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The BJP and Gujarat elections
By Asghar Ali Engineer

Today everyone is watching developments in Gujarat with bated breath. The elections in that violence-ridden state are of great significance not only for Gujarat but for the whole of India. The communal carnage in that state had aroused world-wide condemnation. There is also a view, though difficult to substantiate or document, that Gujarat carnage was planned to win Gujarat Assembly elections, which were due in March 2003.

According to this view the BJP was losing election after election – Panchayat, Zilla Parishad and Municipal. The Congress though very weak, disorganised and faction-ridden, was winning these elections by sheer default. This sent shivers down the BJP spine. The BJP was extremely worried and wanted to turn the electoral fortune in its favour. The only way the BJP knows is to somehow consolidate the Hindu votes to win elections and what an easy way to do that by provoking communal violence. Thus it began preparation for engineering communal violence. The spark was provided by the Godhra incident and carnage started in Gujarat in post-Godhra.

When Gujarat was burning there were rumours that elections will soon be held and if elections were held the BJP would win hands down and the Congress would be wiped out. It was suggested that the BJP might get 2/3rd majority. The rumours were not quite baseless. Narendra Modi dissolved the Assembly though it had comfortable majority and there was no crisis in the Party. He wanted to hold elections before October when carnage was going on. The Gujarat state was, during those days, highly polarised and temptation to hold elections was too great for Modi to resist.

However, the chief Election Commissioner J.N. Lyngdoh came in the way and after assessing the Gujarat situation found the intense sense of insecurity among the Muslims. He, under section 174 of Indian Constitution, recommended that elections could not be held in Gujarat immediately. Hundreds of Muslims were in refugee camps living in inhuman conditions and were not in a position to return to their localities. The BJP tried to put up brave face and the NDA Government referred the matter to the Supreme Court through the President of India for opinion but that did not help.

The EC announced elections to be held now on December 10 after it was satisfied that now free and fair elections can be held. The elections in all the constituencies will be held on one single day so that the VHP people cannot go from one constituency to other and commit violence and intimidate voters or indulge in bogus voting to see BJP wins the election.

It is interesting to note that now situation seems to have greatly changed in Gujarat. It is extremely complex and fluid. The BJP, it is suggested by some observers, is more afraid of BJP than the Congress. BJP today is faction-ridden and Keshubhai Patel, the former Chief Minister ousted by Narendra Modi, can be a great stumbling block for him. He is not coming round to support Modi though the BJP is cajoling him and has made him chairman of election committee in Gujarat. It is feared by the followers of Narendra Modi that he may sway the Patel votes against Modi particularly in Saurashtra. Patels constitute some 16% of voters in Gujarat. One has to wait and see how Keshubhai Patel behaves.

Now there is every reason for BJP to fear the Congress also. A secret survey conducted by the BJP shows that there are fifty-fifty percent chances for both the parties. This is certainly a scary news for Narendra Modi who was dreaming of capturing two-third majority in the house and rule for another five years. It is no more a cake walk for Modi. And the situation is changing fast.

The past election results also show that even during hey days of the BJP it never got more than 44.81% votes in Gujarat. It was in 1998 elections. The Congress had got 34.85% votes in that election. The BJP got 117 seats while the Congress 53. It is ironical that in 1990 elections the BJP got 26.69% votes and captured 67 seats while though the Congress got 30.74% votes yet it could get only 33 seats. In 1995 the BJP got 42.51% votes and took 121 seats and the Congress got 32.86% votes and could take 45 seats.

Thus it will be seen that the Congress never fell more than 10% behind the BJP even in the worst case. Now it seems the situation is even more challenging for the BJP today in Gujarat. The carnage now does not seem to be helping it much. Factionalism, the caste factor, misgovernance, various scandals, particularly the bank scandals and acute water shortage, all are going against it. Also, the communal carnage has caused tremendous loss of business, endless curfews, closure of business establishments, loss of jobs and loss of investments along with loss of prestige all that has brought tremendous suffering.

