Will Muslim voters be game changer on some seats?
By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani / Ahmedabad
With elections round the corner, political heat in Gujarat is going up. Unlike many other states, Muslims have voted for the Congress Party in large number in Gujarat from 1962 to 2012 Assembly elections. Taking advantage of this voting trend, BJP has always projected the Congress as Muslim appeaser and anti-to-Gujarat. There was an interesting change in the BJP’s campaign strategy in the last Assembly election. For the first time in 2012, Narendra Modi tried to overtly reach out to the Mulsim voters by launching Sadhbhawna mission and observing 36 one-day fasts in different parts of the Gujarat and manage to mobilise a section of elite Muslims at his rallies. Ironically, some Muslims have shifted to BJP in this Assembly elections
But contrary to the previous election, neither Narendra Modi nor BJP is making a direct appeal to the Muslims. Instead, the party is using its minority cell members from across India to campaign for BJP in Gujarat in 2017.
Meanwhile, sources said the BJP is also trying to woo the Muslims via the Rashtriya Muslim Manch, an arm of the RSS, and an assortment of nearly 50 Muslim clergy had arrived arrive in Gujarat from various BJP-ruled States in the run-up to the polls.Muslims have largely kept aloof from the BJP in Gujarat, particularly after the 2002 riots.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then State chief minister and “Hindu Hriday Samrat”, had famously refused to wear a skull cap from a Muslim delegation during his three-day “Sadbhavna” fast in Ahmedabad in 2011. The BJP has not fielded a Muslim candidate for years in many States.
Traditionally, 6-8 per cent Muslims in Gujarat had always voted for the BJP before and in immediate years after 2002. For long, a sizable number of Shia Muslim sects engaged in mercantile occupations like Dawoodi Bohra voted for the BJP. Similarly, Sunni Muslims have also given their tacit support to BJP candidates in many Assembly constituencies. The 2012 elections already witnessed a visible upsurge in Muslim support for the BJP even when none of the 182 candidates was a Muslim.
The decline of Congress in the state frustrated the Muslims. A majority of Muslims felt their inability to defeat BJP on their own due to the consolidation of Hindu votes. As a result, Muslims in Hindu dominant constituencies publicly supported the BJP to gain the material advantage from the local MLA and seek security in return. economically poor Muslims and those living in mixed localities have voted for BJP.
The most interesting trend in 2017 is the way Congress and BJP are contesting the election with the relatively common strategy of caste and community polarisation as they cannot survive electorally without it. There is every possibility that the mobilisation on religious wedge issues will speed up with the active engagement of both the parties till the Election Day.
An independent analysis based on statistics would reveal that in 2012 Assembly polls, BJP indeed snatched a good few Muslim-dominated seats from the Congress (Jamalpur-Khadia; new seat Vejalpur; Karjan; Vagra), but it must also be noted that this election was held for the first time after delimitation and Muslim votes have been divided.
They do not form the critical mass in any of these seats to offer a make-or-break result to any particular candidate. Looking at the final outcome of the victory or loss of the party, one may be tempted to believe Modi’s claim but for a scientific understanding of community-wise voting pattern, only a close analysis of booth-wise break-up can give a fair understanding.
In terms of seats it has been a downward slide for the BJP. The saffron party won 127 seats in 2002 which got reduced to 117 in 2007 and 115 in 2012. The vote share for the BJP has also declined in the last 10 years; from a close to half of all votes polled in 2002, BJP could manage to get 48% of all votes in 2012.
In the 2012 assembly elections, only five Muslims were in the fray, out of whom two were returned to the House by the electorate.
This is a sharp fall as compared to 1980 when Muslim representation in the Assembly stood at 10%, equivalent to the percentage population of the minority community in the state. Three Rajya Sabha MPs from Gujarat at the time were also Muslims.
Today, Ahmed Patel, senior Congress leader and close aide of party chief Sonia Gandhi, is the only Muslim MP from Gujarat. Patel had won by a wafer-thin margin in the fiercely contested election earlier this year.
Interestingly, Patel was one of the very few Congress candidates to buck the anti-Emergency wave in 1977 to win Lok Sabha elections from Bharoch in south Gujarat.There is no Muslim representation from Gujarat in the current Lok Sabha.
Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi, however, claimed that his party is of the view that Muslims should be given tickets in areas where there is a possibility of them winning the elections is high. “The party gives representation to all sections of the society,” he added.