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OPINION | Minorities in a Dilemma on Whether to Support Congress in the Absence of a Third Front

Minorities had realised that nothing concrete had been done for them. The Congress failed to reciprocate the unconditional support they enjoyed for decades with progress and development.

Mohd Naushad Khan |

Updated:March 30, 2018, 10:49 AM IST
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OPINION | Minorities in a Dilemma on Whether to Support Congress in the Absence of a Third Front
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Indian polity, since Independence, has been rotating on an axis of caste and religion. Either minority bashing or its appeasement has also been another hallmark of the Indian political mindset.

Minorities, though, traditionally voted for the Congress but later became political fodder for several regional parties. They oscillated their support like a pendulum in anticipation that prosperity and, above all, sense of security would prevail.

Minorities, without an iota of doubt, remained in the political basket of the Congress for decades. It was the Sachar Committee Report which, for the first time, pulled down the curtain of belief and trust towards the Grand Old Party.

Its revelation brought to light the picture that minorities, especially Muslims, have been cheated for decades. The findings of the report was food for thought and introspection.

Minorities had realised that nothing concrete had been done for them. The Congress failed to reciprocate the unconditional support they enjoyed for decades with progress and development.

According to Afroz Alam, associate professor and head of Department of Political Science at Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), "There has been a paradigm shift in the electoral chemistry between Muslim voters and Congress. Over the years, large number of Muslim voters have moved away from the Congress and fragmented their loyalties in favour of non-Congress, non-BJP regional political options. There is a growing realisation that the fundamental difference between Congress and BJP is blurring. Congress is shunning its centrist image. The party is trying to appeal to the Hindu core votes by not only cultivating its soft-Hindutva image but also by sidelining Muslims as a taken-for-granted junior partner.”

“We are witnessing another trend that Muslim voters are no longer susceptible to fall for mere projection of the BJP as a threat. There is, in fact, a substantial decline in their anti-BJP sentiments, for they have come to realise that even if it is in power, there is little likelihood of the hyperbolic threat translating into anything real. At the same juncture, Muslim voters are tired of being treated as ‘low cost’ voters due to the poor delivery of the policy pledges exclusively made to them at the time of election by the so-called secular political parties. In my view, Muslim votes will continue to be divided along the multiple lines if a coalition at the regional level does not happening before 2019 elections," argues Alam.

Putting forward his perspective, activist John Dayal, who also represents many National Christian Forums says, “Over the years, no single party has stood the test of the time as a protector of minorities. Every political party, when in power, has created laws which negatively impact minorities. For Muslims and Christians, the political spectrum extends from the Congress on the one hand to regional parties in UP, Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and the rest of South India. They look to the Left if they want to keep the BJP out, or at least in a reduced margin in Parliament and state legislatures.”

Dayal further adds, “The Congress has had a terrible past since the 1970s with the Emergency, the Sikh issue, the Babri issue and the laws against the Christians have worked to expose it as a soft-Hindutva party. But when compared to the BJP and the RSS, the minority voter is left with choosing the winning candidate from the Congress and the other non-BJP parties. There seems to be no other choice.”

Needless to say, Congress these days hardly takes any political stand of its own. Rather, it goes on a defensive stance or acts in a reactionary manner. Rahul Gandhi no doubt is gaining political maturity but his escalation does not mean it is being well-received on the ground or would translate into votes. Very recently, he tried his best political manoeuvring in Gujarat but his foot soldiers, as many believe, failed to provide him with the kind of support base he required. The campaign was further hampered by loose talks of his party men.”

Irtiza Quraishi, President of Muslim Association Rehabilitating Homeless and Mistreated (MARHM), says, “I hear a lot of different Muslim opinions about Congress. There are Muslims who talk in favour of the party and then there are those who prefer regional alternatives like the AIMIM, AAP etc. There are also Muslims who accuse parties like AIMIM and AAP of being the B-teams of BJP, wherein these parties contest elections in places to divide the votes in order to help the BJP.”

“Lately, Indian Muslims have started believing that at the national level, to defeat BJP, the only contribution they can do is to support Congress jointly without dividing its votes among other parties. I know people who talk about how Congress is responsible for the backwardness of Muslims in India, yet in the next General Elections; they talk about voting in favour of the party to defeat the BJP. There are Muslims, such as myself, who like AAP and even I intend to vote for the Grand Old Party in the next general elections and for AAP in the next assembly elections,” said Quraishi.

On the future political posturing of the minority, Mohammad Sajjad, Professor at Centre of Advanced Study in History in AMU, Aligarh says, “Muslims should not be seen identifying themselves with any given political parties and they should vote silently, confidentially.”

However, the result of the recently held by-polls in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar has sent the message for one and all ahead of 2019 polls. It has further rekindled the hope for a larger alliance within the regional groups. Both SP and BSP were quick to learn their lesson from the Tripura verdict. This by-poll result, no doubt, made it clear that 2019 polls may not be a cakewalk for the BJP. The by-poll message is loud and clear that no party should take the voters for granted.

Congress is still groping in the dark if we go by the trends in Tripura and the by-polls results in UP and Bihar. The dinner diplomacy was to feel the pulse of the regional forces and to get the glimpse of what is going on in the subconscious minds of the regional forces. It is yet to be seen how things would unfold ahead of the 2019 grand show.

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| Edited by: Aditya Nair
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