‘Minority vote bank’ or ‘Soft Hindutva’, this is the dilemma Congress party is facing today in India. In Rajasthan, state PCC chief Sachin Pilot in his close circle meetings have already discussed the idea of dropping a few muslim candidates to get traction of floating Hindu votes. Idea seems practical as a battle strategy for Congress but why young congress leaders are not worried about losing muslim support base forever?
Answer lies not in number, which is around 12 percent of 7.5 crore population in the state, but division of muslim in various caste groups and their subsequent electoral allegiances. Kayamkhani, Syyaid, Qureshi, Meo and Sindhi-Musalman are five major influential caste groups among the more than one crore muslim population in Rajasthan. Cheeta–Kathat in Ajmer, Chippa in Sanganer and Nagaur, Rangrej-Neelgar, Chobdar in Sikar-Jhunjhunu and parts of Pali, Mirasi-Maganyar in Jaisalmer-Barmer are other significant muslim castes.
Though, Islam does not differentiate between its devout and sees all of them as equal but pagan culture of caste still exist firmly in India and particularly in Rajasthan. This is the reason that report of Sachhar committee is not accepted in its totality by the political leadership. Argument is given that dalit, OBC and economically backwards living with muslim populace are as poor and deprived as their muslim brethren. Thus, politics becomes all the more important to have a say in the system and to corner biggest possible chunk of resources and public money.
But politics is fluid game of contemporary dynamics. With rise of Narendra Modi at national level after 2014 and Hindutva wave at its peak, parties such as congress- which has used muslims as their vote bank since independence, are now looking to change its strategy. The Congress party recognises itself as umbrella for various view and thought processes and there is a school of thought within the Congress which wants to tread a path to coax Hindu votes through ‘Soft Hindutva’ approach. Sachin Pilot, on a fast track to fulfill his ambition of becoming next Chief Minister of Rajasthan, may also be one who sees the idea as a short cut to political success.
Question is, to whom Muslim will vote in 2018 in Rajasthan?
Assembly elections in Rajasthan would be taking place in background of lynching of Pahlu Khan in Behror in Alwar, Pahadu Khan in Barmer and Jafar Khan in Pratapgarh. Murder of Md Afrazul Sheikh in Rajsamand had crossed all limits of religious insensitiveness when a dalit zealot tried to gather sympathy, albeit successfully partly, in name of love-jihad in a case of murder over illicit relation. All these case had hit headlines across the globe and bought bad name to incumbent BJP government led by Vasundhara Raje, who was generally considered a tough administrator in her previous regime.
Rise of Modi wave has coincided with increase in number of madarsas in Rajasthan which belong to sects such as Ahal-e-Hadis. Extremism in national discourse has bred extreme views across society. Popular Front of India (PFI) now has active office in Jaipur and security agencies had earlier unearthed sleeper cells of banned organisation SIMI in Sikar and Jaipur. Impressionable young muslims see themselves deprived and political isolation has surely reached its pinnacle ahead of 2019 general election. Assembly election in Rajasthan is going to be text book survey of political behavior of muslims for next general elections.
Politically, BJP has made its choice. They do not want muslim votes though Vasundhara Raje may not in full agreement with this strategy. And, onus is on Congress to balance its political ambition with the aspirations of people who have support it time and again.
If we believe sources, Sachin Pilot has made his mind to an extent but will Ashok Gehlot and Rahul Gandhi agree?
Mewat area consisting of Alwar and Bharatpur districts sees the most visible political tussle between Hindu and Muslim in Rajasthan. The area is dominated by Meo muslims who used to intermarry with Meenas before they were cut off after a ugly spat few centuries ago. Hassan Khan Mewati fought with Rana Sanga in battle of Khanwa against Babar. Meo are spread in parts of Haryana, Rajasthan and western Uttar Pradesh. They were one community in India who were living so close to Delhi but never been subdued by the formidable occupying forces. Meo depends upon agriculture for living but many are also involved in crimes like vehicle lifting, highway loot and thugee specifically known as ‘tatloo-katna’ using websites such as OLX.
Loharu Nawab AA Khan alias ‘Duru mia’ represented communally sensitive Tijara in Alwar and Jahida represented Kaman in Bharatpur during 2008-13. A land dispute turned into communal tensions in Gopalgarh dominated the discourse as few muslim lost their lives in skirmishes with Gurjars. Jagat Singh, son of former union minister Natwar Singh, won election from Kaman promising people respite from dominance of Meo in 2013. Zuber Khan lost in surging wave of Hindutva and Gyan Dev Ahuja broke his own record of not getting elected when BJP forms government in state. BJP won all the seats in Alwar except Rajgarh-Laxmangarh and Deeg Kaman in Bharatpur. Over last four years, BJP has ensured that to maintain level of communal tension in Mewat region to their choice in the name of lynching and colluding with local police in fighting cow-smugglers leading to exchange of fire routinely. By election for Alwar Lok Sabha had set the tone of mood in muslim and meo community in this region. But not before the congress candidate Dr Karan Singh Yadav persuaded them to desist from overtly jealous campaign in order to ensure that his clan members- Yadavs does not get antagonized.
Muslims in Rajasthan has chosen to remain silent and vote decisively.
Abdul Sageer Khan, Mumbai based lawyer, had been BJP MLA from Dholpur in 2008-13. Babu Lal Kushwaha of BSP defeated him but he was later disqualified after being convicted in a murder case. BJP put its beton his wife Shobha Rani in by elections in order to capture Kushwaha vote while Khan accepted the offer to become chairperson of waqf development council. BJP has multiple options in Dholpur including of Abdul Sageer Khan while Congress is left with Banwari Lal Sharma family to hope for its chances.
