The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gujarat minority feelers to BJP

Ahmedabad, March 7: The BJP is working on a propaganda coup by trying to rope in a section of Muslim leaders from Gujarat.

Several well-known Muslim faces are believed to be putting memories of the riots behind them and thinking of moving towards the BJP, possibly taking a cue from the Congress’ Arif Mohammad Khan who crossed over recently and Najma Heptullah who is in line.

Afzal Memon, a social worker whose name heads the list of prospective BJP allies, attributed the rush to what he termed the “Muslim predicament”.

“Muslims at the moment are confused; they have to make up their mind and make a political choice between the BJP and secular parties,” he said. But he neither confirmed nor denied reports that he was in touch with the BJP.

Disenchantment with secular parties, including the Congress, is being cited as the main reason behind the possible shift. But an Opposition leader pointed out that relatives of some in the BJP queue have terror law cases against them, suggesting the use of a carrot-and-stick policy.

Sources said some like Afzal — who was harassed and arrested on trumped-up charges of misappropriating money while he was in charge of a riot relief camp — could simply be buying peace with the BJP and a way out of their troubles.

The names of others doing the rounds include that of a builder, a former municipal councillor, a businessman-cum-social worker and another former in-charge of a relief camp. Some of them were in the Congress.

If the minority leaders eventually join the BJP, it will suit the party fine in the run-up to the general elections even if it did not make a great difference in terms of votes. The symbolic significance could be used to wash off the stain of the riots, one of the few blotches on its “Shining” face that it cannot explain away.

State BJP chief Rajendrasinh Rana confirmed he had been getting feelers from prominent Muslims wanting to join the party. The party had worked hard to shed its “communal” image and change the perception of the Muslims, he said.

Congress spokesman J.V. Momin blamed his party for neglecting the minority community. Momin is likely to request Sonia Gandhi “to do something before it is too late”.

Muslim leaders have recently held a series of meetings to discuss how they should approach the BJP and place their cards. One of the leaders who might switch sides said a clear picture would emerge after Holi.

Afzal said many secular parties that the Muslims backed — like the Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh and the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh — had at one time or the other joined hands with the BJP. Even Mulayam Singh Yadav was surviving with its blessings, he pointed out.

If these parties had no qualms aligning with the BJP, what was wrong if Muslims directly joined it, he asked. Besides, the BJP had become a “Congressised party”.

Another Congress leader, Khurshid Syed, asked that if Khan had joined the BJP and Heptullah might, why couldn’t lesser leaders' “They are all secular,” he said.

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