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Published in the 16-31 Oct 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Outfits fail to influence Muslim voters

By M H Lakdawala

Mumbai: Muslim organisations and activists in Maharastra have geared up to put pressure on the political parties and candidates and warned them not to take Muslim votes for granted.

Ironically these pressure groups most of the time are unable to go beyond issuing press statements with no ideological ground work to show at the grass root. In fact in the past, like prepoll surveys, their dictates or suggestions to the voter’s, turned out to be ineffective.

In Mumbai the assorted groups and individuals pressurized All India Ulema Council (AIUC) to issue a statement that "No longer Muslim will vote on the basis of "Secular parties or Communal parties". AIUC has decided not to support any political party blindly but guide Muslim voters to elect candidates only on the basis of their past performance".

Sixteen prominent ulema attended an emergency meeting of the council and made a firm resolve that the community would no longer allow itself to be used as a vote bank and be exploited by raising superficial and emotional issues. The anger of the ulema was aimed at the ruling combine, which the Council feels, has let the community down.

Maulana Riyaz Ahmed Khan the convenor of the council said that AIUC would study each candidate and recommend only those who had served the citizens and maintained social harmony. "We are not appealing to Muslims to vote for any political party or a coalition. Only individual candidates matter to us", he said.

"It has been observed that blindly supporting any single political party is harmful for people as the previous records and experiences prove. We appeal to the people to recognize the power of the vote and its full and collective utilization after consulting the wise. Otherwise, useless candidates will reach the assembly," Maulana Riaz said. "Muslims, over the past 50 years have become politically mature and 'now they can not be misled by election propaganda. The Muslim populace has calmly elected those who can solve their basic problems and their wisdom and tactical voting has proved the political pundits completely wrong."

This may be true of the Muslim voters but not of a section of Muslim Intelligentsia who wakes up during election times. It seems that they have not learnt their lessons. The basic shortcoming with these assorted Muslim pressure groups is that many a time there is a wide gulf between words and practice. This impairs the credibility of the Muslim pressure groups. 

For instance in the coming election one of the office bearer of All India Ulema Council is standing for election on the Samajwadi ticket from the Trombay constituency. This makes a mockery of the statement issued by the AIUC.The local Mohalla committee recently met and decided to support the Congress candidate instead.

Similarly the AIUC in its press note revealed that any of its members could support any political party or candidate in an individual capacity. In the last election members of the same AIUC declared support to opposing candidates in the same constituency.

These developments impair the credibility of the AIUC and Muslim voters do not take its advice seriously. No doubt pressure groups have a vital role to play in any democracy. To play any constructive role the credibility of the pressure groups plays a crucial role and also its contribution in the socio-political sphere.
Muslim Pressure Groups like All India Muslim Personal Law Board, All India Muslim Majlise Mushawarat and All India Milli Council, Jamaat-I-Islami (JIH) have proved ineffective in the past except in a few pockets of U P and Bihar. Unfortunately these Muslim Pressure Groups being out of touch with the grass-root politics for a long time, their advice to these parties quite often turned out to be irrelevant, impractical, academic and at times even open to ridicule. 

India’s largest cadre based Islamic party; Jamaat-I-Islami (JIH) is still not very clear on the elections. No doubt it is the only party which works at the grass root level and actively participates in the day to day issues of the common Muslim but ideological confusion and lack of clarity on the election issues is preventing it from playing any major role or influencing the outcome of election.

The JIH conditions for supporting candidate are so rigid and tough that in India even finding a single candidate of that stature will be a difficult task. Since JIH is a closed organisation it does not utilize the services of experts, which prevents it from coming up with an effective strategy and guide the Muslim in the election. 

Thus in spite of having a slew of pressure groups and organisations, Muslim voters have to find their own ways and vote, keeping in mind their local and regional socio-political equations and that they are doing a good job.

In Maharastra in spite of the absence of any pressure group representing the Muslim voters, the common Muslim voter is very clear in his mind. In Mumbai Muslims have dumped the Samajwadi party, which claimed to represent the community, as it has no work to support its claims except raising the issues for the obvious reason.

In Konkan Muslims are with the Shiv Sena as it suits their regional socio-political equations. In other parts of Maharastra Muslims have rejected the third front and are supporting Congress-NCP alliance.

Mere intentions are not going to help. If Muslim organisations and pressure groups have to play any defining role in the election process and help the community then it must work all year round every year instead of waking up during election time like the politicians.
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