No room for Muslims in BJP line-up

National

For all Narendra Modi's efforts at building bridges with Muslims, the BJP has not fielded any candidate from the community in the Gujarat elections. The decision was apparently driven by the theory that doing so could have meant gifting victory to the party's new rival, Keshubhai Patel's GPP.

The GPP has not fielded a Muslim either. It has announced candidates for only the first phase and been noncommittal about the second. "The party would like to field a few Muslims and is looking for suitable candidates," general secretary Gordhan Zadaphia said.

Having kept Muslims out of its first list, the BJP announced the second on Wednesday, with only five seats remaining. State BJP spokesperson Vijay Rupani sought to explain the omission of Muslims, saying, "The BJP does not believe in the politics of appeasement. Besides, 75 per cent of the sitting MLAs have been fielded again, and nominations for the remaining seats were given to workers associated with the party for a long time. No Muslim candidate could be accommodated."

"It was expected. It is not possible to give a ticket to a Muslim unless the BJP is willing to lose that seat," says J S Bandukwala, a rights activist based in Vadodara. "If Modi gives tickets to Muslims, it means driving hardcore VHP and RSS supporters away to the GPP. The way he treated Muslims in 2002 is the key to his appeal."

Modi's Sadbhavana fasts last year had created the impression that this building of bridges would eventually translate into BJP tickets for Muslims. Muslim leader Syed Shahabuddin had in fact written an open letter to Modi a few days ago, acknowledging "some signs of change" in his attitude towards Muslims and pleading for 20 tickets for Muslims.

Mahebubali Baba, president of the Gujarat BJP's minority cell, had been hoping to get a ticket, for Surat. Now, he said, "The BJP parliamentary board had decided to give four or five tickets to Muslims. But the state party, at the last moment I believe, decided not to field Muslims because of the fear that BJP votes would get transferred to the GPP."

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