The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Not happy with Cong, no option but to back it

Ahmedabad, Nov. 29: Muslim leaders in Gujarat are not happy with the Congress but are not complaining too much. They understand the party’s “compulsions”.

The leaders are aware that the Congress does not want to alienate the majority community by becoming too pro-Muslim. So despite their reservations, they are rooting for Sonia Gandhi’s party to teach the BJP a lesson.

Even Muslim intellectuals, who criticised the Congress for not playing the role of an effective secular Opposition, say they have no choice. “All Muslims in Gujarat are inclined towards the Congress party,” said Mohsin Quadri, a leading social worker and a high court advocate.

Abdul Slam Samsuddin, imam of the Nurani Masjid in Naroda-Patia, one of the worst-hit areas, said riot victims have made up their mind to defeat the party that ruined their lives. Samsuddin said Ahmedabad district collector Sunaina Tomar has promised to set up a separate polling booth for residents of Naroda-Patia who, like other Muslims in the state, are going to vote for the Congress. Two Congress leaders today visited the masjid to seek support for their candidate.

Recently, some representatives of the minority community involved in social work in 14 districts met in Ahmedabad to decide on poll strategy. All were unanimous on the need to defeat the BJP but wanted some commitment from the Congress.

“We are not happy about the promises made in the Congress manifesto. It has nothing to offer us, no promises to take action against the culprits responsible for killing hundreds of innocent people,” said Hanif Lakdwala of the newly formed Gujarat Muslim Forum, which organised the meeting.

In a faxed letter to Sonia, the forum expressed faith in her leadership and said it expected her to direct state leaders to be a little sensitive towards Muslims. “No, we are not expecting state Congress president Shankersinh Vaghela to make a public announcement and provoke the BJP. We do not want that. What we want is an indoor meeting with him to discuss certain issues and to get some promises from him,” said Lakdwala.

“Once we meet him and get specific assurance that the Congress will implement our charter of demands, which includes punishment for those involved in the riots, we can ask Muslims to vote en masse for the Congress.” If that happens, the 11 per cent Muslim population in the state can tilt the balance in 80-odd constituencies.

Congress leaders, however, maintain that Vaghela has already publicly condemned the VHP and promised stringent action against the outfit if the party comes to power. Spokesman Himanshu Vyas claimed that Vaghela has called the VHP hired goons of the BJP. What more do they (the Muslims) expect him to say, he asked.

With Muslims sure to vote for the Congress, the Sangh parivar is out to consolidate “Hindu votes”. A BJP win will ensure a “good thrashing to secular forces in the country and signify the victory of Hindu dharma,” VHP vice-president Acharya Giriraj Kishore said at a press conference. To ensure the victory, the VHP will go all out to organise jan jagran rallies all over the state from December 1, he added.

Kishore said Sonia, by deciding to deliver a lecture at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, was sending a signal to Muslims. “It is Muslim appeasement, nothing else.”

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