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'Muslims of Gujarat voted for BJP in big numbers'

December 08, 2022 20:55 IST

'Muslims know they cannot defeat the BJP, why then come in its firing range?'
'And they know, ultimately it is the BJP MLA who is going to get elected and only he or she can do their work.'
'The BJP may do a different kind of politics for Muslims, but when they sit in the chair they work for Muslims too.'

IMAGE: Muslim women queue to cast their vote in Surat, December 1, 2022. Kindly note the image has only been posted for representational purposes. Photograph: ANI Photo

Businessman Zafar Sareshwala was one of the first Muslims in Gujarat to extend a hand of friendship to Narendra Modi after the Gujarat riots.

This at a time when Modi had acquired the image of being an anti-Muslim chief minister; 790 Muslims had died in the Gujarat riots in 2002.

After Modi became prime minister, Sareshwala was appointed chancellor of the Maulana Azad National Urdu University.

For the last seven years he has been running an NGO, Taalim Aur Tarbiyat, and has visited 55 cities telling Muslims that they need to concentrate on education so they stand out meritoriously.

"In politics, Muslims must keep their eyes, ears open and mind open by changing their priorities. If they stick to politics, they will not get anything, so it is better they change their attention to education," Zafar Sareshwala tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf/

Why do you think the BJP won so big in Gujarat?

Anything above 125 seats was a major victory and this 150-plus seats is huge.

The reason is that the BJP takes elections very seriously.

If you see the results of the 2017 elections, you will find that the BJP won only 99 seats and the Congress won 77 seats.

At that time the BJP started working on the shortcomings due to which their numbers had reduced drastically.

For example, the tribal vote of Gujarat which went to the Congress, they started working among them.

Later, they realised that the state party president was not good, then they got a new party chief in C R Paatil.

Some time later they found out that governance was a problem in Gujarat so they didn't change just the chief minister of the state, but the entire cabinet.

This time, one factor that political analysts are missing is that Muslims of Gujarat voted for the BJP in big numbers.

Really, but why?

After the 2002 Gujarat riots, gradually the Muslims of Gujarat have started realising that they need to concentrate on education or entrepreneurship for their well-being.

Till 2002 in Ahmedabad city, there were three Muslim-run schools. Today there are 79 Muslim-run schools in the city.

My own family runs two Muslim girl schools out of which in one 1,200 girls study and in another 900 girls study.

This kind of pattern Muslims have adopted in Surat, Bhavnagar, Rajkot, Vadodara. They now concentrate more on education rather than getting involved in politics.

Why did this attitude change?

Muslims have started realising that why should they be in the firing line of the State.

For example, in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP gets 45 per cent votes and the Opposition gets 55 percent votes. In that Muslims are only 18 percent, but because they do not vote for the BJP, they are in the firing range of the BJP rather than Hindu communities who do not vote for the BJP.

They have now realised that unnecessarily they come into the firing range of the BJP.

They also know if the Congress comes to power, not much will change in their life conditions.

Barring one or two incidents of flogging of Muslim youth publicly or the Bilkis Bano case where remission was granted to her rapists by Gujarat state, the Muslims of Gujarat are in a much better position.

For example, take the businesses of Gujarat. Muslims are 9.7 percent of the Gujarat population, but if you see the ratio of small and medium enterprises of Gujarat, then Muslims hold 22 to 23 percent share.

How many Muslim dominated seats has the BJP won in Gujarat?

There used to be three Muslims who used to win Gujarat assembly elections, but this time due to Asaduddin Owaisi's party, two of them lost because his party ate into their votes.

Moreover, Muslims thought that even if there are three Muslims out of 182 MLAs, how will they make a difference to their lives? Therefore, they are concentrating now on education and business in Gujarat.

They know that their population is too less to decide the fate of the Gujarat elections.

Muslims of Gujarat have gone into reverse gear and are now concentrating on education and business.

But the BJP did not give a single election ticket to a Muslim candidate.

Muslims are contesting against one another and I just told you, Owaisi's party cut into the winning Muslim candidates's vote share. You tell me then who is responsible.

Don't Muslims live in ghettos like Juhapura in Ahmedabad?

In Ahmedabad, Juhapura is not the lone area where Muslims live. There are 350,000 Muslims living in Juhapura, but across Ahmedabad there are 1.6 million Muslims in the city.

