Muslims in Madhya Pradesh, looking for more political space, say they are disappointed by the candidate lists of both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress — ahead of the November 28 assembly elections in the state.
The BJP has fielded only one Muslim candidate, Fatima Siddiqui, from Bhopal (north) in the elections to the 230-member assembly. Siddiqui is daughter of late Rasool Ahmed Siddiqui, a former state minister. The Congress has three Muslim candidates — Arif Aqueel, the sitting MLA from Bhopal (north), Hamid Haji from Burhanpur, and Arif Masood from Bhopal (Central).
Mohammad Mahir , convener of Madhya Pradesh Muslim Vikas Parishad, a non-political organisation that espouses the socio-economic development of the community, said Muslims had few expectations from the BJP, which has fielded only three Muslim candidates since 1993 (all three lost). He, however, said that they “ expected more tickets from the Congress”.
The Congress is seeking to end the three-term rule of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh in the elections.
Muslims have only one member (Congress’s Aqueel) from their community in the assembly even though they make up roughly 8-9% of the state’s 78 million population, say political analysts. In 2013, while the Congress gave tickets to five Muslims, the BJP fielded only Arif Beg, who lost to the Congress’s Aqueel in Bhopal North.
In 2008, the Congress gave tickets to five Muslim candidates and only Aqueel won from Bhopal North. Bhopal-based advocate Sajid Ali, who was also the Congress candidate from Bhopal in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, said: “We need Muslims to represent Muslims. At present, Madhya Pradesh does not have a national-level Muslim leader who commands instant loyalty, for which we have to blame the Congress leaders whom we have traditionally backed and also ourselves. ”
The reason for scepticism is natural. The Congress recently announced the post of Madhya Pradesh PCC (Pradesh Congress Committee) president and four working presidents – none of them were Muslims.
“This is all due to so-called soft-Hindutva where Congress leaders are wearing their religion on their sleeves,” says Mahir.
Congress leader Arif Masood says that “while it is true that BJP has made some penetration among Muslims, they are still eyed with suspicion”.
In response to a question on whether the party gave fewer tickets to Muslims because of its soft-Hindutva approach, Congress spokesperson J P Dhanopia said: “There is no soft Hindutva. Tickets have been given to candidates who have potential to win.”
The lone Muslim voice in the assembly, and four-time Congress MLA Aqueel ,is more positive about the chances of Muslims getting party tickets. “There are nine seats in which Muslims are around 50% of the population and there are 10 seats in which they have population of 40,000 to 50,000 and can prove to be decisive during elections,” he said.