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Sadbhavna missing from tickets

Ahmedabad, Nov. 24: Not one Muslim figures in the BJP’s first list of candidates for the Gujarat polls, belying expectations set off by Narendra Modi’s vaunted sadbhavna “outreach” programmes.

The list, released today, relates to the 87 constituencies that will vote in the first phase on December 13 but party sources said the remaining 95 seats too were unlikely to have any minority candidate.

BJP leaders, including the party’s “Muslim faces” who were till the other day claiming several minority candidates would be fielded this time, defended the latest decision citing fears of a Hindu backlash.

“If we field Muslim candidates, it would adversely impact other seats and the party will be the biggest loser,” confirmed senior BJP leader and former MP Surendra Patel.

Mehboob Ali, state chief of the BJP minority morcha and a staunch Modi loyalist, conceded he had initially recommended fielding Muslims from a dozen-odd constituencies, including three in Ahmedabad.

But, Ali claimed, the party was dissuaded by none other than a section of the pro-BJP Muslim intelligentsia, who recently met Modi and warned against a possible Hindu backlash.

Mehboob and the minority morcha’s national vice-president, Gani Khan Qureshi, had themselves sought tickets from Surat and Vadodara, whose candidates will be announced in the second list.

Both now argue that fielding Muslims would have been just a “symbolic gesture”, that “winnability” is more important, and that they are happy with the latest decision.

Former state Congress spokesperson Asifa Khan, who joined the BJP in October saying she was impressed by Modi’s governance, had declared the party would field at least three Muslim candidates. She had been tipped to contest from Bharuch but has missed out.

Among those present at the meeting between Modi and the Muslim intelligentsia was leading businessman Zafar Sareshwala, a well-known supporter of the chief minister.

“Whether the BJP fields Muslims or not does not make any difference,” Sareshwala said. “It’s just symbolic. What the Congress has done — nominated four Muslims for the first phase — is also symbolic.”

But his sense of frustration came out. If fielding Muslims prompts a Hindu backlash, Sareshwala said, “it only reflects the majority community’s mindset”.

Muslims are 10 per cent of Gujarat’s population and make up over 30 per cent of the voters in at least 12 constituencies. But the state BJP has in its history fielded only one Muslim Assembly candidate — in 1998.

Those expecting a change this time had been citing how 192 Muslims won on BJP tickets in the 2010-11 civic polls, whereas the figure would barely touch a dozen earlier.

But the BJP has now balked at fielding a Muslim even from the Ahmedabad constituency of Jamalpur Khadia, where the community accounts for 61 per cent of the population.

“We have a sitting MLA there who got elected just a year ago after the death of his father, senior party leader and former Assembly Speaker Ashok Bhatt,” a BJP source explained. “How can we dump him after one year? Sentiments are involved....”