Minority votes a major attraction for secular parties in poll bound Gujarat

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The Bharatiya Janata Party, ruling the state for more than two decades now, is not seen as a viable option for Muslim voters which have a sizeable presence in over two dozen seats in the 182 member state Assembly.

Ahmedabad: There is a scramble for minority votes in poll-bound Gujarat as Muslim population of the state has more options of secular parties to vote for in the high-stakes 2022 Assembly elections. In earlier elections, the Congress was considered the only major contender for Muslim votes in Gujarat, but this time the main opposition party is facing stiff competition from smaller outfits to get minority electors on its side.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ruling the state for more than two decades now, is not seen as a viable option for Muslim voters which have a sizeable presence in over two dozen seats in the 182-member state Assembly. The Congress is facing competition from Hyderabad-headquartered All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and some other parties for support in polls from this section of the society.

State Congress president Jagdish Thakor, in a bid to ensure the Muslim votes stay with the party, repeated a 2006 controversial statement of then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who had said minorities must have the first claim on resources of the country. Thakor remark in July triggered a backlash from right-wing outfits who accused him of indulging in appeasement politics for votes.

The Congress later claimed Thakor’s statement had been distorted. AIMIM head and Lok Sabha MP Assadudin Owaisi has frequently visited Gujarat to garner Muslim votes, while the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), too, is working silently to woo the community. Till the last elections (held in 2017) Muslims did not have a choice as in Gujarat the fight has been between two parties (Congress and BJP).

Now, more political parties have come here for the 2022 elections. Multi-cornered electoral contest is a good thing in a democracy, said Mujahid Nafees, convener, Minority Coordination Committee, a non-political organization. This will end the attitude of taking the Gujarat Muslims for granted which used to be the case so far. People will have more choices. This situation will make every party come and ask us for our vote, he said.

Owaisi, during his past public meetings in the state, had accused both the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress of ignoring minorities in the state. The Lok Sabha MP has especially targeted the Congress, saying the country’s oldest party had treated the minority community as mere vote banks. Owaisi has toured the state three times in the recent past and visited Ahmedabad, Dehgam and Kutch where minority population is concentrated. The Congress recently appointed its MLA Kadir Pirzadda as working president of the Gujarat unit in an attempt to keep intact the vote of Muslims that it has been receiving elections after elections.

It was at a function organized on July 20 to felicitate Pirzada after his new appointment that Thakor reiterated Manmohan Singh’s statement on minorities having the first claim on the country’s resources. We faced (electoral) losses due to this statement, but we stand by it even today, Thakor had said. Nafees said the Congress statement proves they have realised they cannot take Muslims for granted. What Muslims of Gujarat want is inclusion and constitutional rights, he said.

The Minority Coordination Committee convener said said his organization will put before political parties various demands of the Muslim community ahead of the elections. We have decided that we will put forward our demands of inclusion and constitutional rights in front of each political party. We will also invite them for an all-party meet and list demands of the Muslim community, said Nafees.

He said they will then observe which of their demands have been accepted by parties and included in their pre-poll manifestos. This will allow minority voters to take an informed decision on whom to support in elections, Nafees said. In the overall state population of 6.5 crore, Muslims account for roughly 11 per cent and have a sizeable presence in around 25 Assembly seats. Pirzada, working president of the Gujarat Congress, said in the past, his party had formed governments in the state with overwhelming support from Muslim voters.

If a community with 3-4 per cent population can demand their representation, why should we, being 11 per cent of the population, not demand our representation? he asked. Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi dismissed the AAP and the AIMIM as B-teams of the BJP. They are being used to divide opposition votes and make the BJP win again, Doshi said. He was confident that like in the past the minority community will overwhelmingly vote for the Congress in the upcoming polls, too. Some feel the Congress has seized to be the automatic choice for Muslim voters and that the AIMIM will make a mark this time around.

The Congress support base is declining in minority-dominated areas. People are backing the AIMIM here, said Zaved Khan Pathan, a businessman in the Mirzapur area of Ahmedabad dealing in floor tiles. He maintained AIMIM candidate will win from minority-dominated seats of Gujarat. Another resident of the Mirzapur area of Ahmedabad, Akbar Qureshi, a scrap dealer, said the BJP and the Congress often field tainted candidates. That is the reason people are fed up with the two main political parties and are looking for other options, Qureshi said. Assembly elections in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are due by the year-end. (PTI)

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