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The minority votes

Monday, 13 August 2007 - 9:37pm IST

Muslims were traditionally Congress voters until mid-1970s. As a minorities, they thought the Congress and the Nehru family was their best option.

Indian Muslims were traditionally Congress voters until the mid-1970s. As a minority community, they thought the Congress and the Nehru family was their best option.

However, they got a rude shock during the Emergency. In Delhi, near Turkman gate, bulldozers demolished Muslim houses under the direct supervision of Sanjay Gandhi, and people, including children, were crushed to death.

Muslims then shifted their loyalty to the Janata Party — which included the Jan Sangh — which took an oath of secularism and Gandhian socialism. However, Jan Sangh members refused to resign from the RSS, the Janata Party split and the Jan Sangh went back to communal politics as the Bharatiya Janata Party ((BJP).

By now, besides the Congress, Muslims had more options, like the Janata Dal in the north and the DMK, AIDMK and Telugu Desam in the south. Though some continued to vote for the Congress, many chose regional parties.

But since Muslim party heads had mishandled the Babri Masjid issue, Muslims lost faith in their leaders who,  after the demolition, lost much of their influence. The Muslims saw in Lalu Prasad Yadav a new Messiah, as he prevented riots in Bihar for 15 years. In UP, they reposed faith in Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati.

But they lost faith in Mayawati when she joined hands with the BJP. Lalu Prasad hardly delivered on the economic front and hence in the last assembly elections Muslims supported Nitish Kumar. They were equally disappointed with Mulayam Singh and
defeated him in the last elections in UP in 2007. It was a strategic vote of Muslims that saw Mayawati back in power.

In the last general elections Muslims voted for the Congress and likely allies to defeat the BJP. The Congress, however, has delivered very little so far. Even the Communal Violence Bill has not been passed in three years and it is hardly worth the paper it has been written on; in its present form it will only strengthen the hands of the police, who are known to target minorities.

The Congress government in Maharashtra failed to implement the Srikrishna Commission report. After the punishments meted out to the perpetrators of the March 1993 bomb blasts, secularists have asked about punishment for those responsible for the 1992-93 riots, which had three times the number of casualties.

It is true that the Congress-led government appointed the Sachar Committee to inquire into the socio-economic and educational status of Indian Muslims. The data collected proved what was known all along — that Muslims in India are in a worse condition than Dalits, who at least benefit from reservations. The Sachar Committee recommended reservations for backward caste Muslims.

But this has become a sour issue and even the issue of reservations for backward caste Hindus in higher educational institutions is in trouble. It is doubtful that the Centre will show enough courage to implement this recommendation. The other recommendation — to reserve 15 per cent (which is roughly the population of Indian Muslims) of the budget for every department to benefit Muslims — is hardly expected to be implemented; it  requires too much political courage.

The priority for Muslims is security and they would not want the BJP back at the Centre. Only the UPA can be relied upon to prevent the BJP from coming back to power. Thus Muslims face a real dilemma. They do not have many choices today in the Centre, unlike in the states.

Muslims are in dire need of government help for economic and educational uplift. They have been almost excluded from the bureaucratic structure. Their education levels are not high enough to compete for public service examinations. They do not have capital for business or industry.

Even as artisans, they do not have enough funds to own their own factories, so they end up as workers even in areas of their own expertise. Since these are days of coalition politics, the Muslims can bargain with regional parties which will be partners in power at the centre, and can improve their living status in states like UP, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.

Only regional parties can give them hope — the Left in West Bengal, BSP in UP, RJD or JD (U) in Bihar and Congress in AP and the Left or Congress in Kerala.  There can hardly be better options.

The writer is an Islamic scholar

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