In Delhi, Muslims comprise over 13 percent of the capital’s population and have been a traditional Congress vote bank. But, in 2015, Aam Aadmi Party’s candidates defeated old Congress faces in the Muslim-dominated constituencies. From Matia Mahal for instance, where Muslims voters are a hundred percent, AAP's Asim Ahmed Khan defeated Shoaib Iqbal of the Congress. Iqbal has served as an MLA from Matia Mahal for five terms and is known for standing up to imam politics. On the other hand, a year after being elected, Asim Ahmed Khan was dismissed on charges of corruption.
In Seelampur, where the percentage of Muslim residents touches 70 percent, AAP’s inarticulate Haji Ishraque Khan was chosen over Chaudhary Mateen Ahmed of the Congress. Mateen Ahmed had first contested on a Janata Dal ticket in 1993 and had been winning on a Congress ticket since 1998. In societies that vote tactically, the rejection of a veteran leader from a non-political background who’s also an effective communicator is indicative of a shift towards alternate politics and not necessarily towards that leader's own credibility.
During the Lok Sabha elections, the unexpected return of Sheila Dikshit and Ajay Maken and the full fight that the Congress put out, created the illusion that it can take on the BJP on nearly all seven seats. But the results showed otherwise. Not only did BJP win all seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi, Congress candidates were relegated to the third spot in several places. In fact, in April 2019, senior Muslim Congress leaders Shoaib Iqbal, Mateen Ahmed and Hasan Ahmed had urged party president Rahul Gandhi to allocate at least one seat to a Muslim but that did not happen. Instead, from North East Delhi, where there are more than 7 lakh Muslim voters, the Congress fielded former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit.
Now, from a political standpoint, the Aam Aadmi Party should have used the opportunity to reach out to those disillusioned Muslim leaders in the Delhi Congress camp ,who were sidelined. AAP's Muslim leadership may have won during a wave but its popularity amid the minority voter base doesn't appear to be sustainable over a longer period of time. But, the party doesn’t seem to be doing much to fix that state.
On the contrary, AAP’s approach towards minorities is nothing like that of the traditional old parties. It is focusing on taking policy benefits to Muslim-dominated areas and the leadership is, up until now, being decided on popularity and not religion. It adopts a more organic, but slightly unplanned approach.
For instance, Imran Hussain and Amanatullah Khan are AAP’s most prominent Muslim faces. Both were keenly interested in politics and were moderately famous in their areas for occasionally raising social causes. Imran Hussain contested and won the councillor elections from Ballimaran from Rashtriya Lok Dal political Party in April 2012 and Amanatullah Khan had contested elections for the Fifth Legislative Assembly of Delhi in 2013 as a Lok Janshakti Party candidate. Both leaders, sources within the party reveal, aren’t the best performing leaders. On 20 July 2016, a woman filed a case against Khan for allegedly threatening her with dire consequences.
A case was registered against Khan under section 506 of IPC at the Jamia Nagar Police station in South Delhi. On 20 February 2018, a case was filed against Khan and fellow legislator Prakash Jarwal for assaulting Delhi Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash. One visit to Jafrabad or Matia Mahal — where streets are narrower, houses and shops are squashed in tiny lanes — will tell you that the area needs greater attention. The systemic discrimination in the urban planning of Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods in Delhi is hard to miss and leaders like Haji Ishraque who found it difficult to sign his own name in the Delhi Assembly aren't exactly a ray of hope.
One rare incident of a Congress-to-AAP switch is that of Zakir Khan in Baburpur. Khan had contested on a Congress ticket and had lost to Gopal Rai in 2015. The Congress Muslim leader from that belt is Hasan Ahmad but since he lives away in Okhla, it is Khan who is a far more active politician. Dilip Pandey, AAP’s Lok Sabha candidate from North East Delhi shared with Firstpost that he brought Khan to join AAP. According to party sources, there are no plans of poaching Congress leaders unless somebody wants to willingly jump ship.
Earlier this year, in a bid to woo Muslim voters in the national capital, AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal had declared that the salaries of Imams and helpers in mosques in Delhi would be increased. The hiked salary will be paid by the Delhi Waqf Board. The salaries of imams were increased from Rs 10,000 per month to Rs 18,000 per month. Some months later, in July, the same party also flagged off its Tirth Yatra for senior citizens to key Hindu shrines.
The party’s efforts towards culture conservation aren’t religion-specific. In 2016, the Urdu Academy provided 102 full-time teachers to Urdu schools from primary to senior secondary level as a temporary arrangement and Urdu literary centres were inaugurated. But before the Urdu learning centres were inaugurated, the party announced the opening of 75 Sanskrit learning centres across the city. It has also been taking steps to promote Hindi literary activities and has plans to structurally push 12 languages including Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Malyali, Kannada, Odia, Assamese, Garwahali, Kumaoni, Jaunsari, Kashmiri and Marwadi.
While one can appreciate the equality in approach towards all cultures, if incidents like Hauz Qazi repeat and the vote bank gets more and more polarised, AAP’s weak Muslim leadership might not be able to swing votes in its favour. In such a situation, the only factor that will sustain the party is if its policies – be it in health or education or water or electricity – have touched people’s lives.
Updated Date: Jul 20, 2019 13:03:56 IST