Ahmedabad, Dec. 8: Outside the mosque in Khanpur where groups of Muslim youths meet near a pan shop, Safat Husain folds two handbills and stuffs them into the pocket of his kameez. He does not want to be seen reading or discussing their contents in public.
Within shouting distance and to his left is the state headquarters of the BJP. Inside the office, Narendra Modi’s confidant and party secretary Arun Jaitley is accusing the Congress and the ulemas of mixing religion with politics.
Id festivities in Ahmedabad’s ghettos have been muted but alive. After the Friday congregation, the ulemas have effectively issued a fatwa in the handbills.
“...India and Gujarat are going through traumatic times,” reads one written in Gujarati. “Property has been destroyed and people have been killed; women were raped; children were put to the sword; men were burnt alive — all this with government patronage. ...we live in a secular country and enjoy rights like all other Indians. But during the riots, secularism was torn to shreds, democracy was hurt...we must all vote unanimously a single candidate.”
The other pamphlet reads: “Every individual should make an effort to reach the polling station and cast his vote...you must realise your vote is important.... Vajpayee was voted out by a single ballot ...do not waste your vote. There are only two parties in Gujarat. Therefore, you must all vote for the Congress.”
One pamphlet is an appeal from the All-India Muslim Ulema Council. The other is signed by Maulana Mufti Shabbir Ahmed Shah, Imam of Ahmedabad Jama Masjid.
“They are quite unnecessary,” says Husain. “Muslims have no choice but to vote as one. That we have officially proclaimed this is just a formality.”
Muslims make up roughly 9 per cent of the electorate in Gujarat, small enough in numbers but large enough to make the difference in a fray where there is practically no third contestant.
The BJP under Modi has decided that it can win only on the strength of its Hindutva appeal but, as it enters the last leg of electioneering with the Prime Minister beginning his tour yesterday, it betrays a nervousness. Having mixed religion with politics, it is now warning against others doing the same.
In the BJP office, Arun Jaitley distributes translations of the handbills prepared by party workers. “This is brazen,” he says.
“Election Commission rules forbid such propaganda on grounds of religion.” To the obvious question — isn’t his party doing the same' — he replies: “It is one thing to use religion for politics and another to address sensitive issues politically.”
An aide explains that Jaitley is making a distinction between the Congress’ “religious politics” and Modi’s “emotional politics”. “Emotional”, because the pain of seeing Hindus burnt in Godhra is still not relieved.