If AAP was stronger nationally, we wouldn’t have backed anyone else: Muslim body

By Pallavi Polanki

New Delhi: In yet another indication of the growing political support for the Aam Aadmi Party in the Muslim community, the All India Muslim Majlis-e ­Mushawarat (AIMMM), an umbrella-body of Muslim organisations, has said that had the Aam Admi Party (AAP) been a bigger national force, it would have declared its support only to AAP and to no other party at the national level.  Read complete report here.

On Monday, the AIMMM announced its support for both AAP and the Congress for Lok Sabha 2014.

Describing the choices before the Muslim voter in this election as being a ‘complex’ one, the AIMMM in a statement has said "the great issue before the Muslims of India is to decide in whose favour they should cast their valuable votes so that a just and transparent government is installed and prejudice, bias and injustice checked".

Conspicuously absent from the umbrella-body’s advisory to voters at the state-level is the Samajwadi party (SP). A clear indication of community’s deep loss of faith in the party following the SP government’s handling of the Muzaffarnagar riots, not to mention the 247 communal violence-related incidents that took place in 2013 under Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s watch.

"On the national level, we have two secular options for Muslim and secular voters: Aam Aadmi Party and Congress Party. Tactical voting should also be used in favour of secular, powerful and clean-image candidates of Bahujan Samaj Party (Uttar Pradesh), Trinamool Congress (West Bengal), Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal (U) (Bihar), Communist Party of India (CPI), and the secular parties of South India. AIMMM supports Indian Union Muslim League in Kerala and AUDF in Assam," read AIMMM’s statement.

Firstpost spoke to Zafarul-Islam Khan, president of AIMMM, about their decision to back AAP and how Narendra Modi’s rise as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate was impacting voting patterns.

Excerpts from the interview.

In your statement you have said: "The country is standing today on the cross-roads and has to make a clear choice between fascism and secularism." In your opinion, does this election represent an unprecedented scenario for India’s voters?

It is unprecedented in the sense that there is a possibility that a certain ideology that does not believe in secularism and inclusiveness may get hold of the reins of power on its own and, if that happens, and they come to power on their own then, it will pose a big danger for Indian secularism and Indian democracy.

What led you to support AAP? Have you met with any of their leaders?

We met them before the Delhi election. We have had no contact with them since. We think they are now clear on the two important issues from our point of view. First, of course, is corruption which is what they started their movement with. The second is communalism.

We think our country faces two big problems. Now they are clear on both these issues. They have accepted openly that communalism is as big a problem if not bigger than corruption. So we are on same page with them.

We think they are the right people. That is why we have supported them. Had they become a really big option nationally we might have supported only them. But because they are not, and their influence is limited to certain urban centres that is why we have supported the Congress as well. The Congress party is clear about communalism but when it comes to taking action or to making laws, they are not forthcoming. Otherwise, we believe that Congress is also a secular force. We have no problem with the Congress apart from this fact that they fight shy of taking on forces of communalism and taking on people like Modi. They are not doing their duty as they should.

Is there a concern that Muslim votes may get divided?

The situation is very complicated. It is a six-, five- dimensional fight. So many candidates are fighting. It is not possible to predict what will happen in this or that constituency. We only hope that the local voters are wise enough to make the right choice. We can only advice and hope that they will make the right choice.

AAP has drawn criticism from some quarters for not having a clear policy on minorities. Your comments.

I think they are sufficiently clear now. The problem with AAP is that they are not present everywhere. They are limited to certain pockets. I think they have clear vision of a secular India and an India that is inclusive.

Why was the Muslim community reluctant to vote for it in the Delhi assembly polls?

Before the Delhi election there was an atmosphere that AAP was not such a big force. So the ordinary voter thought it would be a waste of his vote. But they ended up with 28 seats. And so people have changed their mind. But still, AAP is not present everywhere.

Do you think AAP will get the majority of the Muslim vote in Delhi?

It will be in a better situation than it was in assembly election. But not every Muslim voter is going to voter for AAP because they are many local leaders who wield a lot of influence in their constituencies. But otherwise, my reading is that more Muslims will vote for AAP this time.

So you are not writing off the Congress yet?

Congress has a good and powerful presence in certain pockets. And there are voices in the Muslim community who believe Congress is the right choice and they can give BJP a good fight.

We are seeing new level of desperation by political parties in wooing the Muslim voter in this election. What do you make of this?

After election, they will become indifferent again. The problem here to which you are alluding is that the Muslim vote is the only floating vote in India. Otherwise, other segments have found their moorings, they’ve got their parties, and they’ve got their leaders. The Muslim vote is up for grabs. It is like an orphan in the society. This is the problem. Our vote is not committed to any party or to put it the other way, no particular party is taking care of our interest.

What are some of the most worrying aspects for you in this election?

This election shows that we are facing the prospect of a dictatorial kind of government, where one person is going to decide everything as he has been in Gujarat. It is a scenario where you follow the master’s order or you get out of the game.

If this comes to Delhi, I think it will be dangerous. In India, so many communities, regions, languages, cultures co-exist. If a certain person tries to force his way using the state power ruthlessly, we are in great danger of civil unrest.

Modi is very different from Vajpayee, who was a person who took other people along. Modi, on the other hand, bulldozes his way through. He doesn’t believe in consultation. There can be no supercomputer in India, there are many computers and all of them have to be configured.

Who or what factors would hold responsible for this ‘cross-roads’ that India finds itself at?

The person most responsible for this is Advani. He unleashed these forces, now these forces are beyond his control. In mid-1980s, he started the Ram mandir movement and rath yatra. These very forces that he unleashed are beyond his control now and he is now helpless.

The other side is that secular parties, the Congress party, instead of fighting them tooth and nail, adopted soft-Hindutva. On many issues, such as the Babri masjid issue they looked the other way. They adopted soft-Hindutva thinking they could contain this kind of thought in society. But such thought has to be fought and defeated. There is no other alternative.

Are parties that describe themselves as secular responding effectively to take on the Modi-led BJP in this election?

Nobody is doing it. Everyone is jostling for their own space. They are more concerned with questions like who will gain power if there is a hung parliament, how can they consolidate. No one is concerned about secularism. AAP may not be thinking in those terms but otherwise everybody wants space for himself in the political arena. They are not very concerned about what is happening in the country or how things can turn if a certain ideology becomes very powerful in India. Now the BJP is even ready to junk the no-first-use nuclear policy. This is a big danger, not just to India.

What do you make of the political choices before the Muslim voter in this election?

The Muslim voter is very confused. There are so many different voices, parties, small Muslim leaders here and there. The Muslim voter is confused just like every other voter is.

How would you describe the overall mood in the Muslim community as they prepare to vote in this election?

Everyone is talking except the Muslim voter. He is silent. They have made up their mind but they are not saying anything.

People are apprehensive that if BJP gets a majority it will not be good, not only for the Muslim community but for the whole country. However, if a coalition is cobbled up like in the time of Vajpayee, they will be saddled with many demands by many parties and there will be a common minimum programme.

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