In political circles, it is generally understood that Muslims in India have largely been supporting the Congress party since independence. Even though after Babri Mosque demolition in the early 90s, their faith in the Congress leadership was shattered to some extent, their support for the party continued as it was seen as the only viable force to stop communalism in the country. (It is futile here to go into the history of communal riots in India and the dubious role the Congress played in many of them.)
In the last Delhi Assembly elections, this trend could be seen even after emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the third party in the fray along with the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It is said that owing to the Narendra Modi factor, Muslims remained committed to the Congress and gave them a face-saver of five seats in the Muslim-dominated areas in that election. But has the situation changed now after Kejriwal decided to bring down his own government over the Jan Lokpal Bill and expand the national presence of his party? Will the ongoing Reliance Gas pricing controversy have any bearing on the Muslim support to the AAP?
The answer is ‘yes’ and it can be fairly assumed that Muslims will indeed support Arvind Kejriwal and his party, the AAP, in greater numbers in the coming times. First of all, the Congress is no longer the only secular alternative present to them. Kejriwal is targeting established political parties on four major issues and communalism is one of them. Though he interestingly avoided mentioning secularism explicitly as the AAP’s objective till date (possibly because the Hindu right is very active with the pseudo-secularism and sickularism discourse), but he has never stopped short of condemning communalism as an election issue in the next Lok Sabha polls.
Just yesterday (24th February), at the India Islamic Cultural Centre, in a gathering of Muslim academics and intelligentsia, he went on to term communalism as a bigger threat than graft in India. This political strategy of branding the AAP as an anti-communal force will go down well with the Muslim voters and they would be more committed towards the party in stopping the Modi wave.
Till now, Modi smartly handled any attack on him on account of his alleged complicity in the Gujarat riots in 2002, and moreover, the recent court verdicts and SIT reports blunted such attacks from his critics to a great extent. Any debate on communalism today also leads to an inevitable reference to the anti-Sikh riots in 1984, where the Congress party played the same alleged role as the Gujarat BJP did in 2002.
On the other hand, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who had until recently established himself as a vanguard against communal forces, has become the non-saffron Modi for many Muslims given his party’s total failure in containing the Muzaffarnagar riots and rehabilitating the victims. Therefore, Muslims are increasingly finding it difficult to hold the hands of opportunistically secular and opportunistically communal parties like the Congress or the Samajvadi Party and fight Modi on account of communalism.
Arvind Kejriwal, during his 49-day government, not only condemned communalism but also showed his strong commitment to tackle it by forming an SIT to probe the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in 1984. His argument that even though the BJP ruled both the state and centre but never took any action on the anti-Sikh riots shows that they only shed crocodile tears over riots, holds water. Muslims would join the AAP with great enthusiasm now as with all these steps, the AAP is emerging as credible voice against communalism and is attacking both the Congress and the BJP at the same time.
The ongoing Kejriwal-Ambani tussle over the KG basin gas pricing issue is also going to impress a lot of Muslim voters. The simple reason is that it embarrasses Narendra Modi, and the BJP is conspicuously silent over the issue. If today, the Congress showcases its secularism card and the BJP its governance card, then the AAP represents itself as a party committed to fight corruption. And here, Muslim voters are attempting to make a broad alliance with other citizens who may not care about secularism given the Congress’s involvement in scam after scam, but are serious about fighting corruption by joining forces with the AAP, and it’s not like Muslims don’t feel strongly about corruption either.
Moreover, the political currency of corruption as an issue is bigger than religious rightism among the contemporary social media-friendly urban youths today. The 2011 Jan Lokpal movement led by Anna and his then aide Kejriwal which worked as a serious catalyst to make corruption as prime issue for the next general elections, partly helped the BJP to corner the Congress. Therefore, today, Narendra Modi and his party feel more perplexed when they receive brickbats on corruption rather than communalism. And Arvind Kejriwal, as a master political strategist, made corruption his main weapon by attacking Modi due to his silence on the gas pricing issue or on convicted members of his Cabinet.
Neither Rahul Gandhi nor Mulayam Singh Yadav can use this currency of corruption as they have many skeletons in their closet. The same goes for other regional leaders as well. Muslims can’t expect that Rahul Gandhi or any other leader would corner Modi on the gas pricing issue or ask questions about his dubious relationship with the Ambani or Adani group, as such corporates often receive more patronage from the Congress. But Kejriwal is standing tall on this issue and is bound to get huge support from the Muslim community.
However, to sustain this faith among the Muslim voters, a few more visible actions will be required from the AAP. There has been some criticism of their first list of Lok Sabha candidates as they mostly target the senior leaders of Congress and not of the BJP. In the battle of perception, the question of a probable AAP candidate against Modi (wherever he is fielded by the BJP) is also going to impact the choice of many Muslim voters. Will he or she be someone as strong as senior AAP leader and poet Kumar Viswas?
But one thing is clear, and that is that even as a new party, the AAP has made inroads into the traditional Muslim voters who seriously consider them as an alternative today. Nany of my Muslim friends on Facebook, who were, until now, just anti-Modi in their attitude and otherwise apolitical, are now openly expressing support for the AAP, while some are even actively joining the party. However, it will be interesting to see how the party is going to engage with the community on critical socioeconomic and cultural issues that affect them. Ultimately, this will decide the future course of the relationship the AAP will share with Muslim voters.