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SPECIAL REPORT: Hindutva on the rise in coming Gujarat assembly election

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By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

Ahmedabad: With chief minister Narendra Modi wooing the Muslim community and also projecting himself as ‘Vikas Purush’, it seemed Hindutva as a political force had run its course in Gujarat. But it cannot be mere coincidence that a large number of religious programmes — all ‘planned months before the assembly polls’ — are to be held during election time.

It seems plans are afoot to create an undercurrent of Hindutva for voters’ consumption but what is not clear is who will benefit from it this time. Social scientists are of the view that this Hindutva undercurrent will help not only the BJP but also Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat People’s Party (GPP).Baba Ramdev’s yoga camps were held recently in various parts of Saurashtraand South Gujarat where elections are be held in the first phase. Shri Shri Ravi Shankar’s events in north and central parts of Gujarat will be held on four days around Diwali.A three-day national convention — Rashtriya Vedic Dharm Mahadhiveshan — has been organised from November 17 at the shrine of Sufi saint, Imam Shah Bava, at Pirana near Ahmedabad.

The Imam Shah dargah is at the heart of a dispute between Hindus and Muslims as the dargah has devotees from both communities.

Morari Bapu will be delivering his Ram Katha from December 8 to 16 at Karnavati Club in Ahmedabad. It may be mentioned here that elections in the city will be held on December 17, a day after the Ram Katha concludes.

Social scientists, however, feel that Hinudtva is always present in Gujarati society and one has to do little to keep it alive. Religious events planned for election time and even issues like the death of two boys who were students at Asharam Bapu’s ashram, could subtly affect voters during polls.

But the beneficiary this time will not only be the BJP but also the GPP, say sociologists and political scientists.Veteran social scientist Prof Rohit Shukla said that without the visible support of the VHP and the RSS, the BJP in Gujarat is feeling frustrated.“For this reason, there are efforts to activate small religious groups which have limited following.

This shows that the Hindutva section of society is moving away from the Sangh Parivar,” Shukla said.He further said that under chief minister Narendra Modi, the BJP in Gujarat had become something like a regional party.“

Moreover, there is now GPP in the fray and Keshubhai’s party too has a Hindutva image. It should not be forgotten that it was under Keshubhai’s leadership that the BJP had registered its first impressive victory. During this election, voters with a Hindutva mindset have the GPP as an alternative to Modi’s BJP,” Shukla said.

Prof Ghanshyam Shah, former professor of Social Sciences at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, agrees that the BJP under Modi had been reduced to the status of a regional party in Gujarat.He further said that Hindutva as a sentiment was still present in Gujarat societyand that religious events held during election time may help not only the BJP but also the GPP.“Swadhyaya activities, Morari Bapu’s Ram Katha, Asharam Bapu’s ashram andother activities which began in the 1970s have created a Hindutva sentiment in Gujarat that will continue for some time in one form or another.

For this Hindutva, there is no difference between the BJP and Keshubhai,” Shah said. He, however, added that it is very difficult to say how Hindutva-minded voters will vote in the upcoming elections.

The party is certainly hoping that the Muslim community, comprising almost 10 percent of the population, will forget the volatile past but has done little to win back the confidence of what is a valuable vote bank.

As chief minister Narendra Modi makes a third bid for power, the BJP at the national and state levels acknowledges the importance of getting the Muslim vote. But party leaders are evasive when asked what was being done to woo the Muslim vote.

The refrain is that their party's poll strategy is not community-specific. Instead, they are fighting on the poll plank of development and good governance.

Gujarat's Muslim community constitutes 9.89 percent of the state's 60 million population. They have historically experienced riots at regular intervals, including in 2002 when at least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

"The Gujarat BJP's strategy will be for all six crore Gujaratis, including Muslims," Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat Parshottam Rupala told here.

Minister Jay Narayan Vyas, who holds multiple portfolios, echoed Rupala: "Our slogan is 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas' (Participation and progress for all). The BJP has been working for the progress and development of all Gujaratis, irrespective of caste or community. And our poll strategy will be likewise."

Agreed BJP spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi: "Good governance is our poll plank."
But behind the scenes, BJP planners, it is learnt, are trying their best to woo Muslims. They have to, for demography and delimitation dictate so.

Muslims can influence the outcome of the elections in at least 35 of Gujarat's 182 constituencies. In 10 constituencies, the Muslim vote is more than 25 percent. Five of these 10 constituencies lie in Gujarat's largest city, Ahmedabad: Jamalpur-Khadia (61 percent), Dani Limda (48 percent), Dariapur (46 percent), Vejalpur (35 percent) and Bapunagar (28 percent).
There are 25 other constituencies where the Muslim component is more than 15 percent. Of these, seven have more than 20 percent Muslim vote: Godhra, Wankaner, Abdasa, Mandvi (Kutch), Siddhpur, Somnath and Surat (East).

The party is hoping some of the steps it has taken will show dividends.

The head of its minority cell, Mehboob Ali Chishti, aka Mahebub Ali Bavasaheb, is from the liberal Sunni Barelvi sect that has a large following in the state. As the December polls draw closer, Bavasaheb has been exhorting Muslims, especially Barelvis, to vote for the BJP and 'share in Gujarat's development'.

In recent days, the BJP has bagged two influential Muslim faces: Congress spokesperson Asifa Khan and retired IPS officer A.I. Saiyed.

But will just this be enough?

"I think there is a major change in the mindset of Gujarat's Muslims. Till now they have been taken for granted by the Congress. But as they witness the benefits of development that the BJP rule has been bringing to the state, they might just switch sides this time," said Naqvi.

What about tickets? BJP circles in Gandhinagar are abuzz with chatter that Narendra Modi has decided to commit 'sacrilege' by fielding Muslim candidates this time. The party had not done so in the 2002 and 2007 polls and no clear answer is forthcoming this time.

"A poll ticket is not a guarantee of the community's political importance or presence. Parties give tickets to Muslims in several states. But that is just to cash in on Muslim votes. The Muslims who are elected are just 'goonga guddas'. They don't raise community issues at all," said Naqvi.

Ultimately though, it all boils down to acceptance.

"All these manoeuvres won't work for the BJP until it expresses regret over 2002. Until then, Muslims won't accept it," said former Gujarat University political science professor Dinesh Shukla.

Given the trajectory of events in the party, that is unlikely to happen.

[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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