Gandhinagar: In the midst of a direct contest between the two arch rivals, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress both are apparently racing against each other to win the support of the Muslim community, and to do so they are fielding more and more Muslim candidates in the upcoming local body elections in Gujarat.
While the BJP - known for its hate agenda against the community, has fielded more than 500 Muslims, the Congress has roped in about 800 candidates from the largest minority group in India for the elections to 323 local self-government bodies in Gujarat to be held on November 22 and 29.
"The experiment of fielding more Muslim candidates in the 2010 elections had not only worked in favour of the party but had also helped to 'build bridges' between the community and the party", Gujarat BJP president, R.C. Faldu, stated while reasoning the party's move, which is against its known policy.
In the 2010 civic elections, 250 Muslims out of the total 300 Muslim candidates of the BJP had won. This time, the party has fielded 40 per cent more Muslim candidates, and is sure that about 400-450 of them will win the polls.
In Somnath alone the BJP has fielded 10 Muslim candidates - the highest so far - despite opposition from local leadership. The Saffron party has also fielded 04 Muslim candidates in Ahmedabad, 06 in Jamnagar and 02 in Rajkot for the municipal corporation elections.
In Vadodara, the BJP has not fielded any Muslim, but the Congress has given party tickets to 05 Muslims. All 08 Muslim candidates of Congress in 2010 lost by small margins. Currently, the Vadodra civic body has no Muslim corporator on board.
As many as 23 Muslims are contesting the election on the Congress party ticket in Ahmedabad where the present civic body has a total of 24 Muslim corporators. In the 2010 elections, Congress had won in 38 wards of Ahmedabad, and most of these seats are dominated by Muslims.
Other local bodies where the Congress party has fielded Muslim candidates are Surat, Bharuch, Jamnagar, Bhuj and Kutch areas of Gujarat where the Muslim community comprises over 9 per cent of the total population of the state.
Congress adopted a strange policy in Godhra, the town having a sizeable Muslim population. Here instead of giving party tickets to Muslim candidates, Congress is supporting Muslims contesting as independents.
Polling will be held first on November 22 for the municipal corporations of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Rajkot, Bhavnagar and Jamnagar, all of which are controlled by the BJP, and have 9.49 million eligible voters. The November 29 voting will be for 230 taluka (tehsil) panchayats, 56 nagarpalikas (municipalities) and 31 district panchayats. The vote count is due on December 2.
There are 3.66 million voters in the municipalities, while the taluka panchayats account for the largest electorate of 22.3 million voters. The mandate from the taluka panchayat areas is considered crucial since they comprise a mix of urban and rural population.
At present, the BJP controls 150 taluka panchayats, 42 municipalities and 30 district panchayats, excluding that of tribal-dominated Tapi in south Gujarat which is with the Congress.
The 2015 civic elections in Gujarat however are acid test for Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister of Gujarat Anandiben Patel. While Modi is receiving flak from own party men after the humiliating defeat in Bihar, Anandiben Patel is worried because she is accused of poor handling of the situation after Hardik Patel's movement to demand reservation for Patels.
The Congress, on the other hand, seems to be having upper hand in these elections after the Patel community openly extended support to the party, which is wiped out of many civic bodies especially in the urban areas and is struggling to regain the lost ground in the state.