Gujarat's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manage the
unthinkable and garner Muslim votes when the state goes to the
polls next month? The party is certainly hoping that the Muslim
community, comprising almost 10 percent of the population, will
forget the volatile past but has done little to win back the
confidence of what is a valuable 'vote bank'.
As Chief Minister Narendra Modi makes a third bid for power, the
BJP at the national and state levels acknowledges the importance
of getting the Muslim vote. But party leaders are evasive when
asked what was being done to woo the Muslim vote.
The refrain is that their party's poll strategy is not
community-specific. Instead, they are fighting on the poll plank
of development and good governance.
Gujarat's Muslim community constitutes 9.89 percent of the state's
60 million population. They have historically experienced riots at
regular intervals, including in 2002 when at least 1,000 people,
mostly Muslims, were killed.
"The Gujarat BJP's strategy will be for all six crore Gujaratis,
including Muslims," Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat Parshottam Rupala
Minister Jay Narayan Vyas, who holds multiple portfolios, echoed
Rupala: "Our slogan is 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas' (Participation
and progress for all). The BJP has been working for the progress
and development of all Gujaratis, irrespective of caste or
community. And our poll strategy will be likewise."
Agreed BJP spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi: "Good governance is
our poll plank."
But behind the scenes, BJP planners, it is learnt, are trying
their best to woo Muslims. They have to, for demography and
delimitation dictate so.
Muslims can influence the outcome of the elections in at least 35
of Gujarat's 182 constituencies. In 10 constituencies, the Muslim
vote is more than 25 percent. Five of these 10 constituencies lie
in Gujarat's largest city, Ahmedabad: Jamalpur-Khadia (61
percent), Dani Limda (48 percent), Dariapur (46 percent), Vejalpur
(35 percent) and Bapunagar (28 percent).
There are 25 other constituencies where the Muslim component is
more than 15 percent. Of these, seven have more than 20 percent
Muslim vote: Godhra, Wankaner, Abdasa, Mandvi (Kutch), Siddhpur,
Somnath and Surat (East).
The party is hoping some of the steps it has taken will show
The head of its minority cell, Mehboob Ali Chishti, aka Mahebub
Ali Bavasaheb, is from the liberal Sunni Barelvi sect that has a
large following in the state. As the December polls draw closer,
Bavasaheb has been exhorting Muslims, especially Barelvis, to vote
for the BJP and 'share in Gujarat's development'.
In recent days, the BJP has bagged two influential Muslim faces:
Congress spokesperson Asifa Khan and retired IPS officer A.I.
But will just this be enough?
"I think there is a major change in the mindset of Gujarat's
Muslims. Till now they have been taken for granted by the
Congress. But as they witness the benefits of development that the
BJP rule has been bringing to the state, they might just switch
sides this time," said Naqvi.
What about tickets? BJP circles in Gandhinagar are abuzz with
chatter that Narendra Modi has decided to commit 'sacrilege' by
fielding Muslim candidates this time. The party had not done so in
the 2002 and 2007 polls and no clear answer is forthcoming this
"A poll ticket is not a guarantee of the community's political
importance or presence. Parties give tickets to Muslims in several
states. But that is just to cash in on Muslim votes. The Muslims
who are elected are just 'goonga guddas'. They don't raise
community issues at all," said Naqvi.
Ultimately though, it all boils down to acceptance.
"All these manoeuvres won't work for the BJP until it expresses
regret over 2002. Until then, Muslims won't accept it," said
former Gujarat University political science professor Dinesh
Given the trajectory of events in the party, that is unlikely to
(Rajat Ghai can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )