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05 November 2012

SPECIAL REPORT: Narendra Modi after Muslims again with a vengeance, wants their votes by hook or crook to bag Prime Ministership

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Muslims voters to play kingmakers in Gujarat assembly polls

By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

Ahmedabad: As every Gujarati knows that Chief Minister Narendra Modi has set his eyes on Prime Ministership in 2014 elections, and for that purpose he wants to return with a thumping majority in assembly elections. Now his agenda is to get Muslim votes by hook or crook in order to bag Prime Ministership.

A clear elecoral mathematics could be at play in enacting the much-hyped Sadbhavana Mission by Narendra Modi, and other community-driven political agenda of both the BJP and Congress Party in Gujarat.

A caste and community-wise break-up circulating in political circles, claimed to be part of the 2011 caste census which is yet to be made public, shows that Muslims constitute between 10 percent and 61 percent of votes at least in 66 of the total 182 Assembly seats in the state.

Political analysts say caste, and not development, will finally decide who is to be elected.

Of the total votes of nearly 3.7 crore, however, Muslims constitute only 9.89 percent. They are followed by Leuva Patels, the community to which former chief minister Keshubhai Patel and Gordhan Zadaphia belong. Constituting 8.11 percent of the state’s electorate, Leuva Patels can influence 41 Assembly seats, mainly in Saurashtra-Kutch and South Gujarat. At the third place are Thakors, a part of OBCs, with 7.67 percent votes and holding sway in 40 seats, mainly in North and Central Gujarat.

Scheduled Tribes, forming 12.35 percent of Gujarat’s electorate, are the single largest group in terms of size, but they are decisive only in 34 seats, mainly on the eastern belt stretching from Ambaji in the north to Umargam in the south.

Kadva Patels, the community to which number minister Anandi Patel belongs, have influence in over 32 seats and form 6.42 percent of Gujarat’s electorate, mainly in North Gujarat and on some parts of Saurashtra.

Kolis and Darbar (Rajput) community together have influence in 32 seats and have a total vote share of 7.79 percent and 6.52 percent, respectively.

Brahmins and Jains are the smallest, at 3.12 percent and 2.41 percent, respectively. They hold influence in nearly 10 seats.

All other castes in general and Other Backward Classes (OBC) are have 9.65 percent and 12.4 percent vote shares, respectively.

Dinesh Shukala, a former professor of political science at Gujarat University, says, “Though both BJP and Congress are talking of development as an agenda, caste, sub-caste and regional balance become key issues which the parties only see at the last moment during selection of candidates. It will be an obvious issue in the upcoming elections.”

“Despite BJP’s claims, Muslims voting for it in large numbers is not possible. It can happen in a few pockets,” he says.

Ghanshyam Shah, a sociologist and former Jawaharlal Nehru University professor, says caste politics has played a key role in Gujarat since 1967. “It will be a key factor in selection of candidates for both the parties this time also. However, except Muslims, other communities never vote en-bloc for any party in Gujarat, so local equations will play an important role,” he says

“The elections in Gujarat in December will be a close fight. Contrary to popular public perception, there will be no sweeping majority for Modi,” Bandukwala, a former physics professor from M.S. University, told in an interview to Indian Muslim Observer.

“Keshubhai Patel has mutinied. He could well split the Patel vote (19 percent of Gujarat’s population). The Congress itself is trying to woo the Patels. In their latest cabinet reshuffle, they made Dinsha Patel a cabinet minister. So, who knows,” he said, referring to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Sunday elevating Dinsha Patel to cabinet rank.

Bandukwala, 68, who has also been president of the Gujarat wing of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), added that the economic situation could also prove to be factor for Modi – held up as a model chief minister by some for propelling the state towards prosperity but also believed to be responsible for the 2002 Gujarat riots that saw 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, being killed.

“Contrary to the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ hype that Modi has built up in the last decade, the economic situation for those at the bottom in the state is very bad. But it has been masked by heavy communal polarisation. One does not know how poor Hindus will vote in this election. Much also depends on the Dalit community will vote,” the veteran activist added.

And how will Muslims in Gujarat vote in this election?

“With the exception of a tiny fragment, they will not vote for Modi. Only Bohras may vote for him since they have mercantile concerns,” Bandukwala, who has been one of the most articulate Muslim voices in Gujarat, asserted.

So does that mean that Muslims will vote en masse for the Congress?

“Much depends on how the Congress will react. They have not cultivated Gujarat’s Muslims till now,” he said, blaming Sonia Gandhi’s close aide Ahmed Patel who he believes can be held responsible for either a “general or a Muslim leadership” to evolve in the Congress in Gujarat.

“There is an absence of elected Muslim leadership in Gujarat. So Muslims feel they don’t have a voice.”

Bandukwala dismisses the recent meeting between British High Commissioner James Bevan and Modi in Gandhinagar as of no real significance. Britain had maintained a ‘no contact’ policy with Modi after the riots.

“It is nothing really. Britain requires business as its economy has gone kaput. Gujarati Hindus are a powerful community there. They have taken advantage of the circumstances. But still, I am not worried as Britain is no longer top dog. I would be much more worried if Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton embrace Modi.”

Asked what would be the foremost demand of Gujarat’s Muslims if the Congress came to power, Bandukwala told : “We only want security. We do not want a repeat of 2002, either in Gujarat or in the rest of the country.

“By god’s grace, we (Gujarati Muslims) have been able to recover from 2002. We can never forget that leaders like Advani and Vajpayee remained silent in 2002. We only want that 2002 should not happen again.”

And will Modi’s removal from power help speed up the delivery of justice in the riot cases?

“Frankly, it does not matter who comes to power. In these 11, we have managed to get justice. But much remains to be done. And we will get there one day.”

[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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