Muslims nowhere in political discourse in poll-bound MP

Muslims nowhere in political discourse in poll-bound MP

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan at a roadshow in support of BJP candidate from Bhopal North assembly constitutency Fatima Rasool Siddiqui (R) for State Assembly election, in Bhopal. PTI Photo 

Taking out a roadshow in Muslim localities to seek votes for BJP’s lone Muslim candidate, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh reached out on Thursday but by and large the minority community seems to have fallen out of the political discourse in Madhya Pradesh.

The only time that Muslims were discussed with gusto during the election campaign was when a two-month-old video of Congress state chief Kamal Nath went viral, in which he exhorted for ensuring 90 % voting by Muslims in “Muslim booths”.

Otherwise, the party would suffer hugely, he said. BJP went to the Election Commission accusing Nath of “communal and divisive politics” and “dividing even booths in the name of religion”.

There are 38 lakh Muslim voters in the state but just four candidates have been fielded from Congress and BJP. Currently, there is only one Muslim MLA in the 230-member state assembly - Arif Aqueel of Congress -even though a dozen seats consist 30 to 50 % of Muslim electorate.

In 2013 Assembly polls, Congress had fielded five Muslim candidates and the BJP one - Arif Beg, who lost to Congress’ Arif Aqueel in Bhopal North, the lone winner among Muslim candidates.

This time also BJP has fielded just one Muslim candidate - Fatima Rasool Sidiqui from Bhopal North against lone Muslim MLA  Aqueel.

Congress has fielded three Muslim candidates — two of them in Muslim dominated constituencies of Bhopal.

Appealing to vote for Fatima, Chouhan told the Muslim electorate that he has never differentiated between Hindus and Muslims and cited the Re 1 rice scheme, which he said benefited both Hindu and Muslim poor. 

He also reminded that when his government gave donations to temples, it also got a Haj House constructed.

When questioned by media why BJP fielded only one Muslim candidate, Chouhan maintained that his party does not decide candidates on the basis of religion but by who can deliver better.

Muslims out

The 6.6 % Muslim population of the state has been out of the political discourse for quite some time now. When asked who will win Madhya Pradesh, Yunus Khan, a voter from Bhopal North, gives a terse reply - “One who has the money will win the polls.”

Muslims in the city show a general disinclination to discuss politics. They also seem to have resigned to Congress’ soft Hindutva pitch. “Muslims have no problem with Rahul Gandhi going to temples and projecting himself as a Shiv Bhakta. What option do they have,” asks Imran, an auto drive in Bhopal.

This has happened in a state where there were leaders like Arjun Singh, whose strident stand against then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao after the demolition of Babri mosque at Ayodhya and his tilt towards minority welfare has earned him more popularity among the Muslims than any of their community leaders. It’s a different matter that Singh’s pro-Muslim image also invited charges from Congress detractors of  Muslim appeasement.

Years after A K Antony Committee that went into the reasons for Congress’ shock 44 result in 2014 Lok Sabha polls pointed out  the perception that Congress was taking care of only Muslims, the Opposition party has taken a soft Hindutva line projecting Rahul Gandhi from ‘janeu-dhaari Hindu’ to ‘Shiv Bhakta’, and there is a general diffidence to talk about Muslim issues.

This is also visible in MP elections even as Muslim voters are silently and solidly backing the party. Digvijay Singh, who had been raising Muslim issues, even at times courting controversies, has gone silent. In a backroom boy role, the former MP Chief Minister’s job is “coordination”, which he is doing.