No room for Muslims in BJP line-up

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."

And former minority cell president Sajjad Hira said: "Sadbhavana was not merely about election tickets. Under the circumstances, where there is a neck-and-neck fight, no party would like to lose even a single seat."

The BJP did field Muslims in municipal and panchayat elections. "This was because the party felt they could win those elections," Hira said.

The Congress has fielded Muslims in three first-phase seats ó Vagra in Bharuch, Wankaner in Surendranagar and Surat East. It has also nominated a Muslim to Bhuj in the second phase, the list for which is not yet complete.

It is parties with little or no presence in Gujarat that have fielded a high number of Muslims. The Samajwadi Party's 53 candidates so far, covering both phases, include 17 Muslims. It is making its Gujarat debut. The BSP was here last time, managing 2.9 per cent of the votes, and has now fielded eight Muslim candidates in its first list, with state party vice-president Ishwarbhai Solanki promising more in the second list in a day or two.

The JD(U), the BJP's ally in Bihar but on its own in Gujarat, has fielded a Muslim, Altaf Patel, from Vagra, a constituency where the community accounts for more than half the voters. The party has 53 candidates in the first phase and Chandra Raj Singhvi, its in-charge for Gujarat, said there would be Muslims in the second phase too.

Ramvilas Paswan's LJP has fielded 12 Muslims in the first phase, with state president Mukesh Gurjar promising more in the second.

At least three Muslims have filed nominations as Independent candidates for the first phase.


17 Samajwadi Party

12 LJP


4 Congress

1 JD(U)

3 Independents

Samajwadi Party list covers both phases with more names to come; Congress's Muslim candidates include one for second phase

9% Representation in population

15 Muslim MLAs in 1985, highest ever

Babubhai Supariwala: First Muslim minister, held civil supplies from 1985 to 1989 under CM Amarsinh Chaudhary

Sirajuddin Kazi: Civil supplies minister in 1994-95 under Chhabildas Mehta

Farooq Sheikh: Longest serving Muslim MLA, since 1998

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