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By Nazarul Islam Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO. USA: A close friend and a Professor at JNU, Delhi had called me last Saturday. There was an emotional streak in his voice. He confided: ‘Votes are being cast in Delhi today. I have not voted for the Congress, this time’. My friend, the academic—is also a Muslim and the reason he did not vote for the Congress was simple: ‘My vote would have been wasted. AAP still has a chance to win against BJP!’
According to the India Today-Axis My India exit poll, 69 percent of Muslims had voted for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), in Saturday’s polls. The fundamental shift of the Muslim vote from the Congress to the AAP has made many ‘almost Sanghi’ (playmates) folks in the Congress, to suggest unhappily that ditching the Muslim community and pursuing only the majority — Hindus — for electoral gains, much like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
However, the logic behind the Muslim community’s shift has not been just simple, but rather practical. As tradition would dictate, India’s Muslim voter has remained vulnerable in times of the CAA-NRC-NPR, which has essentially driven the choice to elect a party —that will give anything, but divisiveness!
After the final vote count, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won a most emphatic victory in the Delhi Assembly elections, as comprehensive and as sweeping as its victory in the 2015 elections. The party has won 62 of Delhi’s 70 seats, against the 67 it had won last time. It is remarkable that it retained most of the seats it had, losing only a few to the BJP, which did slightly better than it did last time. The victory has shown that there was no anti-incumbency sentiment working against the Arvind Kejriwal government. This is important because most governments pay a price for incumbency but in Delhi, the AAP has retained most seats and much of its vote share.
This victory has become even more remarkable, perceived in the context of the reference points vis a vis the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, or the MCD elections in which the AAP had made no impact and the BJP has won handsomely.
The AAP contested the elections on the basis of the performance of its government in the past five years and presented a positive agenda of action for the future. It had much to claim credit for over its performance in the health and education sectors, like the establishment of Mohalla Clinics and improvement of the standards of government school education.
This political party also earned goodwill for the free or subsidized supply of electricity and free rides for women in public transport. Generally, its track record and welfare-oriented governance has elevated the party’s image, in good stead and helped it to counter the much bigger campaign unleashed by the BJP, which has more resources and firepower.
It could resist the BJP’s persistent efforts to polarise the electorate on communal and religious lines, an effort led by no less than the top leaders of the government and the party. It was an unequal fight, but the AAP managed to stand its ground and best the goliath. Not all the communal fire and brimstone that the BJP unleashed on Delhi was able to convince the electorate —to vote for it.
Lacking a local leader to take on Kejriwal, Union Home Minister Amit Shah took over the BJP campaign, and it inevitably fell to low and vicious levels of hostility and hatred. He made the election Shah vs Shaheen Bagh, and in that sense, it was Shaheen Bagh, now has come to represent all that stands in opposition to the BJP’s communal agenda, that won.
The AAP victory is an affirmation that politics based on performance and a positive agenda that appeals to the livelihood issues and concerns of common people can get the better of politics based on divisive and emotive issues and slogans. The BJP is unlikely to change its color and spots in the upcoming Bihar and West Bengal elections, but Kejriwal and his campaign may have well shown the rest of the Opposition how to sidestep the BJP’s toxic campaign and win over people and elections. Delhi’s voters have shown, as have voters in other states, that they are not taken in by the BJP’s divisive pitch.
AAP convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, in every speech and interview, had insisted that there was no need to amend the Citizenship Act. He has also continuously spoken of education, development and building infrastructure as part of his election promises. On the other hand, the so-called alternative to the BJP — the Congress — has not only been passive in its support to Shaheen Bagh but maintained a safe distance from the protests while issuing the caveat that the movement shouldn’t be politicized.
The truth, however, has prevailed— the protests are very much political. They are very distinctly anti-BJP. And, simply because it’s a BJP project to identify certain Muslim citizens whom it can later politicize these people by calling them ‘illegals’ who live in India. While Congress leaders Shashi Tharoor and Digvijaya Singh appeared to join hands together to make up the ‘holy’, the trinity of the party — Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi — they have not quite bothered to extend direct support to Shaheen Bagh.
The same could be said about Arvind Kejriwal, whose Hanuman Chalisa recitation might have earned him brownie points among sensitive RSS-inclined Hindus who also care about development. But the leading Muslim face of the AAP, Amanatullah Khan, has been upfront in showing solidarity with the people of Shaheen Bagh, and the anti-CAA protesters.
Again, Muslim leaders from India’s Congress Party have remained conspicuously absent from the scene. There is no Muslim leader in Congress today who holds any sway over the community. Delhi similarly sees no representation whatsoever. There are some regional leaders in Uttar Pradesh — Salim Sherwani or Naseeruddin Siddiqui, who fought from Badaun and Bijnor, respectively, in the 2019 Lok Sabha election — but they are as good as non-existent, nationally.
In that particular election, the Congress had fielded six Muslim candidates in Uttar Pradesh, and all of them had unfortunately lost.
Compare this with the AAP’s outreach to the Muslim community. Last year, Arvind Kejriwal hiked the salaries of imams from Rs 10,000 to Rs 18,000 per month. The salaries of helpers in mosques were also increased from Rs 9,000 to Rs 16,000 a month. These will be paid by the Delhi Waqf Board in 185 mosques that come under it.
In fact, Kejriwal went a step ahead and increased the salaries of imams and helpers of mosques that don’t come under the Delhi Waqf Board. Congress is slowly and steadily losing its clout over the Muslim community. The BJP’s constant taunt by calling the opposition party the ‘Muslim League Congress’ has seemingly worked and made the Congress passive when it comes to taking unapologetic stands on policies that are clearly anti-Muslim and communally divisive.
Although the Congress’ initial official stand on the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was to be against it, prominent leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Janardan Dwivedi, Deepender Singh Hooda, and a few others were seen siding with the ‘nationalistic’, view of this move.
And now, the bad news for the Congress is that it no longer appears to be ruling the roost when it comes to minority voters. And the Delhi election is only going to add another chapter to it. According to India Today-Axis My India exit poll, along with Muslims, the Congress was also set to score poorly, even among the Other Backward Classes (OBC), the Scheduled Castes (SC) and the Balmikis.
What also had not helped the Congress this time, was that Hyderabad MP and AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi has repeatedly called out the party as being the torch-bearer of draconian anti-Muslim laws — whether it’s the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or the severely abused sedition law — that the BJP is now using against the community or anyone against its views.
After speaking to many Muslim citizens Saturday, the biggest takeaway could be surmised as: The overwhelming sentiment driving the voting pattern of the community was to choose someone who was most likely to defeat the BJP. It is desperate, survival time. And one look at the Congress and the AAP does seem to have made it clear which of the two political entities can possibly fulfill this basic requirement of the community.