While covering the first phase of the Gujarat Assembly elections in Kachchh and North Gujarat, this correspondent came across several Muslims who pointed at how it is wrong to assume that all members of their community vote against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Their tone suggested a certain sense of anger and betrayal with all those who vote for the saffron party that, according to them, has left Muslims out of the ambit of development.
Even politicians, from both Congress and the BJP, conceded that a certain section of Muslims do vote for the BJP for varied reasons but nobody clearly specified them.
Looking for an answer, this correspondent met Aslam Hussain (name changed to protect his identity), a Muslim functionary of the BJP who agreed to shed light on such voting patterns. Hussain, initially sceptical, agreed to meet after a lot of convincing and after doing a thorough background check.
Once convinced, he gave instructions over the phone on how to reach his residence, located in a dimly lit Muslim-dominated neighbourhood where cramped lanes and open gutters with garbage strewn all over reflected apathy — it seemed the area has been left untouched by Gujarat’s much-hyped development model.
After a little pep talk Hussain straightaway got down to business, narrating his story. A member of BJP’s Muslim wing, also known as Laghumati group, Hussain joined the party in 2004-05 much against the wishes of his family, friends and other members of the community. Ever since he has been canvassing for the party, trying to mobilise support among members of his own community.
However, according to him, the decision turned out to be a nightmare: “I faced so much hostility from fellow Muslims who would call me and my family BJP-wallahs. Some would even humiliate me for betraying my community and backing a party that is perceived as anti-Muslim. And yet I continued to work for the party,” he said. Hussain went on to add that his hard work paid off and within few years he was given a prominent position in BJP’s Laghumati group.
When asked about the reason for his support, Hussain offers logical explanation and says, “Supporting Congress is of no use since they have been out of power for the last 22 years. Chances of them returning to power also look bleak. What I understood is that if one has to get any development work done in my area, I need the support of the state government. Since none of the Muslims from our area approached BJP, no development work was being carried out in our neighbourhood.”
Hussain claims that his support for BJP initially brought some development initiatives in his area which for years was completely ignored by the state government. “If I go to a Congress leader, they just express helplessness. So, I was left with no choice but to join the BJP to ensure my people can taste the fruits of development,” he adds.
However, then came the turning point in his life where he decided to quietly mobilise support for the Congress while still being part of BJP. “Everything changed during the campaigning phase of the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections,” he says. My own party members would tell me that they do not need support of Muslims which clearly reflected in how tickers were distributed. “It was a shame that they couldn’t find one deserving Muslim in entire Uttar Pradesh,” he says.
Thereafter, once the results were announced, the hate messages became more frequent and Hussain was repeatedly told that Hindutva is the only way forward for the BJP. “They would say how Adityanath is their next generation leader and often narrate tales of his hatred towards Muslims.
“So, here I was. Members of my community hated me and so did the party for whom I had dedicated over 10 years of my life. I had to make a decision and I decided to quietly work within the community to mobilise support for Congress. However, I did it very discreetly,” he adds.
Meanwhile, in the run up to the Gujarat assembly polls, Hussain started getting hate messages on social media platforms from his own party members, which further alienated him from BJP. Hussain says, “I stopped attending party meetings thinking someone will call me and ask for reasons for my absence. But no one called. Instead, they would say nasty things about Muslims. What was sickening that my own Hindu friends from BJP would intentionally send such messages to me.”
However, he did stay with the party hoping the hostility against Muslims would subside in the days to come. But that did not happen and soon the dates from Gujarat elections were announced. “Since then, it became worse with each passing day. I was getting derogatory messages about Muslims on WhatsApp groups on BJP groups. Such was the content of those messages that I can’t even repeat them. Whenever I met other BJP workers or leaders, they would keep reminding me of my religion and how BJP doesn’t even care about our votes,” he claims.
Since then he has had a change of heart and is hoping that Congress manages to overthrow the BJP so that BJP’s brand of communal politics can be forgotten. However, he is still associated with the BJP with the simple motive of getting work done in his area. “You never know who will win and if BJP does then someone has to represent members of my community so that we can atl east raise our concerns with them,” he adds.
When asked whether he agrees with Congress’ decision to give seats to Muslims in particular seats, which has divided the electorate on religious lines.
When asked whether such a gamble would pay, Hussain has an advice for the members of his community and adds, “In the prevailing situation across the country and Gujarat, Muslims should realise that they shouldn’t try to be kings. Instead, they should try and become kingmakers. Moreover, we should realise who the bigger enemy is.”
Our meeting is almost over and Hussain offers some tea and biscuits. He yet again requests me to not name him anywhere in the story as he would have to pay the price not only politically but also personally. In fact, he must have made this request at least 15 times throughout our conversation. Before bidding adieu, I ask him one last time which party will he vote for. “This time, I too will vote for Congress but if they don’t come to power, I have no option but to support BJP,” he concludes.