Sunday, February 24, 2013

Are Muslim voters in Gujarat really supporting Narendra Modi?

Are Muslim voters in Gujarat really supporting Narendra Modi?

Among the small number of apparent certainties of an Indian election is the myth of an en bloc Muslim vote, which goes to whichever political party looks most likely to prevent the BJP from coming to power. TheCongress, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party have often been the recipients of this vote.

So when Mahmood Madani, general secretary of theJamiat-Ulama-i-Hind, claimed earlier this week in a television interview that some Muslim voters in Gujarat had voted for Narendra Modi, and that fewer Muslim youth were likely to be incarcerated in Gujarati jails than in Congress-ruled states, that myth wobbled and shook.

More striking, however, is that unlike in the past, where other Muslim leaders had to face a strong backlash for any favourable comparisons of Modi, Madani seemed to have found some support.

Changing Demands

Tufail Ahmad, director, South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), says that "Maulana Mahmood Madani's statement that Muslims in Gujarat voted for Narendra Modi reflects ground realities and is not surprising. His statement might be criticised by some Muslim leaders and human rights activists still rightly angry about the Gujarat riots; but it is essentially reflective of what ordinary Muslims -- whether in Bihar or Gujarat or elsewhere -- feel about their confidence in the Indian democracy and their growing economic prospects."

Ahmad adds that in Gujarat, Muslims have a better recognition of Modi's pro-development governance, which has brought economic opportunities for all Gujaratis, "whether Muslims, Hindus or others".

There are others, however, who feel that rather than a recognition of Modi's developmental achievements, Madani's statement is a reflection that the Muslim community wants a recalibrated relationship with the parties that they traditionally support. Syed Ahmed Bukhari, shahi imam of the Jama Masjid and someone who has been politically active in issuing fatwas in favour of one party or the other, with varying degrees of success, says that times have changed.

Are Muslim voters in Gujarat really supporting Narendra Modi?

"Earlier we had a generation that had seen the days of partition, and fear psychosis that was there. Now the new generation feels that just physical security is not enough; we need jobs, opportunities, just like every other deprived section," says Bukhari. The demand for reservations in government jobs, as recommended by the Ranganath Mishra Commission report, is the new demand from the community. "Earlier our politics was confined to the thana, whoever could offer us physical protection from riots and police harassment got our vote; now the demands are different," he adds.

Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi, who had lost his job as rector of the second biggest Islamic seminary in the world, the Darul Uloom Deoband, for even hinting that Modi's development politics could be emulated, says that an aspirational middle class is developing among the Muslims; and it wants all the opportunities available to other sections of society. "In the past few years there has been a demand for computer literacy, medical and other courses of study and a simultaneous move from the ulema and other people in the community to make sure that such opportunities are provided," says Vastanvi.

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