LS polls: Is AAP set to win the Muslim vote from Congress in Delhi?

New Delhi: In Delhi if there is one section of the electorate that has always remained loyal to the Congress it is the Muslims. And so, even when the Aam Admi Party (AAP) wave was sweeping across Delhi, the Congress knew it could count on the Muslim voters not to abandon them. And sure enough, half of the eight Congress MLAs who were elected in the assembly election held in December were from constituencies with a sizeable Muslim population – Ballimaran (Haroon Yusuf), Okhla (Asif Mohammad) Seelampur (Mateen Ahmed) and Mustafabad (Hasan Ahmed).

But AAP’s unexpectedly successful debut might just turn out to be a game-changing political event for the Muslim community in Delhi, which accounts for 11 per cent of state’s 1.2 crore (12 million) voters.

With AAP emerging as the best bet to defeat the BJP in Delhi, some Muslim leaders believe the party could see Congress lose its hold over the community.

Says S. Q. R Ilyas, general secretary of the Welfare Party of India, “In many of the constituencies, the Muslims will vote for AAP. In state assembly election, they voted for the Congress party because they were not certain of AAP getting so many seats. Now a viable alternative to the Congress party is available in the form of AAP.” The Welfare Party of India, founded in 2011, describes itself as an alternative to “corrupt, communal, opportunistic and criminalised” politics. It made news when it bagged 42000 votes in the Jangipur bye-election in which president Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijit Mukherjee contested and won.

Representational image. AFP.

Representational image. AFP.

Muslims can influence the outcome in three to four of the seven Lok Sabha constituencies in Delhi - North East Delhi, East Delhi, Chandini Chowk and, to a smaller extent, Central Delhi. The Congress swept all seven seats in the 2009 elections.

The percentage of the Muslim voters in the four constituencies are estimated at 27 per cent in North-East Delhi, 20 per cent East Delhi, 15 per cent in Chandini Chowk and around 10 per cent in Central Delhi.

“The basis for supporting the Congress party was not because the Muslims were happy with them, it was because they had no other option. It is the tendency of the Muslims through the country that whenever a viable alternative to the Congress is available, they go for that. In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, for example, Congress is not getting the Muslim support. In Delhi too, most of them Muslims may go with AAP.”

Asked whether there were any apprehensions among Muslim community about AAP and its politics, Ilyas says, “Muslims are not very comfortable with AAP because they have not said anything on Muslim issues. Their main focus is corruption. Lately, they have started attacking Modi and the BJP. On main issues, AAP has not said what their ideology is but despite that people feel that if AAP is in a better position to defeat the BJP in Delhi, they should be supported. Right now, the priority of the Muslim community is that communal and fascist forces should not come to power.”

Speaking about the reasons why Muslim frustration with Congress party has peaked and why it was too late now the party to try and win them back, Ilyas said, “Congress has lost the opportunity. In the last Parliamentary session, we were expecting three-four bills to be passed, one was the Communal Violence bill. The way they got the Lokpal bill and the Telangana bill, they could have done the same with the Prevention of Communal Violence bill. People were also expecting the Congress to do something about the Ranganath Misra Commission report, but they did not. That anger is already there. The Muslims vote for the Congress only when no viable alternative is there. And AAP has emerged as viable alternative in Delhi.”

Salim Engineer of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind is more circumspect about en masse support of the Muslim community to AAP. But, in what should please AAP, he endorses them as ‘secular party’.

“We consider that they in general are secular…Though they are not yet clear on many issues and we don’t their ideological stand, I think there is still time. If party is able to explain and convince people and if they bring good candidates with good backgrounds, people will consider them as good option. What has happened now is that one more option has been added in the existing list so-called secular parties.”

Engineer says AAP will benefit because of their performance in the last assembly election. “In the last election, the Muslim community did not know if AAP could defeat the BJP, but this time it is slightly different because of the assembly poll history. Certainly, they will get benefit in some of the constituencies.”

But there won’t be a singular pattern across the constituencies, says Engineer. “I think voters will see all the candidates in the constituency and then decide who is most suitable. The Muslim community particularly prefers a secular candidate with a good image and who can defeat the communal forces. So across Delhi, it won’t be a similar pattern. The candidates will be judged and whoever can defeat the communal party and has a good image will benefit. And so in some constituencies it might be the Congress and in some others it might be AAP also.”

On Muslim community’s unhappiness with the Congress, the Jamaat spokesperson says, “The community is highly disappointed with the sitting MPs. If they are repeating the same people, the anti-incumbency will factor will be there. These MPs couldn’t bring Prevention of Communal Violence Bill, nothing was done on Muslim reservation. There are many other issues such as the Batla House encounter and the arrest of Muslim youth. Then there are also general issues such as price rise. On that front too, the Congress has not performed.”

Sources within Congress party’s state unit too concede that that after AAP’s performance in the assembly elections and with the spectre of Narendra Modi as PM, the Muslim vote in Delhi “can get divided.”

Says a Congress MLA, “The Muslim vote won’t shift completely but it can get divided. The Muslims want to defeat the BJP and whoever is in a position to do that will get the vote of the community. If the Congress candidate is strong, he will retain the Muslim support in his constituency.”

On what the Congress’s campaign strategy should be, the MLA said, “In its campaign the Congress will have to prove to voters that they have the capability to defeat the BJP candidate….Even though Congress tried to implement policies for the Muslims, it couldn’t succeed. So the Muslims are angry with the Congress.”

Despite AAP not having either a prominent Muslim face or a clear policy for minorities, the Congress leader says, AAP will get the support of the Muslim community because in this election their first target is to ensure the BJP candidate is defeated. “And for that, the Muslim voter is ready to vote for candidate who is best placed to win.”

Keenly aware of the flagging fortunes of the Congress and buoyed by its success at Delhi polls, the AAP is justifiably confident of benefitting from the minority community vote in next month’s election.

Says Ashutosh, AAP’s candidate from the Chandni Chowk constituency, which has a sizeable Muslim population, “The minority community will vote for us and vote for us in large numbers. They have faith in us. They believe that if there is one party that can counter Narendra Modi and stop him, it is the Aam Admi party. They also believe that the Congress has failed miserably and that the Congress has lost the will to fight Narendra Modi. I am confident that they will support me this time.”

Updated Date: Mar 11, 2014 15:50 PM

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