Congress’ drive for Muslim votes may backfire

Politics of Secularism versus Communalism
By Upendra Prasad

Now it is clear that Narendra Modi is in the centre of the Congress’ strategy for the next Lok Sabha elections. Congress spokespersons and other leaders are reacting against the remarks of Gujarat CM in a manner, which suggests that by demolishing Modi, they can win the elections. The latest in the series of ‘Demolish Modi Campaign’ was a tweet by Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmad, in which he claimed that Indian Mujahideen was formed only after the Gujarat riot of 2002. Through his tweet, Ahmad wanted to blame Modi for the formation of Indian Mujahideen and the terror attacks unleashed by this outfit all over the country. But the tweet backfired and Shakeel Ahmad was not only condemned by BJP and RSS, but many Muslim leaders and intellectuals also took strong exception to his tweet.

BJP and RSS painted Shakeel Ahmad as the spokesman and representative of Indian Mujahideen. Ahmad has represented Madhubani Lok Sabha constituency of Bihar in the past. Of late, many so-called IM activists have been arrested from Madhubani district. A BJP spokesperson was even dubbed Shakeel Ahmad to be the head of Madhubani module of the terrorist organisation.

Some Muslim leaders and intellectuals have condemned Ahmad because of reasons of their own. They saw in the misguided tweet the acceptance of the existence of militancy among the Muslim youth. What Shakeel’s comment indiacted was the unwitting acceptance of the misleading claim by the RSS and BJP that Muslims are terrorists and responsible for serial bomb blasts all over the country. In is for this reason that the Muslim leaders have taken a strong exception to the comment by the Congress spokesman that covertly suggested that terrorism has arrived in India via its Muslims. Many among these leaders, in fact, do not even accept the existence of any organisation named Indian Mujaheedin.

Even Congress did not seem to be convinced with the tweet. The spokesman had to take the help of National Investigation Agency (NIA) to save his skin, and he clarified that his comment was not based upon any inside information on Indian Mujahideen, but, rather, it came from analyzing the chargesheet filed by NIA after the Bodhgaya blasts. No one knows of any such chargesheet, and, it’s obvious that Ahmad was merely doing some face-saving exercise by resorting to an imagined NIA report. A research on Indian Mujahideen reveals that this organisation was formed in 2001 after the banning of Students Islamic Movement in India (SIMI). Some say that it is not a new organisation at all, but only SIMI has been renamed as IM. Some says that militant elements from SIMI recombined to form the IM. Its formation took place well before the Gujarat riots of 2002. That is why the reason for its formation as given by the Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmad was contrary to the facts.

Notwithstanding the embarrassment caused by Shakeel Ahmad’s misfired barb against Narendra Modi, Congress is poised to make the Gujarat CM as its main poll plank in the next Lok Sabha elections. This strategy is based on the belief that Modi is a strong polarising factor and not only all Muslims, but also all non-Muslim secularists would like to vote for the party, which is most suited to prevent Modi from coming into power. Congress strategists think that their party is the only one, which can block the BJP coming into power and that is why all such forces would rally behind it in the next Lok Sabha elections. This is the reason, why Congress wants to keep Narendra Modi as the talking point in Indian politics. It is making all efforts to create and sustain the negative hype on Narendra Modi.

This strategy of Congress is fraught with danger. First of all, Narendra Modi is a great orator. He has a skill to create mass hysteria by his speeches. Congress does not have a leader, who can match that skill of Modi, as the latter knows how to keep his audience thrilled by his words power. Making Modi the election issue means providing him more opportunity to hit back and his partymen would be seen defending him throughout the campaign.

As far as Muslim voters are concerned, they are already against BJP and they have already been voting for those who could defeat BJP candidates. Their first choice in Uttar Pradesh is Mulayam. In Bihar, they predominantly vote for RJD. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee has emerged as their first choice. If Congress leaders think that they can change the preference of Muslim votes in these three states and garner a chunk of them, it is wrong. Congress is practically nonexistent in Bihar. It could win only four Vidhan Sabha seats in the last Assembly Elections of Bihar. In Uttar Pradesh, it is placed at the fourth position. In the last Lok Sabha elections, it did perform better, but in the last Assembly elections it was against pushed to the fourth place and, since then, the whole rank and file of UP Congress has been demoralised there. In West Bengal, Congress is placed third in political strength. In case of polarisation of votes, the third and fourth parties are loser, not gainer. Even through its efforts, Congress manage to polarize Muslim votes against Modi and BJP, it cannot do that in its favor at least in the three states of UP, Bihar and West Bengal, which accounts for 162 seats in the Lok Sabha. Muslim polarisation will benefit only other anti-BJP parties.

So far as non-Muslim secular votes are concerned, they have their own existing choices. The leftists have their own organisations and Ambedkarites have their own. They are not going to vote for Congress, even though they are hard core Modi-baiters. The secularist supporters of Lalu, Mulayam, Nitish, Mayawati and Ramvilas Paswan will vote for the parties of their own leaders. The secularism of these casteist leaders has its own variety, where the caste and communal combination is used to win the elections. If that combination does not work, their supporters cease to be secular and follow their caste lines.

So, it will be wise for Congress not to be too obsessed with Narendra Modi. By such strategy, Congress is only making Modi stronger within the BJP and giving him a chance to use the same tactics at the national level, which he had used in Gujarat to win many elections amid the strongest possible resistance. (IPA Service)

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