muslim ghetto, with an estimated population of five lakh, who would like a clear answer to this as they get ready to elect a new government in Gujarat.
Absence of a credible option has once again made Muslims reliant on the Congress despite resentment that the grand old party has dumped them for the influential Patidar community.
That apart, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s temple visits during his campaign in the state has also made them think that the opposition party is adopting a soft-Hindutva approach in a bid to counter the BJP.
Sheikh says the community has no issues with Gandhi’s temple run. “....But he should also visit the (Muslim) shrines,” he says, sipping tea in the premises of a steel firm, located on the service road along the Delhi-Mumbai highway.
He also realises the Congress’ dilemma, that if the party talks about Muslims, the BJP will exploit voters with the Hindutva agenda.
In 2007, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s “maut ke saudagar (merchants of death)” barb on then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi boomeranged in the assembly elections. This forced the party to avoid any mention of the 2002 anti-Muslims riots in subsequent polls.
More so now, as the party thinks it can see chinkS in the BJP’s armour which has ruled Gujarat for 22 years.
“Congress is facing a strange dilemma. If they are seen favouring the minorities, the majority community gets alienated,” says political analyst Prakash Shah. Congress spokesperson Kailash Kumar Gadhvi rejected the suggestion.
Shah, however, adds the Muslims have a “legitimate” complaint against the Congress.
“It is the only option for Muslims but for many years the party has not done much to ensure their adequate representation in mainstream politics,” he says.
The representation of Muslim legislators in the Gujarat assembly came down from 12 in 1980 to just two in 2012.
“BJP is like cyanide for us and Congress is like slow poison,” says Peerzada Mazhar Ahmed, a 50-year-old tailor who lives in the Maulana Azad Park Society.
Anwarhusen Sheikh, however, says it is not clear if the Congress will benefit by discarding KHAM, a strategy successfully implemented by former chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki by stitching a social coalition of Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim in 1980.
Though the Congress managed to shift the balance of power from the Patel-Brahmins-Baniyas, winning 149 of 182 seats, the move alienated the upper castes.
While Muslims account for 9% of the state’s 60 million-odd population, Patidars constitute 12%.
“We no longer figure in Congress’ scheme of things. P (Patidars) has replaced M (Muslims) in their KHAM strategy ….Let’s see if it works,” says Anwarhusen Sheikh.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is making its electoral debut in Gujarat but residents of Juhapura doubt its ability to make any impact.
Juhapura, which housed the biggest relief camp during the 2002 riots, is part of the Vejalpur assembly constituency that also has around two lakh Hindu voters.
The area was initially developed in 1973 by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for those who lost their homes in floods. Sarni Kamdar was the first housing society in the area.
As campaigning is yet to pick up, the usual hustle and bustle of elections is missing and no party has so far started canvassing in the area.
But the Muslims know what the burning issues will be – patriotism and nationalism – when the leaders start arriving.
“We are as nationalists as anyone else. We don’t want certificates of patriotism from anybody. I have never cheered the Pakistani cricket team in my life but still I am called a Pakistani,” says Mohammad Idrees, 30, who owns a shop at Fatehwadi.