Published On:12 July 2012
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Muslim voters to get more choices in traditionally bipolar Gujarat

By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani 

Ahmedabad: With two new anti-Narendra Modi fronts likely to emerge on the election scene, the Gujarati voters particularly Muslim voter is set to be presented with more serious choices than usual in a traditionally bipolar state. What may set them back is that they are so similar that neither may appear to the voter as an alternative to the other.

Former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, Modi’s arch rival, has found a new ally in Maha Gujarat Janata Party founder Gordhan Zadaphia, who announced last week that the former would launch a new party. Days later, another BJP rebel, MLA Kanu Kalsaria, teamed up with godman Swami Agnivesh and former Congress minister Sanat Mehta to announce yet another party.
Completing the fray will be the Samajwadi Party, aiming higher than ever before, and the BSP which has already tested itself across Gujarat once. The SP is expected to contest all 182 seats, having fought only 21 last time.

Its ambitions heightened after its victory in UP and before the 2014 general elections, the SP has been trying to woo migrants in south and central Gujarat.

The BSP had already contested 166 seats last time and is expected to compete again.The NCP too has a presence but it is a Congress ally, not an alternative to the two major parties. It is set to demand a higher share of seats after unexpectedly winning three last time.
For the two anti-Modi fronts, the absence of unity between them raises the likelihood of anti-Congress and anti-BJP votes being split. And the leaders of either offer little or no variations in terms of electoral planks. 

The stress by Keshubhai and Zadaphia, a former BJP home minister, on corruption, farmers and communities is echoed by Kalsaria: “We will focus on issues like corruption, communalism and matters affecting those involved in primary occupation such as farming and fishing.” Asked if the apparently common agenda can affect each party’s prospects, Zadaphia said, “We know littleabout the new group.”

There is rivalry between and within the splinter groups, too. Kalsaria had won a couple of local body elections in coalition with the Congress — and even teamed up with Zadaphia — before finding the new allies in Swami Agnivesh and Mehta. Zadaphia and Kalsaria had earlier been supporting each other’s agitation.

Besides, Kalsaria has also won Mahuva Taluka Panchayat with the help of the Congress. Congress leaders such as Vitthal Radadiya and Bavku Unghad have also been seen with Keshubhai and Zadaphia.

Kalsaria will be fancying his chances after successfully steering a farmers’ campaign against the Nirma group’s cement plant at Mahuva, where he went against his own party’s government, and for which it has not taken any action yet. Kalsaria and his group have hinted at contesting 25 seats, with Saurashtra-Kutch as focus, but Zadaphia’s MJP, which will be making its electoral debut, plans to contest all 182.

Gujarat has a long history of political rebellion but the rebels have traditionally had little electoral success. There have been exceptions though. One was that of the Morarji Desai-led Sanstha Congress that emerged out of a Congress split in 1970. In 1975, in the aftermath of the Navnirman Agitation, the breakaway group was part of an umbrella of five parties — the others being the Jansangh, the RJP, the Majdhur Sangh and the SP — that, supported bythe Khedut Majdoor Lok Paksh, kept the Congress, the single largest party, out of power.

Other rebels who have tasted a degree of success include Chimanbhai Patel and Shankersinh Vaghela, who formed parties after breaking away from the Congress and the BJP, respectively, but their moments were short-lived. In 1990, Chimanbhai, with the help of the BJP, became CM as leader of Janta Dal (Gujarat). The government lasted less than a year. And in 1997, Vaghela, after toppling the Keshubhai Patel government, became CM from the newly floated Rashtriya Janata Party, made largely of BJP rebels. In the elections next year, the RJP got only four seats.
Remarks made by Gujarat Congress’s campaign in-charge Shankersinh Vaghela at the party’s minorities cell convention at Preksha Bharti (Koba) in Gandhinagar on Sunday have upset certain Muslim leaders.

At least 30-odd speakers were given three minutes each to address the gathering that consisted mainly of women and infants (wearing party scarves!) and young boys. While exhorting the minorities to come out in large numbers to vote for the Congress, Vaghela told the audience, “Tamara bharose ame badnam thaya, Radhanpur ma Shankarulla Khan banelo (I became infamous as Shankarulla Khan in Radhanpur).” Vaghela was referring to a 1997 by-election in which pictures of him sporting the skull cap had been circulated by rivals.

Unmindful that his words may have offended some in the audience, Vaghela continued, “Your low turnout will not do. It must be 90 per cent minimum. The reason, the Congress already bears the accusation of being a party of Muslims, so the onus of ensuring victory lies on Muslims.”
“In 2002 and 2007, there was Godhra...Akshardham...bringing the burnt bodies to Ahmedabad to divide people. Allelections were fought on Hindu vs Muslims issue...,” he said.

Later, Bharuch MLA Iqbal Patel agreed that Vaghela’s utterances were “indeed harsh and hurtful” and that it “could be seen from the mood of the audience immediately after the speech”.
Asked if any group could be instructed to vote for a party by way of right, he said this might lead a to reaction in the community later.

GPCC president Arjun Modhwadia said it was typical of Vaghela to use such tone in community meetings “but he should have understood the popular sentiment at the convention”.

“I later spoke to him on this and he told me that his words might have been harsh but the spirit was not wrong,” Modhwadia said.

The Muslim leadership in the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) is demanding tickets for the community leaders from as many as 14 seats in the Assembly elections due late this year.Though the issue was not discussed at the GPCC’s minority cell meet on Sunday since it was an open forum, minority cell leaders say they had submitted a list of the constituencies to the state party leadership almost a week ago.

They argue there were 12 Muslim MLAs in the state Assembly in 1985 but their number has come down to five at present, mainly because the Congress has been fielding fewer Muslim contestants but also because the growth of communalism since eighties made it difficult for Muslim candidates to win elections.

They say there are several seats with substantial Muslim votes and Muslim candidates can sail through if the Congress leadership effectively works to transfer non-Muslim Congress votes to Muslim candidates.However, sources say the state leadership, which was averse to giving five tickets to Muslims even in 2007 Assembly elections, is reluctant to accept the demand because it fears polarisation and BJP benefitting from it.Vazirkhan Pathan, president of GPCC (minority cell), said they had submitted a list of 13 Assembly constituencies for ticket allotment to Muslim candidates.

These constituencies, according to him, are Jamalpur, Dariapur-Kalupur, Vejalpur, Rakhial-Bapunagar, Sidhpur, Mandvi, Bhuj, Abdasa, Veraval, Mangrol, Surat East, Vankaner, Vagra, Jambusar or Ankleshwar.GPCC president Arjun Modhwadia, when asked, said the tickets were allotted on winnability of candidates.“Winnability will be the sole criterion in allotment of tickets and nothing else,” he said.

[Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is a senior Journalist based at Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Gujarat). He can be reached at lakhani63@yahoo.com or on his cell 09228746770]

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on July 12, 2012. Filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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