Is Not Involving Muslims During Election in Gujarat Becoming A Norm?

By Abdul hafiiz lakhani:

Gujarat election is over and we all know how close a fight it was between Congress and BJP. Under the leadership of PM Modi, BJP once again registered a majority by securing 99 seats out of 182 Assembly seats. The saffron party might have won, but after many years Congress, in Modi land has exhibited a tremendous fighting spirit to win 80 seats. Thereby, emerging as a strong opposition in the Hindutva laboratory — Gujarat.

The electoral victory of BJP reinforces that PM Modi continues being the most potent weapon in its armoury. And the common refrain that echoed throughout the election campaign was — “Congress is fighting well but BJP will form the government.” This was popular notion or hunch was confirmed when the election result was declared. Congress, undoubtedly has improved its tally since 2012, but the grand old party has had to be content with being the opposition, albeit the strongest in many years, in the state. Every poll result has its reasons and lessons, and also indicates as to what worked and what didn’t.

Interestingly, while Congress strengthened its presence in Modi’s citadel, for the first time, Muslims felt isolated and invisible, during an Assembly election. There was no role for them to play. BJP not giving a single ticket to Muslims, constituting 9 per cent of the Gujarat population, was not unprecedented. But Congress did not raise the Muslim issues for the first time during the election campaign.

Congress kept Muslims out from the political discourse out of fear of polarising votes. The grand old party was well aware of the fact that any polarisation would have worked against them as it did during the 2002, 2007 and 2012 Assembly elections. BJP win threatens to marginalise the Muslims, further. The trend of not involving Muslims in Assembly or Lok Sabha election may become an acceptable norm.This new rule of the game may have an adverse impact on social harmony.

Abdul Hafiz Lakhani, editor of the popular fortnightly, Gujarat Siyasat, points out that the near-absence of any minority discourse in the high-octane campaign and the silence imposed on minority organizations in raising their demands left the hard-pressed Muslims disinterested in the crucial assembly polls, thereby reducing their turnout by four per cent.

“I congratulate the Muslims of Gujarat for showing their maturity in voting patterns and their refusal to be treated as a captive vote bank of any particular party”, said Lakhani, adding that the Congress made an ideological blunder by playing on soft Hindutva.

Indeed, during his whistle-stop tours, Rahul Gandhi, the sixth generation Congress president from the Nehru-Gandhi family, visited 27 Hindu temples. But, in none of his 30 jam-packed public meetings throughout Gujarat, did he utter a word about the sorry plight of Muslims, who have been reduced to the position of being second-class citizens living in ghettos. Neither is there any jobs available for Muslims of Gujarat.

On the other hand, PM Modi, BJP’s one and only star campaigner, purposefully hurled disparaging anti-Muslim innuendos in his every rabble-rousing speech and succeeded in consolidating Hindu votes in minority-dominated areas. To tell the truth, BJP lead was as large as 40 per cent in constituencies where Muslims formed about 20 per cent of the population in the two-phase elections, held between on December 9 and 14.

Muslim votes was down to 68.59 per cent in comparison to its 72.17 per cent in 2012. Muslims form 9.67 per cent of Gujarat’s population, and play a significant role in 30 out of all 182 seats. Three out of six Muslim candidates fielded by the Congress party in the Assembly elections have emerged as the winners in the electoral battle. The number of Muslim MLAs in the previous Assembly was two.

Gayasuddin Sheikh, MLA from Dariapur seat in Ahmedabad seat, defeated former minister and BJP candidate Bharat Barot by 6,187 votes. While Sheikh secured 63,712 votes, Barot was second with 57,525 votes. The contest was a repeat of the 2012 polls when Barot had lost with a margin of 2,600 votes.

Congress MLA and the party’s candidate from Wankaner seat, Mohammed Javid Pirzada, defeated BJP candidate Jitu Somani with a margin of over 1,300 votes. Pirzada got 72,588 votes, while Somani secured 71,227 votes.

Imran Khedawala, Congress candidate from Jamalpur-Khadia seat in Ahmedabad, defeated the two-term sitting MLA and BJP candidate Bhushan Bhatt by over 29,300 votes. Khedawala got 75,346 votes, as compared with 46,007 votes for Bhatt. Khedawala was seen as having the upper hand in the contest after former MLA Sabir Kabliwala’s withdrawal from the contest.

The three Muslim candidates fielded by Congress lost the elections. Suleman Patel, the nominee from Vagra seat in Bharuch lost with a margin of 2,370 votes in a close contest against sitting MLA and BJP candidate Arunsinh Rana.

Congress nominee Adam Chaki gave a tough fight from Bhuj seat to BJP MLA Nimaben Acharya, but fell short. Chaki had a big lead against the sitting MLA in the initial rounds, but fell behind in the race in later stages to lose with a margin of over 14,000 votes.

Iqbal Patel, the Congress’s nominee from Surat West seat, suffered the biggest defeat among the minority candidates. He lost with a margin of 77,800 votes to BJP MLA Purnesh Modi.

One notable thing, which has not been covered by media houses is that BJP tasted defeat at a dozen constituencies where PM Narendra Modi conducted public rallies during the poll campaign. BJP ministers Shankar Chaudhary and Jasha Barad lost Vav and Somnath constituencies respectively where Modi had delivered scathing speeches to woo the voters. Independent candidate Ratansinh Rathod defeated BJP’s Manoj Patel in Lunawada seat of central Gujarat where Modi had held public meetings.

PM Modi took command of campaigning in the last week of November, and held over 30 rallies across Gujarat. Each public rally covered around five assembly seats. BJP candidate Yogesh Patel defeated Congress’ Kanti Sodhaparma in Anand despite Modi making an appeal to the public to vote for Patel. BJP stalwart and former minister Dileep Sanghani lost Dhari where Modi held a public meeting on November 27. The PM had held public meetings at Junagadh in Saurashtra but BJP lost four of the five seats here. Its six-time MLA Mahendra Mashru lost from Junagadh City.

Similarly, at Morbi, where Modi held a public rally in November-end, BJP’s five-time MLA Kanti Amrutiya lost to Congress’ Brijesh Merja. The nine constituencies where BJP lost despite public meetings being held by Modi are Jasdan in Rajkot, Dhari in Amreli, Somnath (Prachi) in Gir-Somnath, Junagadh City, Dhandhuka in Ahmedabad, Lunawada in Mahisagar, Dharmapur in Valsad, Vav in Banaskantha, Anand City in Anand district, Patan town in Patan, Morbi city in Morbi district. Jasdan in Rajkot continued to resist BJP’s efforts to make inroads here. Despite Modi campaigning Cong candidate Kunvarji Bavalia won by 9,277 votes.