Assembly elections: Politically marginalized Gujarati Muslims refuse to be provoked

Last Updated: Fri, Dec 08, 2017 13:18 hrs
Muslim women in Lucknow appealing people of Gujarat to vote for BJP

(Image tweeted by @Sunil_Deodhar)

Muslims make around ten per cent of the state population in the poll-bound Gujarat. While every socio-religious group has garnered lots of attention from political parties, trying to attract votes of that particular caste or social group, Muslims have been completely forgotten by almost everyone.

It is not that Muslims are not being mentioned. BJP has tried to bring Muslim community in the limelight by comparing soon to be the Congress President Rahul Gandhi with Mughals. Yogi Adityanath, who has become a sort of poster boy of Hindutva politics following his spectacular win in Uttar Pradesh, suggested the other day that Rahul Gandhi’s sitting posture in a temple was akin to posture of devotees in a namaz.

This is certainly something that touches raw nerves in a communally polarized state like Gujarat. BJP’s leaders are consciously trying to bring their old narrative of communal polarization in the state to make people forget issues like GST and demonetization, disenchantment of several caste-based groups with its poll promises and severe anti-incumbency factor at play.

Patidars, who make around 14 percent of the state population, and have been the most consistent supporters of the saffron party in the state, have turned their back at the BJP. The young Patidar leaders are in the forefront of the ongoing revolt against the saffron party.

BJP seems to have belatedly, though shrewdly, realized that to overcome such dissenting vices and large-scale disenchantment with it and its government, the most useful weapon may be to once again bring into play, the communal card. Mughal, Masjid and the persona of a Muslim offering prayer in the mosque seem to be the part of the obvious projection of Muslims as the hated other.

While the Muslim hatred is being raked in Gujarat, the surprising factor in the entire Gujarat elections is the absence or the irrelevance of Muslim voter. Despite making close to ten percent of the population, they have kept a very low key profile, notwithstanding every effort by some quarters to force them to react. They haven’t reacted thus far and there are telltale signs that they have made a conscious effort to not be reactionary.

Muslim politicians and activists say they are happy to remain far away from political limelight. Instead of previous elections they have seen the Congress party ignore them completely. While Congress President in waiting, Rahul Gandhi, has been crisscrossing the politically crucial state and has visited almost every major temple in Gujarat, he hasn’t been seen visiting a single masjid or sufi shrine. This would have felt like something unimaginable in the past, but this year, this seems to be the fait accompli. This is notwithstanding the fact that the party expects to attract the majority of Muslim votes.

This ignominy of being relegated to be the nobody of the electoral politics where they are completely politically marginalized is also not attracting adverse opinion from the community inside Gujarat. They are happy to remain on the political margins the time being.

Instead of whining or despairing for being rendered irrelevant by their ‘friends’ and ‘foes’, the Muslim community seems to have realized that in order to develop and catch-up with economically and educationally developed upper caste Hindu communities, they need to work hard on their basics.

There is no denying that Muslims community in Gujarat is as enterprising as other prominent communities in the state. Muslim Patel, Kachi Memon, Memon and Khoja communities have done remarkably well not just in Gujarat, but outside Gujarat as well. Gujarati Muslims in Mumbai are among the most prosperous communities within the larger Muslim community in Mumbai and elsewhere. JS Bandukwala, a human rights activist, and a former professor of physics in Baroda University says, “Muslims are isolated and have been made politically redundant…but our irrelevance is not a bad thing. We are being left alone even though Modi fights elections best when he makes Muslims the target. Modi needs a Muslim target, but this time the Gujarati Muslims are lying low."

The same refrain can be heard by almost every other social or political activist from among the community that has seen worse in the past. It is rather surprising that the community that forms 9.7 percent of the state population is not complaining over its political marginalization. In the outgoing assembly with a total strength of 182 MLAs, there were only two Muslim MLAs. There hasn’t been any Muslim MP elected from the state in a long, long time. Not a single Muslim MP has been elected to the Lok Sabha from Gujarat in the last 28 years.

Despite their efforts to work on their economic and educational development, away from the trappings of political empowerment, certain forces want them to react. Shailesh Sotta, a BJP contestant in the ongoing assembly election from Dabhoi assembly seat in Gujarat has threatened to reduce the population of “topi and dadhiwalas”.

A Hindustan Times report quoted Sotta as saying, “If any ‘topi, daadhiwala’ (anybody wearing a cap and sporting beard) is sitting here (in the crowd), then pardon me, but there is a need to reduce their population. Many leaders asked me not to say this, as it may go against me but if 90% of people are supporting me, then why shall I stop speaking about the 10% people”? But even such obvious efforts to rouse them and force them react provocatively are not going to work this time. Muslims have seen as to how the emotional slogans of political empowerment failed to achieve anything in the past. It will remain pipe dream till mainstream political parties realize their folly and make a conscious effort to reverse the trend of keeping the community on the margins.


More columns by Syed Ubaidur Rahman:

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Indian Muslim leadership: Why the blinders need to be removed

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Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based writer and commentator. He has written several books on Muslims and Islam in India including Understanding Muslim Leadership in India.

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