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Published in the 16-30 Apr 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Pre-poll Muslim survey
‘Secular parties are equally communal’
By M H Lakdawala

Mumbai: With the election season comes a slew of pre-poll surveys predicting the outcome. In this election Muslims are at the center of poll strategy as BJP is repositioning itself as a Centrist party with a space for Muslims.

The leftist argues that BJP should not be trusted and Muslims should not forget the Gujarat carnage engineered by one of its chief Ministers. Non-Congress secularists are trying hard to reinforce the stereotype that BJP is anti-Muslim and secularists are the only protectors of the Muslim community. Congress is still taking the Muslim vote for granted and still pretending that Muslims have no alternative but to vote for the Congress. 

What about the Muslim voters particularly its youth? Do they believe the newly discovered love for Muslims by the BJP? How they compare secularist with the Hindutva forces? Does Congress deserve one more chance and hence their vote? Do they consider Leftist as the new ally to fight communal forces?
To find answers to these questions, The Milli Gazette in association with Trends Research and Analysis Center (TRAC), Mumbai, conducted a prepoll survey amongst Muslim youth (age between 18-35) in Mumbai. Survey methodology was based on stratified sampling with the survey population of 418.
The respondents were chosen from different colleges, and slum pockets across Muslim majority areas as well as non Muslim majority areas across Mumbai, professionals, hawkers and Businessmen.

Surprisingly 78% of the respondents said that they are not interested in voting as it does not make any difference to their own personal and their community’s conditions. Though most of the respondents agreed that vote is very precious and they value it but the performance of the political parties and elected representatives had made them cynical.

Will vote or Not in coming election: Not interested in voting 78%; intend to vote 13%; may or may not vote 07%; not yet decided 02%.

Raisa Khan, 18, a BA student has decided not to cast her vote as she finds all candidates equally selfish and self-centered. "Though in the past I was really exited about casting my first vote when I become eligible I lost interest as none of the candidates deserves my vote. So why waste my vote by casting it to the wrong candidate", she said.

Tasneem Shaikh, 19, a BMS student intends to vote for the good candidate. " I would like to vote for the candidate who can represent our constituency problem and also have a vision to tackle the contemporary issues faced by our country. Since none of the candidates is worth my vote I will not vote", she said.

Rehan Shah, 31, hawker, selling ready-made garments outside Churchgate railway station in south Mumbai is a regular voter. This time he has decided not to vote. " In the past I did vote either for Congress or third front candidate. But they turn out to be elusive and never bother to visit our constituency and see for themselves how we are living in conditions not fit for even animals", he said.

Reason for not voting; Makes no difference who rules the country 69%; Congress is better then BJP 18%; Non-Congress secular parties are worth the Muslim vote 4%. Seventy-eight percent of the respondents said all political parties and candidates are more or less same for Muslims. How about forming a political party for the Muslim, as other communities have done. Eighty-three percent of the respondents said no.Saeed Ahmed a restaurateur believes that forming a Muslim political party in a plural country like India is not going to solve the community’s problems. "Instead of solving the problem of the community a Muslim political front will send a wrong signal and will provide a handle to the communal forces to project Muslims as self-centered and such party can be easily branded as communal", he said.

Sixty-four percent of the respondents do not believe that secular parties including Congress when voted to power will not play communal politics. Only 22% said that BJP is more communal as compared to other parties. 69% said that Congress as well as other secular parties are equally communal when it comes to the Muslim community.

Rafique, 28,vegetable seller in Bandra East, living in the slums had never voted for the "so called secular parties". " My vote goes to Shiv Sena both in Parliamentary as well as local elections. They can be approached with the problems and Sena leaders do accommodate our interest and help us when we are in dire strait. Hence in our constituency Sena candidate wins as Muslims vote for the party," he said. The Konkan region in Maharastra is supporting Shiv Sena since past several elections and Congress and other secular parties are punished by Muslim voters for non-performance.

Issues important to them: Security 22%; Non interference in their Religion 18%; Opportunities in job Market 17%; Inflation 14%; Educational infrastructure 13%; Peace and communal harmony 11%; Corruption 3%; Babri Masjid 2%

How about Muslim political leadership in various parties. Ninety-seven percent of the respondents opined that they are equally unreliable. Rauf Shaikh 27, a networking expert said that the Muslim politician is busy striving to prove himself secular and has no time to concentrate on the Muslim community issues. "Not a single Muslim politician today enjoys the confidence of Muslim voters of his own constituency leave alone all Muslim" he said.

Obaid Akhtar 34, Taxi driver was a hard-core supporter of the Muslim league and later Samajwadi Party (SP). This year he intends to vote for Congress.Obaid is completely disillusioned by the narrow vision of the Mumbai SP leadership. "In the past I had campaigned for the SP candidates. But its Mumbai leadership’s narrow caste based approach giving importance to those from UP and only concentrating on superficial issues led to an exodus of talented people from the party", he said. SP in Maharastra is now reduced to a party of close supporters of its Mumbai president. Hence I have decided to cast my vote for Congress instead of wasting it on a SP candidate whose basic purpose is to eat into Congress votes which results in the BJP candidate’s victory since the last two elections", said Obaid. 

Leaders they admire: None 83%; Laloo Prasad Yadav 9%; Mulayam Singh Yadav 8%; Atal Bihari Vajpayee Nil; Any Muslim leader: Regional or National Nil.

Forty-three percent of the respondents agree that BJP’s India shining campaign has effectively diverted the public attention from BJP’s communal politics of the past and diluted its image as anti Muslim party. Abdul Rauf a MBA student opines that the BJP brand equity depends on its anti Muslim stance. "If Muslims start joining the party its brand equity will be compromised and it will lose its potency as Congress lost its position as an umbrella organisation for different communities once it started playing communal politics", said Rauf.

Does whoever rule at the centre matter to them: Not at all 48%; To some extent 39%; Does matter to a large extent 11%; Do not know 2%. Eighty-three percent said that they are not afraid of BJP coming to power. "Does it really matter asks Salim Malik, 23, a sales man in a supermarket. In Maharastra Congress is ruling party but still riots take place. In fact the worst riots in Mumbai took place when Congress was the ruling party. I am not going to vote as it really does not make any difference" he said.

Muslim youth of today is confident, sure about its decision, well informed and guiltless, minus the historical baggage related to partition. It’s no more a cakewalk for secular parties to garner Muslim votes. They have to perform and win over the Muslim votes. Mere rhetoric is no longer going to work. 
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