By Rasheeda Bhagat
March 31, 2014
Singularly sidelined The Indian political system has largely turned its back on Muslims, and women RAMESH SHARMA
Despite the rhetoric, representation in the House has fallen. Gujarat has not returned a single Muslim MP for the last 25 years
The gloves are off. The BJP, which has of late been making lukewarm, noises about inclusive growth for all and communal harmony, has not fielded a single Muslim candidate from its Karmabhoomi of Uttar Pradesh.
Here it is contesting 78 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats, leaving two for its junior ally, the Apna Dal.
Barring the Nehru-Gandhi bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareilly, where the party will go for the jugular and field high-profile candidates to take on Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, candidates have been announced for 75 constituencies — not a single one is Muslim.
Instead, making a serious bid for the OBC vote this time, the party has tried to select its candidates from among the upper castes, Dalits and OBCs.
The Congress, on the other hand, has tried to strike a fine balance between Muslims, OBCs, Dalits, Brahmins and Thakurs in the 69 seats it is contesting. It is another matter that the Congress doesn’t need communal, venom-spewing candidates such as Imran Masood, who threatened to “chop” the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to pieces, and for which reason is now in the cooler.
Against 12 women fielded by the Congress in UP, the BJP has nominated 10.
The Congress is yet to announce who will take on Modi from Varanasi. On Monday, Congress veteran Rashid Alvi wrote to Sonia Gandhi seeking nomination from Varanasi and expressing confidence that the city would prove its “secular” credentials and help him defeat Modi.
The other name being mentioned here is that of AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh, who has not appeared enthusiastic about taking on Modi at the hustings. A television debate with Modi is another matter, as he hopes to exploit the BJP strongman’s poor record on historical facts and figures.
UP Muslims Snubbed
Muslims, who make up about 17 per cent of the population in UP, are chafing at this insult, specially after top BJP leaders such as its president Rajnath Singh and general secretary Arun Jaitley had recently reached out to them, appealing for “one chance” after the people having tried and been “betrayed” by the Congress for decades.
Questioned by a TV channel about the total absence of Muslims from its UP list, Singh ascribed the reason to “winnability”. He said the BJP had given tickets to Muslims in other states (three in Kashmir!) and appealed to all “our Muslim brothers and sisters to join us; we will not allow hatred to prosper”!
It’s another matter that in the present Lok Sabha, seven Muslim candidates had qualified under the “winnability” factor and actually won — three from the Congress (including External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid from Farrukhabad and Mohammed Azharuddin from Moradabad).
The other four are from the Bahujan Samaj Party. Small wonder then that in western UP, where Muzaffarnagar recently saw bloody communal clashes, there is a huge possibility of Muslim votes shifting to the BSP from both the SP and the Congress. Incidentally, in 2004, Uttar Pradesh had sent 10 Muslim MPs to the Lok Sabha.
Educated Muslims in UP have been talking about the BJP openly showing its contempt by not even giving a token seat to a Muslim candidate. The argument is that it is not as though the party expects to win all the 78 seats it is contesting. The most optimistic expectation is 40-45 seats.
“Agar Naam Ke Vastey Bhi Kisi Ek Mushkil Seat Se Bhi Ticket De Detey Toh Musalmanon Ko Tasalli Milti(Had they given one ticket to a Muslim for a difficult seat, even as a symbolic gesture, Muslims would have found some comfort),” says Mohammed Afasr, a cloth merchant from Lucknow. “When Rajnath Singh makes a casual apology for past mistakes, he does it only for Muslim votes, nothing else,” he fumes.
Incidentally the BJP’s Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi had earlier contested from UP in 1998, but lost in 1999. And Shahnawaz Husain, the other Muslim face of the BJP, is a sitting MP from Bihar.
Politically Barren Gujarat
Coming to Gujarat, no prizes for guessing: there isn’t a single Muslim candidate in the BJP stable. Worse, Gujarat hasn’t sent a single Muslim to the Lok Sabha since 1989, that is, for the last 25 years!
According to The Siasat Daily, in the first election held in 1962 in the newly formed State of Gujarat, only two Muslims contested and one — Zoharaben Chavada — was elected on a Congress ticket. In the next election (1967), not a single Muslim was nominated by any party. 1971 saw the failure of the lone Muslim candidate in Broach, which had about 17 per cent Muslim voters.
In 1977 two Muslim MPs were elected: the ill-fated Ehsan Jafri from Ahmedabad and Ahmedbhai Mohamadbhai from Broach.
The latter went on to win in the next two elections as well before losing in 1989, after which this State has been politically barren for Muslims.
Significantly, even Orissa where Naveen Patnaik broke away from the NDA in 2004 over the BJP’s questionable secular credentials did not send a single Muslim MP to the 15th Lok Sabha.
In 2009, the total number of Muslim MPs in the House came down from 35 to 30, accounting for a mere 5 per cent representation of a group constituting over 13 per cent of the Indian population.
Of these, four were from Jammu and Kashmir!
Modi’s admirers on Twitter have lapped up Rashid Alvi’s desire to contest from Varanasi, speculating on how he will split the 3 lakh Muslim votes in the constituency, which has over 16 lakh votes.
Until now a good section of Varanasi’s Muslim voters have been cosying up to AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal.
Said one tweet: Agar Aap Ko Bahaduri Dikhani Hei To Jungle Mein Sher Se Lado, Ya Phir Chunao Me Modi Se (If you want to display courage, either challenge a lion in the jungle or Modi in the elections.)
Another tweet commented that while Digvijay Singh merely washed his hands, Alvi had actually taken a deep dive into the anti-Modi Ganga river.