As Gujarat braces up for the second and final phase of its assembly elections, a section of the people comprising nearly one-tenth of the population feel left out of the political discourse and cacophony of the campaigns which lasted for over a month.
Though people may differ about the reasons behind the phenomenon, there is agreement amongst all Muslims comprising nine to 12 per cent of Gujarat’s population have been side-lined in the election narrative this time.
While the ruling BJP is clear in their thinking that there should not be any appeasement of any community, the ‘secular’ Congress too has cleverly steered clear of the Muslims during their campaigning this time despite its tallest leader from Gujarat being Ahmed Patel.
Except Ahmedbhai, as he is fondly called by his party men, there was no Muslim leader visible among the Congress campaigners despite many urban clusters like Surat, Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Junagadh, Jamnagar, Porbandar and Bhavnagar having sizable Muslim population.
“Muslims have been ignored as both the parties are busy in cornering Hindu votes which has been divided now”, lawyer and human rights activist Shamshad Khan Pathan told The Statesman.
The Congress is pursuing a ‘soft Hindutva’ policy and thus needs to stay away from Muslims, Pathan said, adding that the BJP needs to woo the Hindus more as its solid Patel vote bank has got fragmented this time.
The Congress ‘fear’ of being seen as ‘pro-Muslim’ was vindicated when the party had rushed to deny any move to make Ahmed Patel the chief minister as soon as posters with that claim appeared in Surat localities with sizable Patel presence.
Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Gujarat politics can guess that the purpose of the posters claiming Ahmed Patel as chief minister candidate was to scare the section of Patels who have decided to vote for the grand old party due to the atrocities on them in wake of their agitation demanding reservations.
“Muslims are upset with the Congress, but they have no option”, says minority rights activist Mujaheed Nafees who thinks that there is a paradigm shift in campaign style this time.
“Trapped in ‘soft Hindutva’, the Congress has kept the Muslims out of the political discourse”, said Mujaheed adding that the strategy has prevented communal polarisation.
But a section of Muslims would love to be left alone, out of the political narrative so that they can carry on with their life and livelihood in peace. That may be the strategic reason behind many Muslims with Fez caps and burqas attending ruling BJP’s meetings and rallies and, maybe, casting their votes too.
Nevertheless, community’s activists insist that such Muslims in Gujarat would be only a miniscule in number.