‘Known devil’ or new equation? Karnataka’s Muslim voters weigh options
Muslims in Karnataka say they will take their chances with a “known devil” and vote for the “safe alternative” of the Congress party to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party in the May 12 assembly elections.
Syed Alhamir, a resident of Tilak Nagar in Bengaluru, insists the majority of Muslim voters will support the Congress this time as they are apprehensive that the Janata Dal (Secular) of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda could align with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after the elections.
“A known devil is better than an unknown angel. The Congress is a lesser evil as compared to other parties,” Alhamir says.
Khalil-ur-Rehman Subhani, who owns a furniture factory, agrees.
“The JD(S) has done business with the BJP in the past. And there is no doubt that the two parties have a tacit understanding even this time,” he says sipping tea in his showroom in Bengaluru’s Infantry Road.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s praise of Deve Gowda at a rally in Udupi on May 1 has strengthened that perception, adds Syed Imitiyaz, a businessman, as he joins the conversation.
Modi’s praise came in response to Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s claim that the JD(S) is a “B-team” of the BJP.
“Though the Prime Minister tried to do damage control next day, the message had already gone to the voters,” says Abdul Subhan, who runs the Shaheen Group of Educational Institutions across Karnataka.
“There exists a huge trust deficit between the Muslims and the JD(S) and such statements add fuel to the fire. Moreover, the fear factor is also pushing them to the Congress,” he adds.
Senior JD(S) leader Kunwar Danish Ali, however, dismisses the suggestion and alleges that there is an “unspoken agreement” between the Congress and the BJP to “eliminate the regional secular” forces.
“Modi is a master in exploiting the sentiments. By praising Deve Gowda ji, who is the only Kannadiga to have been the prime minister, Modi wanted to make a point that Siddaramaiah had removed his portrait from the chief minister’s chamber and exploit that sentiment,” he says.
Ali says the Congress leaders instead of wasting their energy by trying to eliminate the regional secular forces should utilise that in fighting the communal forces.
“Today, the BJP is out of power only in those states where there are strong regional forces. And the BJP is in power in states where it is in a direct fight with the Congress, which should not make this blunder of trying to eliminate the JD(S). It will be the JD(S) which will stop the BJP chariot in south Karnataka,” he adds.
To negate the perception that it might join hands with the BJP post-poll, the JD(S) has managed to secure the support of the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen headed by Hyderabad Lok Sabha MP Asaduddin Owaisi.
But Karnataka Congress leader Shakir Sanadi says the Muslims have often reposed their trust in the grand old party because of its commitment to secularism.
“They know the importance of the concept of secularism and the Congress party’s efforts to protect it,” he says.
Muslims constitute around 16% of the state’s population of 65 million and both the Congress and the JD(S) claim the community to be their traditional vote bank. While the JD(S) has fielded 17 Muslim candidates, the Congress gave tickets to 15 members of the minority community.
Out of the total 224 assembly seats, the Muslims could influence the outcome in 65 constituencies though some studies put the figure between 90 and 120. In the 20 constituencies in Bengaluru city, the Muslim voter population ranges from 10% to 50%.
However, the Muslim representation in the state assembly has declined in the past 30 years. In the outgoing House, there were only nine Muslim legislators. While the highest representation of 16 legislators was in 1978, there were only two Muslims in the state assembly in 1983 during Ramakrishna Hegde’s rule.
Imams in mosques across Karnataka are urging Muslims after every Friday prayers for the past several weeks not only to exercise their franchise in large numbers but also ensure their vote is not divided and goes to a political party which gives them a “sense of security”.
Many private organisations have also launched campaigns on social media platforms to create awareness among the Muslims and the need to vote en bloc.
Political analysts suggest that the polls this year will see strategic voting by the Muslims, who are wary of reposing their faith in other “secular” outfits.
“Though there is a broad Muslim consolidation behind the Congress, the community members might opt for JD(S) candidates in constituencies wherever they are in a strong position than the Congress contestants,” Chandan Gowda of Bengaluru-based Azim Premji University says.
Former legislator Qazi Arshad Ali of Bidar, who has written a book Karnataka Muslims and Electoral Politics and has been studying the voting pattern of the minority community, agrees.
“The options before Muslims are limited. They might go for tactical voting but one thing is clear that Muslims will support those candidates who are in a position to defeat the BJP,” Ali says.
Mangalore-based political analyst Abdussalam Puthige says Muslims will vote for the Congress, not for any of its programmes and policies or promises but to keep the BJP out of power.
“On the other hand, the JD(S) is considered to be a party of Vokaligas and that is the reason the other communities are wary of supporting it,” he said.