By Adil Hossain
In political circles it is generally understood that Muslims in India have largely been supporting Congress Party since independence. Even though after Babri Mosque demolition in the early 90’s, their faith in Congress leadership was shattered to some extent, the support continued for the party as it is seen as the only viable force to stop communalism in the country (It is futile here to go into the history of communal riots in India and the dubious role Congress played in many of them).
In the last Delhi Assembly elections, this trend could be seen even after emergence of Aam Aadmi Party(AAP), third party in the fray along with Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP). It is said owing to Narendra Modi factor, Muslims remain committed with Congress and gave them a face saver of five seats in the Muslim dominated areas in that election. But has the situation changed now after Kejriwal decided to bring down his own government over the Janlokpal Bill and expand its national presence? Will the ongoing Reliance Gas pricing controversy have any bearing on Muslim support to AAP?
The answer is yes and it can be fairly stated that Muslims will support Arvind Kejriwal and his party AAP in greater numbers in the coming times. First of all, Congress is no more the only secular alternative present to them. Kejriwal is targeting established political parties on four major issues and communalism is one of them. Though he interestingly avoided to mention secularism explicitly as AAP’s objective till date(may be as Hindu right is very active with pseudo secularism & sickularism discourse), but he has never stopped short of condemning communalism as an election issue in the next Loksabha polls.
Just yesterday(24 February), at the India Islamic Cultural Centre, in a gathering of Muslim academics and intelligentia he went on to term communalism as a bigger threat than graft in India. This political strategy of branding AAP as an anti-communal force will go down well with the Muslim voters and they would be more committed towards the party in stopping the Modi wave.
Till now, Modi smartly handled any attack on him on account of his alleged complicity in the 2002 Gujarat riots, and moreover, the recent court verdicts and SIT reports blunted such attacks from his critics to a great extent. Any debate on communalism today also leads to an inevitable reference to the 1984 Delhi Sikh riots as well, where Congress party played the same role as Gujarat Government did in 2002.
On the other side, Mulayam Singh Yadav, till now established himself as a vanguard against communal forces, has become the non-saffron Modi for many Muslims given his party’s total failure in containing the Muzaffarnagar riots and rehabilitating the victims. Therefore Muslims are increasingly finding it difficult to hold the hands of opportunistic secular and opportunistic communal parties like Congress or Samajvadi Party and fight Modi on account of communalism.
Arvind Kejriwal during his 49 day government, not only condemned communalism but also showed his strong commitment to tackle it by forming SIT into the 1984 Delhi Sikh riots. His argument that, even though BJP ruled both the state and centre but never took any action on the Sikh riots shows that they only shed crocodile tears over riots, holds water. Muslims would join AAP in with great enthusiasm now as with all these actions, they are emerging as credible voice against communalism and attacking both Congress and BJP at the same time.
The ongoing Kejriwal- Ambani tussle over the KG basin gas pricing issue is also going to impress alot of Muslim voters. Simple reason- it embarasses Narendra Modi and his party is conspicuously silent over the issue ( silence of Rahul Gandhi matters less to them). If today Congress showcases its secularism card, BJP governance, then AAP represents itself as a party committed to fight corruption. And here Muslim voters are attempting to make broad alliance with other citizens who may not care about secularism given Congress’s involvement in scams after scams, but serious about fighting corruption by joining forces with AAP.
Moreover, the political currency of corruption is bigger than secularism among the contemporary social media friendly urban youths today. Thanks to the 2011 Janlokpal movement led by Anna and his then aide Kejriwal which worked as a serious catalyst to make corruption as prime issue for the next general elections, partly BJP helped to make the same to corner Congress. Therefore today Narendra Modi and his party feel more perplexed when they recieve brickbats on corruption rather than secularism. And Arvind Kejriwal as a master political strategist, made corruption his main weapon by attacking Modi due to his silence on the gas pricing issue or on convicted members of his Cabinet.
Niether Rahul Gandhi nor Mulayam Singh Yadav can use this currency of corruption as they have many skeletons in their closet. Same goes for other regional leaders as well. Muslims can’t expect that Rahul Gandhi or any other leader would corner Modi on the gas pricing issue or ask about his dubious relationship with Ambani or Adani group, as such corporates sometimes receive more patronage from them only. But Kejriwal is standing tall on this issue and is bound to get huge support from the Muslim community.
However, to sustain this faith among the Muslim voters few more visible actions will be required from AAP. There have been few criticism on their first list of Loksabha candidates as they mostly target the senior leaders of Congress and not of BJP. In the battle of perception, the question of probable AAP candidate against Modi(wherever he is fieled by BJP) is also going to impact the choice of many Muslim voters. Will he or she be someone as strong as AAP’s senior leader and poet Kumar Viswas?
But one thing is clear, even as a new party AAP has made inroads into the traditional Muslim voters who seriously consider them as alternative today. Till now many of my friends on Facebook, who were apolitical and just anti-Modi in their attitude are now openly expressing support for AAP, some are even actively joining the party. However, it will be interesting to see how the party is going to engage with the community on critical socioeconomic and cultural issues that affect them. Ultimately this will decide the future course of relationship AAP will share with the Muslim voters.
[author image=”http://khurpi.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/profile-PIC-150×150.jpg” ]Adil Hossain is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Khurpi. He recently finished his MA Development & Rights from Goldsmiths, University of London on a Commonwealth Shared Scholarship. He also completed his journalism degree from Aligarh Muslim University. Outlook magazine in 2010 profiled him among the top five youth Right to Information(RTI) Activists in India. He has earlier published in Guardian, Tehelka, Open among others. Email [email protected][/author]