And as far as ghettoisation is concerned, Gujarat has ghettoisation within communities.

In Jain localities, Brahmins do not stay.

In Patel communities, Jains do not stay.

This happens within the Muslim community too. Where Memons live, Bohri Muslims do not live. Khojas live within their community only.

This is going on for the last 70 years in Gujarat.

Why did the Muslim attitude towards the BJP change in Gujarat?

It started changing gradually after each election. Muslims know they cannot defeat the BJP, why then come in its firing range?

And they know, ultimately it is the BJP MLA who is going to get elected and only he or she can do their work.

The BJP may do a different kind of politics for Muslims, but when they sit in the chair they work for Muslims too. Now, they come to Muslim functions too regularly.

Do you mean that BJP MLAs in Gujarat never came to Muslim functions earlier?

Earlier, Muslims used to have apprehensions about BJP MLAs, but now that is gone.

Muslims have education festival kind of programmes, which the education minister of Gujarat has been attending regularly for the last three years.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi too has attended many Muslim events in the last eight years whenever he was given an invitation.

But didn't you say once that Modi has forgotten your friendship and he no longer needs you?

This was the wrong headline given by the Web site. I never said these words. I told them they were wrong in quoting me that way. 'Modi doesn't need me' was the headline. I never said those words. It was done only to sensationalise the news.

What do Gujarati voters see in Modi?

Whatever they see in him, one thing is for sure: The popularity of any leader compared to Prime Minister Modi has never been seen in my lifetime. And this is across the board in Gujarat.

Even Muslims, if they have problems, it will be with the BJP, not with PM Modi.

This, in spite of what Modi said about Muslims at election rallies, that they produce 'hum paanch hamare pachchees'?

This was in 2002 and is an old issue. After that he ruled the state for the next 11 years.

Modi's 11-year rule in Gujarat was the best for Muslims, be it in education, business or even hawkers on the streets.

This is more important than what he said in his speech.

And let me remind you, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that the country's resources must first be given to the Muslim community, but in reality it was never given. Even the Sachar Commission report was never implemented by his government.

Muslims know what is happening on the ground for them.

Even recently Modi spoke against Muslims when he commented that 'kaunse kapde pehnkar aatey hain' when Muslims were protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

Statements are not important, but what work he does on the ground is important.

The Congress gave many statements which were pro-Muslim, but in reality they did not do anything.

Statements do not matter. You see the schemes of the Gujarat government or for that matter the Government of India, you will find that there is no discrimination against Muslims in those schemes.

Nowhere was a Muslim's application rejected because he was a Muslim.

Take, for example, the Gujarat government's Kunverbainu Mameru scheme for girls of the state. Every Muslim girl who is eligible for this scheme gets it. There is no discrimination against them.

An average Muslim will only see this scheme and not bother about what statements leaders are giving.

Some may say this is like surrendering to your enemy.

I told you there are 23 percent of Muslims working in small and medium business enterprises of Gujarat. Where is the 'surrender' in this? What is 'surrender'?

If you want to live in Gujarat, live on their terms.

I have not surrendered. I do business on my own terms and conditions. They never told me to live on their terms.

Bilkis Bano did not get justice as her rapists were released by the Gujarat government. Will you not agree?

She got compensation from the government and the rapists got convicted. Before Bilkis Bano, there were many rape cases in the Gujarat riots in 1985 or even 1992, but none of the rapists was convicted unlike in the Bilkis Bano case.

It was very wrong what happened to her. Since the case is in the Supreme Court of India, let me not comment further on it.

When Amit Shah says if the BJP loses, rioters will come to power, there will be unrest in Gujarat, is he talking about Muslims or the Congress party ruling the state?

Before the 2002 Gujarat riots, there were many riots.

India's worst riots took place in 1969 when 5,000 Muslims were slaughtered. At that time, there was a Congress government in the state as well as at the Centre. The same riots happened in 1985, 1987 and 1992 which were as dreadful as 2002. All this happened under Congress rule.

After 2002, there were no riots in Gujarat. I have seen 200 days of curfew in Gujarat, I have witnessed it.

That is what Amit Shah said, rioters were taught a lesson and therefore there is peace in Gujarat.

Let me tell you, if riots used to happen, it was not done by one side. In every riot, Muslims suffered the most.