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|February 24, 1998|
BJP seeks out Muslim support
Haresh Pandya in Rajkot
Will the Bharatiya Janata Party be able to break the jinx this time round? While veteran Congress leader Manoharsinh Jadeja is optimistic that a large number of Muslims will vote for him, the BJP remains hopeful about the community's support after a Muslim leader joined the party recently.
The BJP has been wooing the Muslims for quite some time now, and its efforts bore fruit when a young Muslim leader, Kadar Salot, joined the party along with his supporters a couple of months ago.
There was a small hitch, though. A swami was there to welcome Salot and his followers. He used the word Hindu for those who had joined the party. Salot walked away in a huff, only to return a few hours later after the swami clarified that what he meant was anyone joining the mainstream was a Hindu.
Salot, who is said to have considerable influence over Muslims residing in the Ramnath Para area of Rajkot, which falls under the Rajkot-1 constituency, was soon made president of the BJP minority cell. Jadeja is the Congress candidate from the Rajkot-1 constituency.
Ahmed Miyan, a private sector employee, believes that the BJP may be able to win over at least one-fourth of the community in Rajkot. He claims that Muslim leaders are joining the BJP not because they trust its bona fides, but due to the desire of some aspiring leaders to participate in public life.
Miyan was particularly critical of the Congress, in which incumbent Muslim leaders do not allow the youngsters to rise. Young leaders are keen to take on responsibilities, but the older generation refuses to give them a chance, he says.
Miyan feels that this phenomenon is occurring in other communities also, especially among the other backward classes.
Hardline Muslims are, however, still not reconciled to the BJP. Political circles are abuzz with rumours that local religious heads are likely to issue a fatwa (religious edict) directing the Muslims to vote for the Congress.
Whether such an appeal is made or not, it is certain that increased political rivalry within the Muslim community may lead to higher turnout of voters with leaders from both sides seeking to demonstrate their clout and increase their political influence.
Manoharsinh Jadeja rules out any change of heart among the community simply because a few Muslim leaders joined the BJP.
"A frustrated leader cannot influence the thinking of Muslims who have not been convinced by the BJP's so-called moderate face," says Jadeja.. "On the contrary, I expect that Muslims will turn out in large numbers to vote for the Congress as the situation is now different," he says.
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