In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, the same old questions are playing on the minds of the Muslim community – should it vote for a change to teach the ruling Congress-NCP alliance a lesson or should it explore its options in other secular parties like the Samajwadi Party or the debutant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) or should it stick to the basics and vote against saffron forces to keep Narendra Modi at bay. Muslims form close to 14 per cent of the total electorate of Maharashtra and play a crucial role in shaping the poll outcome in certain constituencies.
Activist Noor Jahan, who runs the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, claims that the community is willing to give new parties a chance. "These questions prevailed on my mind until assembly elections of Delhi. Now I have got certain clarity. I shall explore my options in AAP since I can't allow the Congress and NCP to continue to take us for granted. Eight years have passed since the Sachar committee report was made public. What did the Congress-NCP alliance do about its recommendations? " she asked.
But is she not worried about of the "Modi factor"? Won't voting for AAP over Congress help the saffron party if the Muslim votes get divided. "Modi is a reality and we know it is a difficult choice for the community to make. But I believe it's time to take some risk and not fall into fear psychosis (about Modi) created by the Congress," she observed.
Zeenath Shaukat Ali, head of department of Islamic studies, Xavier College, wants Muslims to vote for the party that treats them as "Indians" instead of pushing the community to the 'fringe.' "Muslims have same needs as any other Indian. I would like the community to go with AAP as that is the only party which talking about dealing with India as a whole," said Ali.
But for activist Maulana Burhaan-uddin Qasmi, director of Markaz-ul-Maarif, an education and research center, the priority is to counter the "Modi-factor". "For last several months we have been holding informal meetings with the community groups on this. The members must vote for the contestant who has the brightest chance of defeating the saffron candidate be it from Congress, NCP or AAP," said Qasmi.
Muslim Shia scholar Zaheer Abbas Rizvi, who has affiliations to Congress, agrees with Qasim. "Over the years we have noticed that Muslims have started voting more intelligently and in a consolidated manner hence leaving an impact on the outcome of the result. The community has always supported a secular candidate. We expect them to do it this time too," said Rizvi.
Muzaffarnagar riots seemed to have hit the popularity of SP amongst Muslims in Maharashtra. While most members dismissed it as a non-entity here, a few said its worse than the Congress. Senior journalist and activist Mohammed Shoaib Koti, general secretary: Tahrik-E-Zakat India and vice president of Quami Majlis-E-Shora, Maharashtra, called Congress and SP 'two sides of the same coin'.