Muslim vote & Gujarat polls

Speculations are certainly being aired about Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) being extra-concerned to attract Muslim vote in Gujarat assembly elections. The party may even field a few Muslim candidates for the purpose. The BJP has not had a single Muslim legislator in Gujarat assembly since Narendra Modi became the state chief minister.

How seriously should hype raised about BJP trying to attract Muslim votes in Gujarat be taken? As of now, it would be best to consider this only as a cosmetic show, being deliberately staged to convince rest of India about BJP’s secular intentions and “credibility” of the “secular” mask donned of late by Modi.

 It may be noted that Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh is also keen on trying his luck in attracting Gujarati Muslim voters to his party. Twice earlier his party failed to create any impact on Gujarat political stage during assembly elections. Nevertheless, Singh is apparently hopeful that his party’s success in Uttar Pradesh (UP) assembly polls will help it in Gujarat elections.

 What political relevance does Muslim vote really have in Gujarat? Can it be labelled as significant enough to turn political tide against BJP, if SP succeeds in winning Muslim votes? Or can it help Congress in pushing BJP out of power?

With respect to Mulayam Singh’s political ambitions, prospects of his party performing better than it has in past Gujarat assembly elections are extremely limited. It would not be wrong to say that SP’s main political base is confined to UP. This fact is reflected by this party’s presence in Lok Sabha. All 22 members of SP in the present Lok Sabha are from U.P. The same is true about Rajya Sabha, where all the nine members of SP are from UP.

 True, Mulayam Singh may be eager to use his political campaign in Gujarat to help him on the national stage in the forthcoming parliamentary polls. Irrespective of whether he can count on attracting the state’s Muslim votes, he is hopeful of gaining substantial publicity through his campaign. But then if this is the case, this also implies that he is well aware of the limited prospects which await him in Gujarat.

Both the BJP and the Congress are strongly conscious of the limited potential that the Muslim vote in Gujarat has. This is primarily due to two reasons. Muslims constitute less than 10 percent of the state’s population. Secondly, in recent years, Gujarat has been a battleground of only two parties, BJP and Congress. Regional parties have not risen in Gujarat in the manner that they have in UP and some other states. If Gujarat had been home to at least half a dozen parties, regional as well as national, then the prospects of the Muslim vote playing a decisive role would have been greater as has been the case in UP assembly elections.

Despite these odds, even if Mulayam Singh does succeed in attracting Muslim votes, indirectly he would be helping BJP gain at the expense of the political loss of the Congress. Notwithstanding attempts being made by BJP to display a “secular” image by circulating “news” of there being “strong” prospects of it fielding some Muslim candidates, there is no denying that this strategy is aimed at improving its political image and also increasing the chances of faring better in the forthcoming parliamentary polls. This truth is not hidden from Muslims of Gujarat. Besides, as mentioned earlier, however hard various parties in the fray try their luck in winning the Muslim vote in Gujarat, statistically it is not expected to have any decisive impact on the state’s assembly elections.  

 It may be noted that the Congress has been out of power in Gujarat since 1995. In the present 182-member assembly, 121 are from BJP, 55 from Congress and six members are from Nationalist Congress Party, Janata Dal-United and independents. The state has been ruled by BJP with Modi as the chief minister over the past decade. The Congress is focusing on deflating claims made by Modi about development in Gujarat under his government. It is as yet too early to be over-optimistic about Congress winning in Gujarat.

 The prospects of Modi returning to power cannot be ruled out. However, Modi’s victory may spell danger signals for BJP from several angles. Success in Gujarat is likely to enhance Modi’s demand for being projected as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. This may contribute to a split in BJP-led National Democratic Alliance as secular parties in this group are strongly against Modi being allowed to take centre-stage in this camp. They also fear that this may lead to their losing votes of Muslims and non-Muslim secular Indians in their respective regions. Besides, Modi’s bid for national politics may weaken the political hold of BJP in Gujarat in subsequent assembly elections. Therefore, while Muslim vote is not expected to play a decisive role in Gujarat assembly elections, its importance is likely to increase if Modi decides to step on to the national political stage!

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 October 2012 on page no. 11

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