The so-called Narendra Modi factor -the Congress expects to be what Rahul Gandhi would call the default programme for its minority vote-bank following the declaration of the BJPs prime ministerial candidate-does not seem to have worked for the ruling party in the Meo-dominated Mewat region of Rajasthan.
The 2011 Gopalgarh incident,in which 10 Muslims were killed in police firing following clashes with Gurjars,continues to haunt the ruling party in this region,especially in Bharatpur and Alwar districts,as there is palpable anger and resentment against the Congress among Meo Muslims.
Muslims always voted for the Congress,but not this time, says Feroze Khan,62,of Ladamka village. It was the government,the police,who killed people here. It was a Congress government in Delhi when the Babri Masjid was demolished,and it was a Congress government in Jaipur when the police killed Muslims in Gopalgarh. When the Congress government cant stop the police from shooting us,why should we vote for them?
A group of youngsters at the village square echoes his sentiments,with one of them pointing out that there had been no such incident even during the previous BJP regime.
A question whether they are ready to vote for Modi and the BJP to punish the Congress kicks off a heated debate,with some arguing that the Congress is no better and others pointing out that Modi is a prime ministerial candidate and not a chief ministerial one.
We will go for a third party. Muslims should have a third party. People will vote for Kirori Lal Meena, says Samsuddin,virtually settling the debate as others nod in agreement. Meena,independent MP from Dausa who had resigned from the Vasundhara Raje cabinet and whose wife Golma Devi later joined the Ashok Gehlot cabinet,recently used P A Sangmas National Peoples Party as a launchpad to emerging as a third force in a traditionally bipolar state.
Meena has been trying to encash the Muslims resentment against the Gehlot government to forge a Muslim-Meena electoral combination. While the NPP is expected to make a dent into the vote-banks of both the BJP and the Congress in various constituencies,the inclination of Muslims to explore the third option could cost the Congress dear in about a dozen seats in the Bharatpur-Alwar region. In 2008,the Congress could win only four out of 18 Assembly seats in Bharatpur and Alwar.
Pointing at bullet marks on the walls of the mosque at Gopalgarh,Dr Iliyas Khan says,The government has not given a paisa for the repair of the mosque. After the police firing,when Muslims fled the area,everything inside the mosque including fans,inverters,mikes,coolers,disappeared. The government has done nothing about it. On the contrary,a lot of Muslims are behind bars. Obviously,there is anger against the Congress.
He adds,however,that Muslims will take a decision depending on the candidates fielded by various parties. Zahida Begum (Congress MLA from Kaman) had fought for us then. People may be angry with the Congress,but not with her, said Khan.
A self-professed Congressman,Maulana Mohammed Arshad of the Jamia Millia Darul Uloom Mohammadia,Gopalgarh,says,There is a feeling of terror among people about Narendra Modi. I dont think Modi will become the prime minister,but he will not have any impact on voting here. If the Congress fields a weak candidate,then some people may go to another party, he says,adding that Chief Minister Gehlot had visited Gopalgarh and his madrasa too.
A delegation of Muslims recently met Rahul Gandhi,who had come to Gopalgarh after the incident,in New Delhi. Some people are certainly upset with the Congress,but their grievance is not so much that it would affect their voting, says Maulana Arshad.
A social activist working among Meos in Alwar says although there is a lot of resentment against the Congress in Mewat region,there are some Congress leaders who are still popular. Some leaders such as Zahida Begum and Durru Miyan (Tijara MLA) still enjoy popularity,but we have to see whether their individual appeal can neutralise the prevailing sense of anger and betrayal against the Congress, he says.
Rahul Gandhi is said to be conscious of the alienation of Meos from the Congress and that is the apparently reason the party decided to schedule his public meeting at Khedi on the Alwar-Bharatpur border Wednesday. These last-ditch attempts to woo the Meos come at a time when the Congress is already facing anti-incumbency in the state.