Gujarat’s ruling BJP, which is battling anti-incumbency and a resurgent Congress, may get help from a rather unexpected quarter: the Uttar Pradesh-based Rashtriya Ulama Council (RUC).
The party has declared that it would field its candidates in the State if the BJP and Congress fail to meet its demand of allotting at least 18 Assembly tickets to the Muslim community.
The RUC’s slogan of Ekta ka raj chalega/Muslim-Hindu saath chalega (Unity alone will triumph/Muslims, Hindus will walk together) gels well with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Sabka saath, sabka vikas (Development with all, of all).
The RUC, founded in 2008, had fielded around 50 candidates in the UP Assembly elections earlier this year. An ‘assisted’ vote-split led to the rout of the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP), its partner, the Congress, and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and to the BJP returned to power after years, with Yogi Adityanath as its Chief Minister.
On Wednesday, when he was asked which party would benefit from the RUC putting up candidates, its National President, the Azamgarh-based Maulana Aamir Rashadi Madni failed to respond. Would it split the Congress’ potential Muslim vote, and help the BJP, or would it not, he did not say.
Muslims account for nearly 10 per cent of Gujarat’s voters and their vote is seen as influential in many Assembly constituencies.
Madni complained that the Gujarat election revolves around three young leaders — Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani — and no party was even talking about the Muslims, who, therefore, felt neglected.
“We will go with the BJP if it accedes to our demand of 18 tickets, out of a total of 182, [which is] in proportion to our population.” Or else, he said, the RUC would field its own candidates.
Cong, BJP draw flak
Madni criticised the BJP on issues such as cow protection and terrorism, and condemned the Congress for the Muslims’ “political exploitation for 70 years under a well-planned conspiracy to use them as a vote bank”.
He also accused the Congress of “victimisation” of the community. “Why did (Congress Vice-President) Rahul Gandhi, who was meeting everybody, not go to meet Zakia Jafri, widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in the Gulbarg Society massacre of 2002 during the communal riots in Ahmedabad?” He also asked if Gandhi was ready to consider quota for Muslims under the EBC category the way he was considering the same for the Patidars?
He said his struggle was against the “aggressors” whosoever they might be — Hindu or Muslim. He maintained that there is no Hindu or Muslim terrorist; it is the government that terrorises the innocent.
BJP wooing Muslims
Meanwhile, sources said the BJP is also trying to woo the Muslims via the Rashtriya Muslim Manch, an arm of the RSS, and an assortment of nearly 50 Muslim clergy is expected to arrive in Gujarat from various BJP-ruled States in the run-up to the polls.
Muslims have largely kept aloof from the BJP in Gujarat, particularly after the 2002 riots. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then State chief minister and “Hindu Hriday Samrat”, had famously refused to wear a skull cap from a Muslim delegation during his three-day “Sadbhavna” fast in Ahmedabad in 2011. The BJP has not fielded a Muslim candidate for years in many States.
But he has since been inching closer to the Muslim leadership and meeting them frequently. Ahmedabad-based businessman Zafar Sareshwala, who was seen as Modi’s outreach to the Muslim community, was appointed Chancellor of the Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad, by the NDA Government in 2015. This week, Modi received a Muslim delegation which also tied a headgear on him.