To Compensate all this Narendra Modi is riding his Gaurav Rath and is talking of asmita of Gujarat (identity of Gujarat) and pride of Gujarat. Naturally the opposition is raising the question gaurav (pride) of what? Of carnage? Of misgovernance? Of ruination of the Gujarat economy? Modi is naturally miffed and talks of asmita and gaurav of 5 crore people of Gujarat. He projects himself as the champion of these 5 crore people of Gujarat. But he forgets that these five crores include 9% Muslims and 1.5% Christians who have suffered immensely at his hands. And still there is no end to their sufferings, particularly of Muslims. Still he has been using very harsh language against Muslims. His speech during his "Gaurav Yatra" in Godhra on 10th November was almost threatening. He blamed Muslims for the violence in Gujarat.

One can hardly be sure how effective Mod’s demagogy will be in Gujarat. It is, as pointed out, very fluid situation. Modi himself is certainly scared. He had won from the Rajkot constituency II last time with very narrow margin. Due probably to Keshubhai factor he is now wanting to change his constituency. He is not at all sure whether he would win from Rajkot. He tried to even pressurise his cabinet minister Harin Pandya to let him contest from his Elisbridge constituency in Ahmedabad. When Harin Pandya refused he was thrown out of cabinet. It is said that he may shift to Baroda. But nothing has yet been decided. His several cabinet ministers are also searching for safe constituencies. 

The Election Commission is playing important role in organising Gujarat elections. It knows that Modi can resort to any method to win elections. The Commission wants to see that elections are not influenced, as far as possible, by Modi’s communal outbursts. It has planned a series of measures. Since after the Gaurav Yatra the VHP has planned its own yatra, the EC has sought a report of the VHP yatra from the State Government. 

The VHP considers itself a law unto itself. It claims that since it is not a political party it cannot come under the ambit of EC. The Sangh Parivar, as everyone knows, has several faces, the RSS, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal etc. What the BJP cannot say openly due to such constraints the RSS, the VHP or Bajrang dal say publicly and try to influence voters in favour of BJP. The Earlier ECs never bothered about all this and did not notice what the VHP was saying during election campaigns in parallel meetings. 

This CEC Shri Lyngdoh, however, does not desire to ignore the VHP outbursts as they are likely to deeply influence election results in the polarised Gujarat society today. The communal violence has also not ceased so far. Small and not so small incidents are taking place probably to keep the communal feelings alive. CEC Lyngdoh, therefore, seems to be determined not to allow the VHP parallel campaign under the garb of not being a political party.

Everyone knows that the VHP nominates its own candidates who then fight elections as the BJP candidates. In the present elections in Gujarat also the VHP, according to news paper reports, is demanding at least 25 seats for its own members. In the dissolved assembly too several VHP members were elected as BJP candidates. Harin Pandya and Zadaphia, both cabinet ministers, were the VHP nominees.

Lyngdoh is again on a visit to Gujarat to assess the ground situation himself. He, during his recent Gujarat tour, described the Gujarat situation as ‘nasty’ and when he was asked what he meant by ‘nasty’ situation, he said "provocative speeches are being made. In some relief camps, water supply has been disconnected for days. What else can be called nasty." Thus Lyngdoh is well aware of the situation and he may not allow Modi and his followers to inflame communal passions during the election campaign. This is what the VHP wants to do during its planned Yatra. Fortunately, Mr. Lyngdoh has declared to ban the VHP yatra which otherwise would have resulted in building up communal tensions and might have even resulted in communal violence.

The security of minority voters also has to be guaranteed if they are encouraged to vote. Many Muslims may not venture out to vote and this also can influence the election results. Minority vote will undoubtedly play a crucial role. There are lot of Muslims in towns like Rajkot, Dhoraji, Morbi, Maliya and Wakaner. It is necessary to provide extra security for these Muslims.

It is unfortunate that in secular India with bewildering religious, linguistic and cultural diversity, communal card is sought to be played with such impunity to win elections. It is BJP politics, which has produced Narendra Modi. The BJP also came to power by dividing Hindus and Muslims on the temple-masjid controversy. Perhaps even the Britishers had not used divide and rule policy so blatantly as our own people. But one can draw satisfaction from the fact that people will not, and have not, always obliged such politicians. Let us hope in Gujarat too, they do not. 
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