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Since 1st March, 1999
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Science & secular test for support
- Muslims ask candidates to promise they will keep religion out of politics

Bangalore, May 17: Pacing up and down a long room, Mohammed Atharullah Sheikh monitors young men poring over thousands of pages of computerised data on Karnataka’s poll candidates.

Constituency by constituency, they study caste and religious break-ups of the population and the traditional voting patterns as well as current mood of these communities.

A team of local researchers, working across Karnataka’s 28 districts, has sent in its statistical sampling of voter sentiment and perceptions of the candidates.

The study has thrown up a list of names — cutting across party lines, including some Independents — “most likely to defeat the BJP” in their respective constituencies.

In keeping with the image of a state synonymous with India’s IT boom, the Karnataka Muslim Muttahida Mahaz (Karnataka Muslims’ United Front) is listening to science, rather than electoral promises, to issue support to candidates in the Assembly elections.

The science is the same that experts on television use to predict election results. But for the Mahaz — the largest conglomeration of the community’s organisations in the state — this is no profession. It is a desperate strategy devised by a community increasingly losing faith in the major political parties, including those that profess to be secular, says Sheikh.

“We do not have any real expectations from any of the parties. Our only aim is to stave off a BJP victory. So we cannot afford to be sucked in by emotions or promises,” says Sayyed Tanvir Ahmed, a senior Mahaz official.

The Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, the Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind and 23 other national and state-level organisations form the Mahaz, which co-ordinates election work of its constituent groups.

For the 89 constituencies that went to the polls on May 10, the Mahaz supported 63 Congress candidates and 23 from H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular). The other three included one Independent and one each from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the CPM.

The support doesn’t come easy, though. Candidates have to sign a letter, prepared beforehand, stating they would stand by the Constitution’s secular principles. Nowhere does the letter seek any special favours for Muslims, Sheikh says proudly.

“We just want a secular government,” says Sheikh, the Karnataka general secretary of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind.

Among those who signed the declaration are Zamir Ahmed, Janata Dal (Secular) candidate from Chamarajpet constituency, and Ismail Sharif, fielded by the BSP from Sarvagnanagar.

H.M. Revanna, the Congress candidate from Hebbal constituency in Banagalore, even put out advertisements in Kannada newspapers with his photograph next to a copy of his signed declaration to the Mahaz.

The Mahaz has been conducting similar pre-election surveys for over a decade but never before, Sheikh says, has it been more important for the state’s Muslim community to express itself politically.

Instances of communal violence and “harassment” of Muslims are rising in the state, he says.

Sheikh cites the example of how several Muslim IT professionals were recently “branded terrorists before any proof was produced”.

“There was an instance this March, when the police entered a school run by a Muslim and started questioning 10-year-old boys about terrorist links. But the community responded with maturity, for we have done no wrong.”

Former chief minister S.M. Krishna had six Muslims in his cabinet, but none of them did anything for the community, Sheikh alleges.

“Last time, when we asked the secular parties to meet us before the elections, they agreed. This time they haven’t even bothered to consider our opinion. This is an indictor of the declining political weight of the community,” he says.

But Prakash Rathod, a senior Congress leader in Bangalore, disagrees.

“We started several programmes for Muslims during Krishna’s tenure. If any party has done anything for Muslims, it is the Congress,” he says.

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