In Capital Jaipur, three seats namely Hawa Mahal, Kishanpole and Adarsh Nagar are seats where muslim claims their stake. Kayamkhani, Kalal, Qureshi and Sayyid are in large number on these seats. Muslim migrant from Bihar, Bengal and Bangladesh also form a major chunk of naturalized voters living mostly in slums of Bas Badanpura, Jawahar nagar to Bagrana. BJP traditionally field a Brahmin from Hawa Mahal, A Bania from Kishanpole and a Sindhi-Punjabi from Adarsh Nagar. Local muslim leadership is been phasing out as Mahir Azad and Salim Kagzi are no more while Ashq Ali Tank – a Kalal leader has completed his stint as Rajya Sabha member. Amin Kagzi, son of Salim Kagzi, has not shown any political mettle on streets so far. Muslim votes in Jaipur city are a divided lot and they still have not got an able commander to steer them through successfully. Bina Kak may turn out to be one such commander as she is said to be eyeing Adarsh Nagar constituency in 2018.
Tonk, the only muslim principality out 21 state which merged to form Rajasthan from Rajputana, has been a battle turf for muslim and RSS backed groups. Zakia is senior congress leader and former MLA from Tonk but she has now lost sheen due to age factor. With Sachin Pilot eyeing Tonk seat for himself, this may become one example where traditional muslim candidate would be bypassed by congress.
Ajmer has huge muslim population in Ajmer north in which dargah area falls, and in Pushkar, Masuda, Nasirabad. Nasim Akhtar a qureshi leader was MLA from Pushkar from 2008-13. Yunus Khan, right hand man of Vasundhara Raje and Salawat Khan a dubai returned Kayamkhani leader has been eyeing Pushkar in 2019. In Ajmer north, Congress is looking for a suitable sindhi candidate and muslims again will have to play second fiddle. Masuda is going to be a toughest contest in Ajmer district as Kayyum Khan and Wajid Cheeta both are eyeing the seat which will again through up a quadrangle fight. Wajid Cheeta, a 35 year old 12th pass man, secured 22000 votes in last assembly election despite the fact that he was facing a case of sedition.
Habib-ur-Rehman Ashrafi Lamba is fifth term BJP MLA from Nagaur while Makrana seat was wrested by Jats in tough contest in 2013. Deedwana is going to see the most interesting contest as Yunus Khan of BJP is facing anti-incumbency factor to its hilt. Talks are that he may change his seat to Adarsh Nagar, Pushkar or Fatehpur lest he put his political prestige at stake in Deedwana. Nagaur is vortex of Rajasthan politics and if BJP goes out of Nagaur, there will be no stopping across the desert.
In Shekhawati, muslims are the second largest vote bank after Jats. But Fatehpur and Churu are the only seats where they have been tasted successive electoral success. Mandawa is classic example where they are second most numerous ground but not in capacity to command the ticket. Muslims are deciding factor in Sikar also but both BJP and Congress consider it a Brahmin seat. In Churu, Hamida Begum had given tough fight to formidable opponent like Rajendra Rathore but Haji Maqbool Mandelia, a Mumbai based businessman, likes to play friendly games. In Jhunjhunu, followers of Baba Kamruddin Shah are aligned with Ola family.
Udaipur city has a sizable Pathan population who were bought in by Maharana to act as paid fighters in turbulent times. Pathan code of honor is still in vogue in the lake city and they have been involved in gang wars which some time spill bloods. Politically, muslims in Udaipur are not a force to reckon with. But nearby Kapasan and Gangrar in Chittorgarh sits on communal tinderbox. Controversies created by Kashmiri students in Mewar University in Gangrar have also not helped in already tensed communal situation in area. Chittorgarh, like rest of Rajasthan, is melting pot of castes such as Jat, Dhakar, Rajput, Bania, Brahmin and Dalit. Muslims in Mewar are formidable force but still to realise its fire power.
In Marwar, muslims has to fight with Rajputs in Jaisalmer, Pokran and Shiv and with Jats in Chohtan. Various sufi shrines situated in Pakistan like Peer of Pagara – custodian of Sukkur shrine and Shah Mehmood Qureshi the custodian of a shrine in Multan hold sway on muslim votes in Jaisalmer and Barmer. Gazi Fakir and his son Saleh Mohammad are close to Peer of Pagara. Gazi Fakir used to hold his own darbar in his hay days in name of Peer of Pagara and was the strongest voice among muslims in Jaisalmer and Pokran. His son Saleh Mohammad had been congress MLA from 2008-13. Pankaj Chaudhary, an IPS officer, had created much flutter as SP of Jaisalmer when he tried to open a history sheet of Gazi Fakir. In Barmer, Sindhi Muslim in Chohtan fights with Rajput and Dalits who also have their roots in Pakistan. Shama Khan, a young Pradhan of Chohtan is showing promise after Abdul Hadi who had been a permanent fixture of this border constituency since 1967.
In the end, Mehrunisa Khan, a Kalal from Hanumangarh, is making waves in Jaipur. Educated and sophisticated, she has cultivated a vast network in BJP for herself. She has been appointed as chairperson of Madarsa board and has been instrumental in many appointments in BJP organization under Ashok Parnami. But with decline of Ashok Parnami, the investment on Dubai visits would not be worthwhile in future.