Muslim candidates contesting Lok Sabha elections as independents or on tickets of smaller political parties in Gujarat are likely to bolster the position of the BJP by drawing votes away from the Congress. This trend is especially seen in seats which are viewed as Congress strongholds.
While Congress has fielded only one Muslim —Mirza Maqsud Baig from Navsari — BJP has not fielded a single Muslim. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party has fielded seven Muslims, the highest by a single party. The maximum number of Muslims in the fray are from Jamnagar seat — 11 — where Congress strongman Vikram Maadam is fighting his niece Poonam Maadam from the BJP. Of the total 334 candidates in the fray in Gujarat on 26 seats, 67 (19.76 per cent) are Muslims. Muslim Congress leaders and activists suspect that some of these candidates, particularly from the Panchamahals, Kheda, Anand, Bharuch, Navsari, Sabarkantha, Jamnagar and Junagadh, have been fielded at the behest of the BJP with a view to divide Muslim votes.
Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela, in fact, faces the same predicament he faced in 2009 where Muslim candidates drew nearly 33,000 votes together in Lok Sabha polls in the Panchmahals, and he was defeated by less than 3,000 votes. Though Vaghela shifted his constituency this time to Sabarkantha, the spectre of Muslims drawing his potential votes looms on this seat too. And that too from the same family.
If in 2009 Abdul Kalim Sheikh drew more than 23,000 votes alone in the Panchmahals as an independent in 2009, this time he is fighting the same seat on an SP ticket while his brother, Arif Sheikh, is contesting from Sabarkantha on an SP ticket – both are Congress strongholds. Vaghela has lodged a complaint with the EC, alleging that Arif Sheikh is registered as a voter in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.
“Congress has not given us anything in the long spell of its rule and hence it needs to be taught a lesson by ensuring its defeat in the polls,” says Kalim. He denies the charge that he and the other Muslims were “decoys” to divide the Muslims who might have voted for the Congress.
“The Congress leaders have no other charge against us and that is why they are coming with this allegation,” he says.
Mukhtiar Mansuri, a painter by profession, who got 10,382 votes in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls from the Panchmahals, is also contesting again as an independent. He also denies the Congress charge. “I needed Rs 35,000 in 2009 to fight polls. This year, I expect the expenditure to go up to Rs 50,000 and I can easily arrange it without help from anybody,” he said. Kalim and Mansuri admit being persuaded by Congress leaders to withdraw in 2009 and this time. “But no senior leader or the candidate himself came forward to talk to us and hence we rejected their request,” they said.
Kasambhai Darzada, contesting as an independent from Jamnagar seat, said that the Congress took the Muslim support for granted and hence, they never took the community seriously. Congress MLA Gyasuddin Sheikh alleged that these Muslim candidates were being financed and helped by parties trying to achieve the BJP target of winning all 26 seats in Gujarat.
Vadodara-based political activist Zubair Gopalani said that there were some Muslims who were ready to work for money. They were being used to divide the Congress votes and weaken its candidates against BJP’s. BJP’s Gujarat Minority Cell president Mehboob Chishti alias Bawa rubbished the charge, saying: “There is disappointment and anger among Muslims against the Congress. It has not been able to implement even a single recommendation of the Sachar Committee.”
No Muslim MP has been elected to LS from Gujarat in any of the General Elections since 1991. The last Muslim MP to have been elected from Gujarat was Ahmed Patel from Bharuch in 1984.