Muslims in Gujarat Assembly Elections
Gujarat election results have been quite uncanny to the electorates. While it seems that there is a win-win situation for both the major parties in the fray, what pervades the voters, particularly the muslims, is this palpable exasperation. Much in this palpability, pre and post-election, is rooted in the manner in which political mobilization was carried on in the civil society by the major players. The election witnessed, perhaps, one of the worst invectives and spites, hurled against each other in the opposing camps. All this was done to placate their own constituencies that led eventually to quite a high degree of communal polarization and caste fragmentation. However, the significant absence of muslims in the theatre of Gujarat’s electoral democracy, got further drubbing by the way competitive communalism rolled on in the run up to the election.
Muslims in Gujarat are, as per census 2011, almost 10% of the state’s population but their representation has never gone beyond five seats in the 182 – member assembly since the election of 1990. According to proportional representation system there would have been eighteen seats! The BJP has stopped giving tickets to Muslims, completely excluding them from its own party, since the 1998 and also, much to one’s chagrin, put up symbolically only one candidate in 1995 lok sabha and 1998 Vidhan Sabha elections. Congress, on the other hand, put up six candidates this time and half of them made it to the assembly. Out of the 1,828 candidates, 203 muslims contested the elections (11.1% of the total candidates) garnered a meagre 1.6% of the total vote. It is evident that large number of muslim candidates, as independent and others, were either prop ups by the BJP or used as, to use Jawed Alams’ phrase, ‘jokers in the pack of electoral democracy’.
The triumvirate of Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani appealed to their own respective communities. Patidars (Patels), Other backward castes and classes and Dalits found their representation in the young, courageous and dynamic leaders and most of them voted against BJP. However the trio couldn’t make much impact on adivasis (STs) and two amongst them completely missed reaching out to muslims. It was Jignesh only, not only in the trio but in the entire political class, who spoke emphatically of the injustice meted out to muslims post 2002 and stood with full courage of conviction for them. Congress managed to rope-in Alpesh Thakor and piggy back on the other two, and also as the main opposition party worked assiduously to put up ‘some contest’ or a ‘close contest’. However Congress campaign did not instill much confidence among the muslims, and the party appeared somewhat as having a low moral courage to fight the battle for secular India. Voters were told by Congress that Rahul Gandhi is ‘Janeo Dhari’ Brahmin and a ‘Shiv Bhakt’ and therefore was not atheist like Nehru. Rahul Gandhi visited temple after temple, 27 temples to be precise, to prove his hinduness and religious nationalism and escaped mosques, dargahs, churches or gurudwaras.
The congress with the trio, nevertheless, had redrawn strategically the faultlines and conflict boundaries as issues were getting reframed. It was the triumvirate, who focused on the ‘bottom up’ approach of political mobilization and, therefore, worked on the ‘cleavage structures’ arising out of policy crisis, particularly in rural areas and the marginalized sections of Gujarat society.
BJP, the dominant party and also the ruling party, made effort for ‘top down’ political mobilization, largely engineered by crony capitalists, and stirred up the rabble while placating the large swathe of disenchanted voters. In its campaign, BJP slid incessantly back and forth between communal polarization and caste fragmentation and towards the end put up the veneer of vikas (development) over all its innuendos. The ‘cleavage structures’ that exists in Gujarati society and economy is the outcome of neo-liberal agenda unleashed by the ruling dispensation since the last couple of decades. It is also quite evident in the rural-urban unevenness in terms of development. Social indicators for human development, sexual harassment against women, public distribution systems, and the mismatch between education and employment, makes one realize that there is skewed governance, and so there is a fertile ground for opposition to elicit mass approbation against the government. In particular, what we witnessed in the elections was that the issue of Muslim ghettoization was not at all touched upon by any political party. Congress did mention, in one line, in its manifesto that if elected it will implement Sachar committee report.
Marginalization of muslims, beyond second class citizens, in public sphere is seen as near complete, as we saw absence of public conversation about them during election process. Muslims were identified by curating hate symbols such as Alauddin khilji, Aurangzeb, Pakistan as usual, and so on. In fact, congress’s Ahmed Patel as Chief Minister was invoked as a symbol of hate, to instill fear and polarize the Hindu votes. The fear worked as we did not find voices, of Congress or even liberals, against the loathing of Muslims and Christians. Rather, the chasm and communal divide found its way in every day conversation leading further political marginalization of muslims. The young generations of muslims believed that they, in the absence of any leader or party representing them, must look for viable alternative strategy to battle political redundancy.
There are three take away from Gujarat election results for Muslims. One, that political parties, including the big ones, seldom reached out to Muslims fearing erosion of their mass base. Two, political mobilization during elections not only excluded them but the geography of fear and hate made Muslims quite vulnerable to infliction. For Muslims, Gujarat election times are not the festival of democracy as enjoyed by their fellow citizens but actually a moment of deep inward catharsis. And three, Muslims felt that they need to reach out mainstream for more mundane things in their life.
The author is Associate Professor, Ramjas College, University of Delhi
By Tanvir Aeijaz