Gujarat Assembly election 2017: Why nobody is talking about Muslims this year

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has visited over half-a-dozen temples in public view in Gujarat. But, he has not made any direct reference to Muslims during his election campaign, which is a departure from the past for the Congress party.

Of 182 Assembly constituencies in Gujarat, 20 have electorally influencing Muslim population with over 20 per cent voters from the community.
Of these 20 Muslim ‘dominated’ constituencies, four are in Ahmedabad district and three each in Bharuch and Kutch – from where Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his election campaign today.
This Gujarat election looks different from previous ones in the sense that none of the parties has directly talked about Muslims or minorities as a distinct voting unit. This is happening for the first time since Narendra Modi became chief minister of the state in 2001.
The Gujarat election campaign has been, till now, dominated by caste groups and their leaders. Hardik Patel of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti, OBC leader – now Congress member – Alpesh Thakor and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani emerged as the strong opinion leaders in Gujarat. Muslims of Gujarat are ‘missing’ from election narrative in the state.
The election in 2002 was held in highly polarised post-Gujarat riots environment and Congress based its campaign on protection of Muslims. Five years later, Congress president Sonia Gandhi hurled the “maut ka saudagar” (merchant of death) salvo at Narendra Modi in the run to 2007 Gujarat election.
In 2012, the Congress again spoke about protection of minority and Muslims in Gujarat. But, the pitch was not like previous two occasions. Incidentally, it was only occasion since 1995, when the gap between vote percentage of the BJP and Congress declined.
In 2014, Sonia Gandhi returned with another phrase aimed at ‘protection of Muslims’ theory. In the run up to the Lok Sabha elections, Sonia Gandhi accused Narendra Modi (without taking his name) of doing “zehar ki kheti” (sowing seeds of poison). This again worked in BJP’s favour and the party won all 26 Lok Sabha seats.
This explains why Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is more cautious this time. Rahul Gandhi has already visited more than half-a-dozen temples in full public view and offered prayer. But, he has not spoken of Congress’s regular refrain about ‘protection of Muslims’ in Gujarat.
Muslims constitute about 9-10 per cent of Gujarat’s population. Proportionately, some claim that Gujarat Assembly should have around 18 Muslim MLAs. But, the best representation of Muslims, in terms of number, was seen in 1980, when 12 MLAs from the community were elected to the Gujarat Assembly.
Interestingly, Congress leader Ahmed Patel is the only Muslim MP who got elected to the Lok Sabha more than once from Gujarat. And, only once in 1977, two Muslims were elected as Lok Sabha MPs from Gujarat. Patel won from Bharuch while Ehsan Jafri got elected from Ahmedabad.
Records show that in the first election to Gujarat Assembly – after the creation of a separate state from Bombay – in 1962, seven Muslim MLAs were elected. The same number of Muslim MLAs returned to Gujarat Assembly in 1985, when the Congress registered a record tally of 149 seats on KHAM (kshatriya-Harijan (now Dalit)-Adivasi-Muslim) formula.
In the outgoing Gujarat Assembly, two MLAs were elected in 2012. Three Muslim MLAs were elected in 2002 followed by five in 2007 Gujarat Assembly election.
Reports quoting CSDS survey suggest that the Muslims’ support to Congress has been waning since 2007. The survey said that 69 per cent Muslims voted for Congress in 2007, when 20 per cent voted for the BJP.
In 2012, Congress’s share of Muslims’ vote declined by five per cent to 64 per cent. The BJP’s share also got reduced to about 16 per cent.
The latest CSDS survey shows that about 27 per cent Muslims may vote for the BJP in the upcoming Gujarat Assembly election while 49 per cent expressed solidarity with the Congress. Gujarat will vote in two phases on December 9 and 14.