Cong Woos Muslims In Rajasthan
The Congress fearing Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party is all out to woo the Muslims ahead of December’s Assembly polls. Post independence, the Congress has relied on its strong vote bank comprising dalits, tribals, Jats and Muslims. But in last few years, the party lost its stronghold on Jats and dalits, however, the Muslims remained loyal to it.
In fact, in the last Assembly polls in 2008, there were 15 minority candidates winning the Assembly polls. The Congress’s Muslims candidates won 13 seats, while two Muslims were elected as BJP candidates. It was for the first time that such a large number of minority community members were elected in the state. The BJP has also lured the Muslims and more and more Muslims are demanding party’s nominations for the forthcoming elections.
But the firing on the Meo Muslims in Gopalgarh in Bharatpur district in which eight Muslims were killed left the community bitter. The Meos are in sizeable numbers and they collectively can influence the results in a dozen seats in Alwar and Bharatpur districts.
The police resorted to firing on the Meos after a group clash over some land dispute. Meos (pronounced Mev and also called Mewati) are Hindu converts and are located in Haryana, Rajasthan’s Alwar and Bharatopur districts and some part of the western Uttar Pradesh.
The majority is uneducated and is currently classed under the Other Backward Castes (OBCs). After 1947, a considerable number of Meos migrated to Pakistan where they have lost their distinct group identity and cultural traditions and have assimilated with other Muslim population.
Meos call themselves by Hindu names with the exception of Ram, while Singh is a frequent affix, though not so common as Khan. The Meos represent a blending of Hinduism and Islam. They profess the beliefs of Islam but the roots of their ethnic structure are in Hindu caste society. The Meos come from many Hindu castes who converted to Islam and amalgamated as Meo community.
Many Rajasthani Meos retain mixed Hindu-Muslim names. Names such as Ram Khan or Shankar Khan are not unusual in the Meo tracts in Alwar. The Muslim community of Meos was highly Hinduised before independence. They celebrated Diwali and Holi as they celebrated two Eids (Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha). They do not marry within one’s gotras like Hindus of the north, though Islam permits marriage within cousins. Solemnisation of marriage among Meos was not complete without both Nikah as in Islam and circling of fire as among Hindus. Meos believe that they are direct descendants of Krishna and Rama even as they claim to be among the unnamed prophets of God referred to in the Quran.
The killing of Meos in Gopalgarh firing not only enraged them, but also other Muslims. A shocking and heart-rending incident in Sawaimadhopur which saw a police officer Phool Mohammed burnt alive by unruly mob of the Meena community is also fresh in the minds of the Muslims.
The annoyance of the Muslims and the option of supporting a Samajwadi Party would harm the cause of the Congress greatly. There is just one Samajwadi party MLA in the Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha and he is a non- Muslim, but the Muslims are showing interest in the Samaj Party of late.
The Samajwadi Party has no structure in the state and Mulayam Singh made no efforts so far to set up the party’s base in the state. In Alwar, the Yadavs are in good numbers and combined with the Meos in both Alwar and Bharatpur districts, the SP can create problems for both- the Congress and the BJP. Barring a visit by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, no other heavy weights of the party has visited the state of late. The SP has practically no organisational set-up.
“This time large numbers of not only Muslims,but people from other faiths are seeking the party tickets expressing their faith in the ideology of the SP,” says Anil Shekhawat, SP general secretary of the state. There are two Muslims, who are ministers in the Ashok Gehlot government. AA Khan lovingly known as Durumiyan is the minister of health and Naseem Akhtar Insaf elected from Pushkar in Ajmer district is a minister of state. Durumiyan is not a Meo,but a Pathan. But he won from Tizara in Alwar district where there is a sizeable presence of the Meos. Durumiyan’s father Nawab Aminuddind Khan Loharu used to be elected from Tizara and was also a minister and later governor of Himachal Pradesh.
Late Chief Minister Barkatullah Khan was also elected from Tizara. Zahida, the daughter of late Choudhry Tayyab Hussain,a Meo leader of Faridabad, who had the distinction of being a minister in Punjab,Haryana and Rajasthan is the parliamentary secretary holding a minister of state status, is seen as an attempt to appease the Meos by the Gehlot government.
Following the Gopalgarh incident, Muslims have time and again expressed their anger against the Congress government in the state. BJP dissident Kirori Lal Meena,who is an independent member of Lok Sabha, too, has been making efforts to win over the community, threatening to erode the traditional vote bank of Congress.
“In Rajasthan there are 32 Vidhan Sabha segments in which the Muslims do matter and they eventually impact the results. The Congress will have to devise a strong strategy to ensure that the Muslims do not drift away from it,” admits Congress secretary Sooraj Khatri.
BJP dissident Chader Raj Singhvi who was the principal BJP strategist in helping the BJP come to power in 2003 Assembly elections feels that it has become difficult for the Congress to retain its vote bank among the Muslims. The Muslims would vote for the SP or any other third force, but not for the Congress, feels he.
Rajasthan is the biggest state in the country in terms of area and out of 7.12 crore population, Muslims comprise eight percent and are spread in small and large numbers in all parts of the state.
After the Gopalgarh and the killing of Phool Mohammed, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot who has a large following in the Muslim community has drawn special packages to appease the Muslims.
Gehlot played to the gallery while inaugurating the Haj House, a long pending project, at the Karbala Maidan in Jaipur recently.
The Haj House foundation stone was laid during the reign of the BJP government, but the BJP government had to pull its hands out from the project following the protest from the RSS elements.
In the large presence of Muslims, Gehlot assured the gathering that the government will look into all possible demands of the community. “Jo chahoge, wo milega (Whatever you want, you will get.),” he said amid thunderous applause of the crowd. He said the state has numerous schemes and policies for the development of Muslims and the community must avail of them. Gehlot has announced in his home town setting up of private Maulana Abul Kalam Azad University in Jodhpur, which is run by Mewar Muslim Educational and Welfare Society.
The Congress government is also revising the rent of Waqf properties being used as government offices in sync with the market rate. A poll wary Congress government, wasted no time to announce Rs 1,000 crore allocation for minorities in the state budget 2013. Besides providing funds to all minority constitutional bodies, the budget has allocated Rs 200 crore for development of the Muslims in the state.
The state government has provided Rs 3 crore to Waqf Board. Survey for more than 3000 waqf properties has been carried out and this year grant of Rs 10 crore will be provided to the Board. For the modernisation of madrasas the state government has made provision of Rs 25 crore. “India is the country where people of various religions, sections and languages live. The forces that are weakening the country in the name of religion, caste and language will not be tolerated. People here know the truth of communal forces and I am sure they will not support any party that supports them,” said a confident Gehlot.
By Prakash Bhandari from Jaipur