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Muslims aren't the only voters

Muslims aren't the only voters

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 11, 2007

Opinion makers, such as they are, hunt in a pack. It, therefore, probably needed the Mumbai municipal poll results to persuade the less compliant section of the editorial class that Manmohan Singh's claim to be regarded as the Indian of the Year is feeble and that opinion poll results don't always translate into reality.

Before the results stunned the beautiful people into admitting that they had got their sums wrong, it was widely assumed that a dispirited Shiv Sena and a demotivated BJP had outlived their moment in history. The belief in saffron vulnerability owed entirely to the myth of the Congress' mastery over vote-bank politics. Since it assumed power at the Centre in May 2004, the Congress has assiduously targeted specific sections. The backward castes, who were never really with the Congress, were wooed through additional reservations in education; the poor were apparently enticed by the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme - Sonia Gandhi's great act of generosity at someone else's expense; the Christians were discreetly told that it was their own Government; and the country's largest minority was shown that each day would witness Santa Claus bringing goodies of one description or another. Not since the mad *raja* even started dressing up like a member of a particular community have the Muslims of India had it so good.

How come this was not translated into votes? It now transpires that the Muslim turnout in Mumbai last week was significantly below the city average of between 48 and 50 per cent. Normally, Muslim turnout is extremely high and this has helped the community develop a strategic muscle far in excess of its numbers. Indeed, throughout India saffron poll managers begin from the assumption that the other side starts with a 20 per cent advantage. The question is: Why did so many Muslims choose to stay at home?

The phenomenon is certainly bewildering since the primary beneficiary was the Sena-BJP alliance. Has the debate over the Rajinder Sachar Committee report made no impact? Has the Congress' unceasing attempt to placate Muslim sentiment on issues from the singing of *Vande Mataram* to tentative steps to introduce parallel Islamic banking been counter-productive? Or, have Muslims been alienated from the Congress because of the Prime Minister's warm embrace of the Great Satan? The answers are still in the realm of speculation.

However, what can be said with greater certitude-and this takes into account last year's mayoral election in Uttar Pradesh-is that the policy of reckless minorityism is generating a countervailing urban reaction. Since Hindus, as opposed to Muslims, are less inclined to vote along sectarian lines, people often forget that while Muslims vote, they are not the only ones who vote. Whether in Mumbai or Meerut or Kanpur, cities where the NDA faced huge reverses in 2004, we are witnessing a silent Hindu consolidation. Of all the Congressmen, only former Shiv Sainik Sanjay Nirupam has gauged this phenomenon. Others are still busy calculating notional bloc votes.

What the Congress should be worried about is the penchant of Muslim organisations to be permanently aggrieved. One day it is tearful complaints about heavy-handed policing in the aftermath of the July 11 blasts, the next day it is the whacko insistence that Special Economic Zones are specifically targeted against Muslims and on the third it is some cock and bull story about the need to introduce Islamic banking. What we are witnessing is the constant shifting of goal posts and the remarkable inclination of the Congress to play the game according to every set of revised rules.

It is always tempting for the Congress to blame local leaders for every setback and heap praise on the leader for every achievement. After the Mumbai polls, the Congress president, it is said, did not meet the Maharashtra Chief Minister because she was not amused. Was Vilasrao Deshmukh responsible for the defeat or should Congress leaders be looking upwards to discover the root of the rot?

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