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    Posted on 05 Dec 2012
    Ram Puniyani

    Who will Gujarat’s Muslims vote for?

    Ram Puniyani says the upcoming Assembly elections may not be a cake walk for BJP & Modi

    Photo: Shailendra Pandey

    CAMPAIGNING IS on in full swing for the Gujarat assembly elections this month. Both the BJP and chief minister Narendra Modi are predicting a third term for him. Modi’s media managers are selling him as the man of ‘development in the state’, and big industrial houses are pitching for his victory.

    There may be some truth to the chief minister’s PR machinery, which is why big industrialists are having a great time in Gujarat. But in complete contrast to this is the condition of the common man in the state. At least if one goes by the different indices of development such as nutritional levels of women and haemoglobin levels of pregnant women etc. Still the popular perception in large sections is that Modi will romp home and thereby stake his claim to become BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.

    But that may need more than just corporate muscle. To that end, Modi has been trying to win over sections of Muslims to his side, business and affluent class in particular. He has even convinced a few such as London-based Gujarati businessmen Zafar Sareshwala, who had filed many human rights cases against him in the International Court of Justice. Modi’s Sadbhavna meetings — where he fasted and put up a liberal face — got him many an admirers in beards and caps. However, his lie got exposed when he refused to wear a skull cap offered by a Muslim cleric, even as he put on designer caps and pagdis (head gears) by the Hindus and Jains.

    Now in an open letter, former MP Syed Shahabuddin has asked Modi to apologise for the Gujarat genocide of 2002, if he seeks Muslim votes. Shahabuddin’s letter makes it clear that failing an apology, Muslims will vote massively and unitedly for one candidate, irrespective of party or religion, who is likely to defeat the BJP in their constituency. Though tone and tenor of his letter and the letterhead has landed Shahabuddin himself in a controversy, some of the points he raises seem valid for the Muslims of Gujarat like at least 20 assembly tickets for the community, and compensation at par with the 1984 Delhi riots and rebuilding of the places of worship ravaged in the riots. The basic flaw in the letter is to presume that Modi may be amenable to these suggestions. Some may call it optimism but it is nothing short of a delusion. Human rights activist Dr JS Bandookwala had made a similar appeal to the chief minister a few years ago, without any positive outcome.

    Interestingly, Shahabuddin’s suggestion is also in contrast to what noted Islamic scholar and the liberal face of Indian Muslims, Asghar Ali Engineer feels. Engineer says though the Bohra Muslims and their religious leaders have good links with Modi for business purposes, most Bohras may not vote for Modi due to the larger picture of the community in the state. Maulana Vastanvi, who had earlier said that Muslims are doing better in Gujarat, has also said that Muslims should not vote for Modi. To some extent, this brings to the fore the confusion of the Gujarat’s Muslims. Who do they vote for? Congress’ vacillations on the communal front, its opportunism and collusion with communal forces don’t make it seem any better than the BJP, if not worse. And if both the BJP and the Congress are equally selfish in their dealings, it makes no difference who is in power. It’s true that more communal riots have taken place in Congress rule, but also true is that those responsible for these riots are BJP and its affiliates. The Congress merely colluded in these incidents or looked the other way. So while the Congress seems ‘pragmatically communal’, the BJP is ‘programmatically communal’.

    THE BJP is part of RSS combine whose agenda is a Hindu nation, which has to be worked through the liberal space offered by the Indian democracy. It is to this end that Muslims have been effectively relegated to the status of second class citizens in Gujarat. Politically marginalised, economically pushed back and facing the stepmotherly treatment from state, it is unlikely that Muslims would even think of voting for Modi. Surely, there will be some like Sareshwala, who will ask for the votes for Modi, but barring such elements, average Muslim has only suffered in the ‘Hindu nation of Gujarat’.

    While celebrations are already afoot for Modi’s victory, it’s unlikely that he will have a cake walk in Gujarat this time as apart from M factor, the deprivation of Dalits, Adivasis and other poorer sections of community is too deep to be won over by the rhetoric of Vibrant Gujarat. While psephologists are burning midnight oil to ratify Modi’s victory, the real outcome of Gujarat 2012 elections may be a surprise to many who are undermining the impact of social development indices and the scars of 2002, which remain very much painful even now!

    Ram Puniyani is a communal harmony activist based in Mumbai.
    [email protected]

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    Posted on 05 Dec 2012



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