WHO WILL THE AAM MUSLIM VOTE FOR?
Jaded by the empty promises of the Congress and BJP, Muslims are looking to the debutant AAP for solutions
Souzeina S Mushtaq Delhi
There was uneasiness in the air. As people walked hurriedly in the crowded alleys of Jamia Nagar in East Delhi, the panic was palpable. The Special Cell of the Delhi Police had picked up two young men from Abul Fazal Enclave in Jamia Nagar a day earlier, for their suspected links with the banned Indian Mujahideen. Released late at night, the police said they would be called again to join the investigations if needed.
“I must say the most effective weapon that the state machinery has developed to suppress minorities is the superficially crafted design of Indian Mujahideen in recent years,” wrote a Facebook user, Asad Ashraf, as news of the dubious picking up spread on the social media. Muslims living in India have always lived with the stereotype of harbouring terrorists, and most of the suspects picked up by the police are languishing in jails for no sin of theirs. The 2006 Sachar Committee had also upheld that “Muslims carry a double burden of being labelled as anti-national and as being appeased at the same time.”
In the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, major political parties are banking on the Muslim vote bank, “which has the power to change the game”. Traditionally, Muslims have been the vote bank of the Congress. But with its decimation in the recently held Assembly elections, and following its bleak prospects in the Lok Sabha elections, as also the nomination of Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate fighting from Varanasi and Vadodara, Indian Muslims are banking on newbie Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to entrust their votes to.
“Muslims are tired of the BJP and Congress rhetoric. They are desperate for a strong third front,” says Neyaz Farooquee, a freelance journalist based in New Delhi. Neyaz, a New India Foundation Fellow, is also a resident of the Muslim-dominated Jamia Nagar. “There is no difference between these two parties, but earlier, Muslims had no choice,” he adds.
Initially, the rise of the AAP was dismissed by a majority of the Muslims, owing to its emergence from the Anna Hazare movement, tactically backed and supported by the RSS. Even Muslims groups like the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, after extending support to the AAP in assembly elections, had backed out by issuing a statement favouring the Congress. The statement also warned people on “dividing Muslim votes that can help the BJP”.
But after its successful debut in Delhi with 28 seats in the assembly elections, the AAP has been seen as a ‘credible party with a difference’.“I had thought AAP would be an ally of the BJP. But after it won 28 seats and formed the government, it gave us some hope and confidence,” says Ashfaq Hyder, a university student. According to him, the Left has always supported the Congress. “At leastAAP can act as a spoiler to stop Modi, even if it does not win”.
The hatred for Modi is obvious as the wounds of Gujarat 2002 are still fresh in their minds. “We remember the 1984 riots but the Congress never projected the alleged accused as the PM candidate, or offered them top positions. But the BJP has projected a tainted man as its PM candidate,” says Bilal Ahmed, a researcher. Even though the lower court has given him a clean chit, Ahmed says he still has faith in democracy. “Though he was not involved personally, the state machinery was under his control,” he adds.
While Muslims accuse the BJP and Congress of playing the communal-secular card, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal recently said that communalism was a bigger threat than corruption. But party candidate from Gurgaon Yogendra Yadav had slammed the political parties for reducing the problems of Muslims to the questions of security and identity. Kejriwal’s criticism of Modi on his home turf has also gained him support from the Muslims.
As per the National Election Study done by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, in 2009, 36 per cent of Muslims had voted for the Congress, and 3 per cent for the BJP. But with the coming of the AAP into the electoral fray, the fight has become interesting. People also fear that the Muslim votes may get divided between the Congress and the AAP, “which might help the BJP to win”.
Muslims constitute 13.4 per cent of the Indian population. According to a report in India Today, 46 of the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies have more than 30 per cent Muslims. Indian Muslims are still considered “socially, politically and economically backward”. According to the Sachar Committee Report (2006), 25 per cent of Muslim children in the age group of 6-14 have either never attended school or have dropped out. Only 3.4 per cent of the total graduates in India are Muslims, and only 13 per cent of Muslim workers are engaged in regular jobs.
In 2007, the Rangarajan Misra Committee endorsed the report, saying one-third of the Muslims live in Kachha houses without basic facilities such as toilets and drinking water.
The AAP candidate from the East Delhi constituency, Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, has promised to solve the problems of the Muslims residing there. “If I am elected, I would put pressure on the Delhi Government and municipal corporations to provide basic amenities, particularly water. So many water pipes are passing through Okhla but still the residents have to purchase water. The municipal corporation has been ruled by the BJP, while the Centre and State has been in the charge of the Congress,” he had told the media.