While the Congress is not willing to campaign in Muslim areas, the BJP encourages Muslims to attend its public meetings, reports Archis Mohan.
As the Congress embraces "soft" Hindutva in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday reached out to the Muslim community in the state.
In Bharuch, Modi accused the Congress of stoking a Hindu-Muslim divide. He said Bharuch and Kutch, two districts with significant Muslim populations, are economically the fastest growing districts of Gujarat.
The PM went on to say how during the Congress rule, celebrating festivals came with the apprehension of violence.
The PM’s comments come on the heels of a finely-tuned Bharatiya Janata Party outreach campaign among the minority as well as the majority communities in Gujarat, which has the Congress worried.
According to Congress workers as well as activists, the feedback is increasingly that several in the Muslim community, even if they do not vote for the BJP, might not turn up in adequate numbers to vote for Congress candidates.
Of the 43.3 million people eligible to cast their votes in the state in the forthcoming assembly polls, Muslims make a bit over nine per cent of the electorate. The state will see elections on December 9 and 14.
According to internal estimates of political parties, Muslims comprise more than 10 per cent of the electorate in 65 of the 182 assembly seats in Gujarat. Of the 65, Muslims comprise almost a fifth of the electorate on 20 seats.
In 2012, the BJP won 42 seats with a margin of almost 15,000 votes or less.
The Congress has identified 30-odd of these seats it believes it can wrest from the BJP.
With the Patidar community divided, several of the 30-odd seats are on the list of 65 where Muslims can be a factor if the BJP fails to get a consolidated Hindu vote. A low turnout of Muslim voters would hurt the Congress.
"Of particular concern for us are Muslim women,” a Congress worker said, bemoaning the absence of a Congress outreach to Muslims. “They believe the community might be discriminated against under BJP rule, but there will not be violence.”
The Congress has fielded six Muslim candidates. The BJP has none. But these numbers conceal how roles have been reversed between the BJP and the Congress on the ground.
While BJP bosses have asked local party leadership across Gujarat to reach out to Muslims, the Congress’s local leaders have, on occasions, tried to keep the community at an arm’s length.
If the BJP has encouraged Muslims to attend its public meetings, the Congress district units have asked their workers to be careful that Muslims do not “visibly” outnumber those from other communities at its party meetings.
Congress workers complain that the top leadership of the party, both its central leadership and state leaders, have been unwilling to campaign in Muslim areas or share the stage with Muslim leaders.
Congress and Youth Congress leaders from Bihar, West Bengal and other states have been brought in to oversee the party’s campaign in Muslim localities.
“Let alone sharing public stage, local Congress leaders aren’t willing to meet Muslims in closed-door gatherings,” a Congress leader in Ahmedabad said.
According to a source, the Congress district unit in Surat asked its workers to ensure that Muslim men and women, at least those in “traditional attire”, do not attend the inauguration of the party’s election office, which took place on Thursday.
The BJP has been at work to exploit this chasm, if for nothing else but to get Muslims to vote in fewer numbers on election day. It is visibly supporting Muslims who have joined the party.
“Facebook pages, WhatsApp groups and Twitter handles of Muslims associated with the BJP minority cell have mushroomed. This wasn’t the case until 2012 elections. Earlier, even if they were associated with the BJP, Muslims wouldn’t publicise the fact,” said activist Mujahid Nafees.
Faruk Patuk is associated with the BJP’s minority cell in Dahod. Jafar Diwan is associated with the BJP’s minority cell in Sabarkantha. Both use their Facebook pages and social media presence to promote BJP campaign material, and to attack the Congress. Patuk says the Congress stabbed his community in the back.
Under the banner of the Minorities Coordination Committee, Nafees has extensively documented the “discrimination” that common Muslims face in Gujarat.
“How would a Congress government, keen to burnish its Hindu image, be any different than the BJP’s if it has already started spurning the community. I fear it might be worse,” he added.
A Congress leader said the party was working on a plan to reach out to Muslim women. It remains to be seen if it will make local leaders reach out to the community, or have its leaders from outside the state do the job.
Image: BJP members listen to PM Narendra Modi's monthly radio programmer, 'Mann Ki Baat', in Danilimda assembly constituency in Gujarat. Photograph: Courtesy @byadavbjp/Twitter.