‘Politics of UP, Gujarat Won't Work Here': Muslim Leaders in Rajasthan Struggle for Political Space

Many of the Mulsim leaders believe that questions of ‘winnability’, ability to garner votes from different communities affect their chances of candidature.

New Delhi: Despite having a sizable population of about 9.07 per cent in Rajasthan, the Muslim community’s representation in politics remains minimal.

While the Congress has fielded one Muslim candidate, Rafique Mandelia from Churu seat, in the ongoing Lok Sabha polls, the BJP has not fielded any. In its history of fielding candidates, the saffron party in Rajasthan picked a Muslim candidates only once, in 1979 from Bikaner. The Congress, on the other side, has been giving ticket to one Muslim leader every election, except in 1962, 1967 and 1972.

The Muslim leaders in the desert state complain about the lack of electoral opportunities. Many among them believe that question of ‘winnability’, the ability of a candidate to garner votes from different communities affects their chances of candidature.

A Muslim leader from the BJP’s state minority cell in Jaipur, wishing anonymity, said the party’s central leadership has sidelined Muslim leaders in Rajasthan and the number of Muslim candidates fielded by the party in Assembly polls has also fallen sharply.

“Rajasthan has diverse population of people from different castes and communities, but we never had any Hindu-Muslim issue. I don’t know why the central leadership is thinking that the communal politics of Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat would work here,” the BJP leader said.

According to him, the leadership of Vasundhara Raje never thought along communal lines, but the BJP government at the Centre, since it came to power in 2014, had other ideas.

The BJP leader also said that though a major chunk of minority votes went to the Congress, but the grand old party has failed to mobilise votes from other communities.

“Just look at an example. Ashok Gehlot ji won the 2018 Assembly elections from Jodhpur seat, which is considered his stronghold. But he was unable to engineer a win for Congress leader Ayyub Khan from Soorsagar seat in his own district,” he said.

In the Assembly polls in December, Ayyub Khan had lost to BJP’s Suryakanta Vyas by a thin margin of 5,763 votes in Soorsagar. However, out of the 15 Muslim candidates that the Congress had fielded, seven had won.

On the other hand, BJP’s sole Muslim candidate in fray, the then state cabinet minister and former legislator from Deedwana Yunus Khan, lost to Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee president Sachin Pilot from Tonk, a constituency with considerable Muslim population. As per the 2011 Census, Muslims constitute 47.18 per cent population of Tonk.

In fact, ahead of the 2018 Assembly polls in Rajasthan, the BJP’s state minority cell had written to chief Amit Shah, expressing anguish over the saffron party’s reluctance field Muslim candidates. The letter followed Habib-ur-Rahman’s resignation from the party. He had quit the BJP to join the Congress when he was dropped from the Nagaur Assembly seat. The BJP had no Muslim candidate in the state polls. Yunus was fielded from Tonk only after Congress announced Pilot’s candidature from the minority-dominated seat.

Rahman, who then contested and lost from Nagaur on a Congress ticket, said the BJP had maintained a policy of dropping Muslim leaders.

“The BJP had made its policy clear six month before the polls,” he said. The BJP defector also said that there was no single Muslim leader with statewide mass appeal in Rajasthan, someone people could rally behind. “Muslim leaders are scattered, with separate leaders in Nagaur, Shekhawati, Jaipur, Jodhpur,” Rahman said.

With several communities — Rajputs, Jats, Gujjars, Meenas, Meghwals and other Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes — jockeying for political space, Muslim leaders often miss out on their share of pie in the Lok Sabha elections, despite relatively higher representation and success in Assembly polls.

Ever since the start of Lok Sabha elections in 1952, the state has sent only one Muslim leader to the Parliament. Ayub Khan was elected as a parliamentarian on a Congress ticket from Jhunjhunu in 1984 and 1991.

Mandelia, the Congress candidate from Churu this time, would be hoping to change that. He had contested 2009 Lok Sabha polls from Churu as well, but had lost to BJP’s Ram Singh Kaswan by a margin of 12,440 votes. Madelia’s father, Maqbool Mandelia, who himself was twice elected as a Llegislator from Jhunjhunu, said that Congress had distributed tickets fairly and would thus benefit from it.

“It is considered that only minorities give votes to minority leaders, but it is not the case with every leader,” Mandelia senior said, “I’m a minority leader, but all communities have faith in me. Churu has fewer minority votes compared to some other regions, but my son is still fighting here. And I’m confident, because I know all communities will support us,” he added.

Mandelia said lack of minority representation in political sphere is not just specific to Rajasthan, but is an issue nationwide, as communalism and casteism still exist.

He says the political parties need to lead the way. “BJP used to give four tickets to minority leaders in state polls in Rajasthan, but they cut it down to just one, Yunus Khan, last time. Even then, they moved Khan from Deedwana and made him contest against Pilot in Tonk, which was pointless,” Mandelia said.

The BJP state minority cell leader also said caste or community-based politics is prevalent and only leaders higher up the ladder could bring about a change. “All communities want representation. We had taken this up with senior leaders, requested Modi ji and Amit Shah ji to give tickets to Muslim leaders. But the final decision lies with them,” he said.

“There are around 85 lakh Jats in Rajasthan and around 80 to 90 lakh Muslims. The Jat community is represented by 36 MLAs in the Assembly, while Muslims have only eight. It shows that our votes go to everyone, but when it comes to other communities to vote for us, it is clear that our brothers don’t vote for us.”

Earlier this week, Abdul Sageer Khan, former BJP legislator from Dholpur, resigned from the party over lack of opportunities for minority leaders in the state. After his resignation, Khan said BJP president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had turned the party into a “company” and had tied the hands of former chief minister Raje.