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Congress Wooing Muslims
By P.M. Damodaran

Lucknow: With the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh drawing nearer, the Congress has chalked out an action plan to woo the Muslims. The appointment of Mr. Nadeem Ashraf Jaisi, a Muslim, recently as U.P. Youth Congress president is considered as the first step by the party to lure the minority community into its fold before the Assembly polls in early next year.

Mr. Jaisi is the first Muslim leader to occupy the post in decades if, not forever. Mr. Jaisi hails from a family of religious Muslims leaders who have considerable clout among the Barelvi thought of Muslims. Significantly, He hails from Jais, which forms a part of Amethi Lok Sabha constituency which is represented by the Congress President, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. Mr. Jaisi was nominated as state Youth Congress chief ahead of the claims of several other serious contenders for the post.

The Congress was encouraged by the reported good participation of Muslims in some public meetings addressed by Mrs. Gandhi in U.P. during the past one month. The Congress sources claimed that particularly a large number of people from the minority community had attended the meeting in Meerut, a Muslim dominated area. This had prompted the party to hold district-level conferences in some of Muslim-dominated districts in the state before the holy month of Ramadan beginning on November 16. These districts included some Western districts where the Muslim population has high concentration like Meerut, Moradabad, Aligarh, Rampur, Saharanpur, Bareilly and Bijnore. The state Congress is also planning to hold its executive committee meeting in Aligarh, a Muslim-dominated area, apparently to woo the minority community ahead of the Assembly polls.

In fact the Congress is now trying to make inroads into the support base of the Samajwadi Party among the Muslims. At present the Samajwadi Party has the majority support among the Minority community if the results of the last few general elections were any indication. In fact the Samajwadi Party derives its strength from the support of the Muslims and Yadavs among the other backward classes. This had prompted the party to oppose the ban on the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). The Samajwadi Party maintained the view that the Hindu fundamentalist outfits like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal were more threat to the national security than SIMI.

The Congress, on the other hand, as such did not oppose the ban on SIMI. In fact some Congress-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra had suggested to the Centre to impose a ban on the organisation due to its anti-national activities. But at the same time the chief ministers of these states had simultaneously demanded the ban on the VHP and the Bajrang Dal also along with SIMI. They had alleged that the government was indulging in double standards in banning SIMI alone while sparing the Hindu fundamentalist outfits.

Though some Congress-ruled states had supported the ban on SIMI, the Congress in Uttar Pradesh had opposed the decision. The President of the state unit of the Congress, Mr. Sri Prakash Jaiswal, had remarked that the ban was unwarranted as the government had other ways to deal with the threat from SIMI, if any. The state unit of the Congress had taken a different view from the party leaders in other states apparently in view of the forthcoming Assembly elections in the state in which the votes of the Muslims would play a significant role.

The Bahujan Samaj Party, a major force in U.P. politics, has also some base among the Muslims. But over the years, the BSP, which mainly thrives on the support of the dalits, had lost its clout among the minority community after it had joined hands with the BJP to rule the state twice during the last decade.

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