BJP needs minorities, not their votes
Ahmedabad: As both the BJP and the Congress chase the Hindu vote in Gujarat, 10 per cent of the state's population has been completely marginalised both in the society and in the democratic process.
Minorities - Muslims and Christians - have been relegated to the fringes, unwanted and unnecessary.
Unlike previous elections, no political party, newspaper, television channel or media house is talking about the "Muslim vote bank" because it is redundant here. The Congress is too scared to draw attention to the Muslim voter and is steering clear of the subject to avoid giving the BJP an opportunity to beat it with the stick of "appeasement".
The BJP, on the other hand, has made it obvious that Muslim votes do not matter to it, nor does it need them to win. However, while the BJP may not need Muslim votes, it certainly need Muslims to win elections.
"If we weren't here, who would the BJP accuse of being the repository of all evil and frighten Hindus into voting for the party?" asked Imran Sheikh, a resident of Juhapura on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, the largest Muslim ghetto in India.
As in all previous elections, the subtext to the BJP's campaign is demonising Muslims and scare-mongering so that the majority community's attention is diverted from the real issues of inflation, unemployment, agrarian crisis and economic recession and its members are frightened into voting for the BJP.
In his campaign speeches, BJP president Amit Shah warns of a return of the rule of " Latif mian, Babu mian and all the other mians" if the Congress comes back to power. Abdul Latif was a bootlegger who became a don in the 1990s, and was arrested, jailed and eventually killed in 1997 by Ahmedabad police in an "encounter".
The social media is witnessing an RSS campaign urging Gujaratis to choose between two acronyms. R stands for chief minister (Vijay) Rupani, A for Amit Shah and M for (Narendra) Modi, while H is for Hardik Patel, A for Alpesh Thakore and J for Jignesh Mevani, the three young Turks taking on the BJP. The blatantly communal slogan says it all.
Posters were recently found pasted on walls in the Ellis Bridge constituency of Ahmedabad urging residents to save their area from becoming another Juhapura. Ellis Bridge and Paldi, home to the famous National Institute of Design, were mixed localities until 2002 when Muslim homes were targeted and burnt.
Out of fear, the Muslims abandoned their flats and took refuge in the ghettos of the Old City. "We came back to our flat a few years ago but the BJP doesn't like to see Hindus and Muslims living together. It is poisoning our neighbours' minds against us so that we sell up and go back to the ghettos," said Kamar Desai, who lives in an apartment in Paldi.
The same area also saw big red crosses painted on the walls of Muslim societies and apartment blocks, causing fear and panic among the residents. The spectre of 2002 still looms over the local minority community, which witnessed targeted burning, rape and killings.
Ironically, it was Uvesh Sareshwala - brother of Zafar Sareshwala, the only Gujarati Muslim seen as close to Modi - who raised the alarm and wrote to the police for security.
The red crosses had been painted by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, claiming they were markings to denote places for their new waste management drive. But the damage had been done.
The communalising messages are not lost on either of the highly sensitised Gujarati communities.
"The BJP accuses Archbishop Thomas Macwan's letter, which sought prayers to defeat the 'nationalist forces', of communalising the election but their top leaders are openly indulging in much worse," said a Muslim leader who didn't wish to be named.
The minority communities know they have no influence on this election. There is, however, apprehension that riots may be engineered before polling and that they would again be used as punching bags to consolidate Hindu votes.