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How to lose Muslim friends and influence elections, Congress style

Tuesday, 10 December 2013 - 4:52pm IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
Results of assembly elections of four states show that the grand old party of India no longer enjoys the exclusive support of Muslims

The Congress has alienated its traditional Muslim vote bank even as Muslim voters are no longer keeping a distance from the BJP, as evidenced by the results of the assembly elections in four states.

The Congress received a drubbing in the assembly elections for Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi. The Congress’ decimation is apparent from its dismal show in the 200-member Rajasthan assembly, where the party only won 21 seats.

Ahead of elections in Rajasthan, a delegation of Muslims from Sawai Madhopur district had met their local Congress MP Namo Narain Meena, pleading him to filed a strong local Muslim leader to confront Meena community leader, Dr Kirodi Lal Meena. Those, present in the meeting told dna that the MP, also a Union minister, scolded and reminded the delegates that they have no choice but to support the “secular” Congress to defeat “communal” Narendra Modi. “Supporting the Congress is your compulsion as the only other party is Modi and Advani’s BJP,” a local, social activist quoted Meena while talking to dna.

Although the Congress fielded Danish Abrar, a Muslim, in the constituency, the fact that Abrar, a Delhi resident, was an outsider worked against the Congress. The Muslim voters gave a fitting reply to Namo Narayan Meena; Abrar finished third, as a large chunk of votes went to BJP’s Diya Kumari to defeat Kirodi Lal Meena, whom local Muslims believe was involved in the October 2011 murder of an “honest” Muslim police officer, Phool Mohammad.

Such defeat of the Congress’ Muslim candidates in Muslim-dominated constituencies points to the emergence of a new political arithmetic: The Muslim community can no longer be seen as consolidating against the BJP or voting only for their community members. The election results also show that the community has recorded the lowest Muslim representation ever in these states; Chhattisgarh failed to record a single Muslim winner, Madhya Pradesh has one winning Muslim candidate; Rajasthan has two Muslim winners, both from the BJP while five Muslims have won in Delhi.  

In Rajasthan, BJP’s Habibur Rahman Ashrafi won the Nagaur seat despite the Congress having fielded a Muslim candidate — Shaukat Ali. The Congress candidate’s popularity was so low that not only did an Independent candidate, Harendra Mirdha, secured the second highest number of votes, but Ali even lost his deposit.

In the nearby Deedwana constituency, BJP’s Yunus Khan trounced the Congress’ Jat nominee Chetan Choudhary. The conclusion that can be drawn from Ashrafi and Khan’s victories is that Muslims in these constituencies preferred the BJP to the Congress.

In Mandawa constituency, both the BJP and Congress candidates lost to Independent Narendra Kumar. However, the BJP’s Saleem Tanwar secured 20,458 votes compared to the Congress state unit president Chandra Bhan’s 15,815 votes. Other notable Congress stalwarts who lost in Rajasthan’s Muslim-dominated constituencies are Shanti Dhariwal, Rajendra Pareek, Brij Kishore Sharma and Bulaki Das Kalla. Among these, the cases of Shanti Dhariwal from Kota (North) and Rajendra Pareek from Sikar present a clear shift of Muslim voters from the Congress to the BJP.

Shanti Dhariwal’s defeat in the Muslim-dominated constituency of Kota (North) is illustrative of the changing mindset in the Muslim community. Congress satrap Dhariwal lost to the BJP’s Prahlad Gunjal, who secured 79,295 votes. Dhariwal lost by a margin of 14,861 votes mainly because a chunk of the constituency’s 45,000 Muslim voters voted for the Social Democratic Party of India candidate Mohammad Shafi; he got 13,545 votes.

In Sikar, where Muslims make up for around 70,000 votes, Congress stalwart Rajendra Pareek lost by a margin of around 13,000 votes to a relatively lightweight BJP candidate — Ratan Lal Jaldhari. Even political debutant, social worker Wahid Chauhan, who contested for the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), secured 40,000 votes.

The shifting of Muslim voters to the BJP in Jhalawar district and in many seats in Kota district, such as in Chhabda and Ramganj Mandi, is also proved by the margins of the victorious BJP candidates. Another significant illustration comes from Tijara constituency in Alwar, where state health minister Aimaduddin Ahmed Khan, better known as Durru Mian, came third. In this Meo-dominated constituency, BJP’s Maman Singh got 69,278 votes and BSP candidate Choudhary Fazal Hussain got 31,284 votes compared to Khan’s 29,172 votes.

Another important political under-current is that Muslims have rejected parachuted candidates. This is illustrated by the convincing defeats of Zakia Imam from Tonk and Abrar from Sawai Madhopur, both of whom stood third. The Congress had won the Sawai Madhopur seat in 2008, when they had fielded a local — Allaudin Azad. This time around, Muslims voted for BJP candidate Diya Kumari to consolidate against Kirodi Lal Meena.

The community has also been observing the performance of sitting Muslim MLAs. This played a crucial role in the defeat of minority affairs minister Ameen Khan from Sheo in Barmer district and of Saleh Mohammad from Pokhran in Jaisalmer district.

For the BJP, which had fielded four Muslim candidates in Rajasthan, the lessons are mixed. While two of these candidates won, the other two — sitting MLA from Dholpur Abdul Sageer Khan and Saleem Tanwar in Mandawa — lost.

In Madhya Pradesh, where Muslims comprise 6.5% of the population, four of the Congress’ five Muslim candidates lost to their BJP rivals. The sole Congress Muslim canddidate to get elected was Arif Aqeel.

In Chhattisgarh, the COngress had fielded two Muslim candidates — sitting MLAs Badruddin Qureshi from Bhilai Nagar and Mohammad Akbar from Pandariya — and they both lost.

The lesson for the grand old party is clear — the Congress can no longer claim to enjoy Muslims’ exclusive support.

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