The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Minority damper for Congress
- Muslim council urges community to vote individuals who work, not parties

Mumbai, Oct. 6: If the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party imagined that minority votes would fall en bloc into its kitty, the coalition was in for a surprise.

The Ulema Council, an umbrella organisation of Muslim outfits, appealed to the community to vote for individuals ' rather than a party or a coalition ' who 'work in the interest of the country and the underprivileged, irrespective of their religion'.

The council, which met today, said the directive was a wake-up call to parties not to treat Muslims as 'vote banks' during elections and ignore them once they were in power.

However, the appeal, issued on behalf of organisations like the Jamiat-e-Islami Hind, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, Anjuman Ahle-Sunnat Waljamat and the Muslim-e-Majlis Mushawarat, had some caveats. One, it told Muslims not to waste their votes on 'non-serious individuals whose only intention is to cut votes' and two, they were asked to 'defeat the communal and fascist forces by voting for candidates who have proven secular credentials'.

Farid Batatawalla, the president of the Muslim Front, said: 'We are disappointed with the Congress-NCP government because they have not fulfilled the promises they made before the last elections. We want a secular government but we don't want a Congress-NCP majority government either. A pressure group of other secular parties like the Left, Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal (S) will be good. Look at the Left, how effectively it pushes its agenda in the Centre.'

According to Batatawalla, the Congress-NCP reneged on its promise to:

Implement the Srikrishna Commission's recommendations after an inquiry into the 1993 communal violence

Utilise a special Maulana Azad fund created for artisans and loom workers

Sanction the construction of Ismail Yusuf College, exclusively for minorities, for which 38 acres was acquired in suburban Jogeshwari (East)

Maulana Riaz Ahmed, the vice-president of the Jamiat-e-Islami Hind (Maharashtra), said an added grouse was the government's 'double-faced' policy on terrorism and communal violence.

'The maximum number of Pota (Prevention of Terrorism Act) detainees are in Maharashtra and most of them are Muslims. If there's a minor skirmish in a mohalla, it's enough to send the cops chasing young Muslims and throwing them in lock-ups. There were serious bomb blasts inside and around mosques in Parbhani and Jalna. To date, nobody has been arrested,' he said.

Political observers noted the absence of frenetic pre-poll activities among Muslims unlike in the past when leaders would be in a perpetual huddle. Maulana Mahmood Ahmed Khan Daryabadi, the Ulema Council's general secretary, explained why. 'In the 1995 elections, our objective was to defeat the Congress because one of the worst riots took place in its time. In 1999, we were determined to defeat the BJP-Sena. So, too, in the Lok Sabha elections. We were scared if the BJP returned to power in the Centre, they would scrap the Constitution and take away our rights. This time, there's no great push.'

However, others said the decision to 'lie low' was prompted by the realisation that if an edict was issued in favour of a particular party or combine, the BJP-Sena's votes would get polarised.

Although critical of the Congress-NCP, Batatawalla admitted the BJP-Sena's return to power would spell 'total insecurity' for Muslims. 'There are no issues before us other than living in peace and security for the next 20 years so that we can raise a generation of normal, forward-looking Muslims. Muslims who don't have to worry about education and getting jobs.'

While the community is sceptical of state leaders, they see hope in Congress president Sonia Gandhi. 'Her stock is sky high. It's no ordinary thing to sacrifice the PM's post. Sonia has a vision of justice for all. She can't be blamed for the blemishes that mark the Congress' 50-year history,' Ahmed said.

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