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As we watch in amazement,the various electoral competitors change their attire,sides and tactics every moment. As far as the new,fresh-from-the-mint Muslim parties go,their number is slowly increasing and their demeanour is getting more vociferous and belligerent. These new formations the Azamgarh-based Ulema Council,the Parcham Party of India,Muslim Majlis and the Peace Party are the new political entrants in Uttar Pradesh are responding to the way the polity has changed since 2004.
In those elections the 2002 Gujarat riots were still central in the minds of most Muslims. Since then,however,the last five years of UPA rule have made Muslims feel less belligerent towards the BJP. Given that the BJP-led NDA does not evoke the same animosity as earlier,these new suitors of the community are emboldened to throw their hat in the ring. After all,even a 2 per cent vote overall will affect the outcome; the sum of the whole is to be determined by the minuscule.
But what effect will they really have? They are certainly likely to slice into the vote share of the states four major parties,even though they will have at best a marginal impact on the poll result and are not expected to win any seats. They need the support of other communities, as All-India Muslim Personal Law Board member Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangi Mahal has said.
Political analysts,thus,remain sceptical,seeing them mainly as pressure groups. Two such parties,the All-India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimmen in Andhra Pradesh and the Indian Union Muslim League in Kerala,have not been able to expand out of their home states,and are limited to a maximum of two seats. Of the other likely areas for such politics,Bihar,mired in caste and religion,takes a back seat,and thus no Muslim fronts have emerged. In the southern states,where Muslims are comparatively better off,voting is along national trends.
Voters are now intelligent; tactical voting for stability and security is the norm. The Muslim voters primary concern has been to keep the BJP out; such parties,likely to be branded as communal and thus helping to consolidate the BJPs vote,wont do that. If history is any guide,such pre-poll fronts wither away post-poll,their founders seeking political rehabilitation either in the SP,the BSP or the Congress.
Like their Hindu neighbours,the anger of the Muslim poor means that education,sanitation,livelihood issues rule supreme. Or they do till election fever sets in,and the minorities start seeing the familiar spread of inflammatory speeches and CDs; and the flight to safety begins. As of now,few take Varun Gandhi seriously but if he emerges as the new venom-spouting mascot of the Right and is applauded all over UP then the familiar polarisation will start: any left-of-centre party believed capable of beating the BJP gets the added accretion of Muslim votes.
Unlike the rest of India,Assam and West Bengals electorate is almost a third Muslim; so the phenomenon of Maulana Ajmals AUDF in Assam should be seen in that context. They still havent faced a general election; only a repeat performance will give credence to their
theory that theyre a genuinely successful Muslim-dominated party. They werent formed until October 2005; after all,even in the assembly elections held three months later,they won 10 seats (including two held by non-Muslim MLAs who just about barely made it).
Congress has been frightening Muslims that if they did not vote for it,BJP will come to power. We opposed both Congress and BJP in Assam and won 10 seats, said Ajmal. He has made a few loose tie-ups in a few states for the elections,saying,If we got even one seat from each state,or only one seat in the country,that will be a great achievement.
If the AUDFs effect in Assam could be replicated elsewhere,the BJP will be happy. The Congress won only 53,down from 71; in approximately 18 seats the AUDF directly affected their vote. All the AUDFs seats were previously Congress-held. Unsurprisingly,the Assam minister,Rockybul Hussain,then called Ajmal an agent of the BJP.
Ulema-led parties will only succeed if they earn the communitys trust and can think of a larger,more inclusive,organisation for political empowerment. The mosque can be used to spread the message of peace and Islam but for debating about the wrongs done to Indias minorities,the Lok Sabha is a better place.
The writer is chairman of the editorial board at the Kanpur-based Urdu newspaper Daily Siyasat Jadid