Barely a week is left for the date of polling for the assembly elections in Rajasthan and the campaign is getting more and more intense with heated discussions on several issues related to society and governance. However, there is a striking absence of debate in the entire electoral scenario on a crucial aspect of Rajasthan society. And that is the absence of debate on the issues relating to concerns of the minority Muslim community. Indeed, the principal opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) steadfast refusal to address minority issues and concerns is part of a calculated Hindutva design. But, the resolute silence on these issues from the ruling Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and even the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – CPIM- is certainly surprising.
In the 2011 census the Muslim presence in Rajasthan was recorded as 9.07 per cent of the total population of 6.85 crores. In figures it comes to over 62 lakhs. Time and again over the last few years, the community has been the target of communal wrath of the Hindutva forces, which have diverse names and entities within the Sangh Parivar. This by itself should have made the security of the minority community an important electoral plank. But neither the ruling Congress nor other secular parties have taken up this issue in a focused manner.
Commenting on the situation author and geographer Professor M. Hasan pointed out that the silence on minority issues is extremely disconcerting. “It appears like a foregone conclusion. The BJP would have no truck with the Muslims whatsoever. However, it is sad that not only the silent community of ours but also the thinking persons in society including the media are letting it go just like that. It is clear that those who are supposed to ask questions have ceased to be critical.
In terms of details in relation to the electoral contest, the BJP has not fielded a single candidate from the Muslim community in the current Assembly elections in Rajasthan. In the last assembly polls in 2018, it had accorded a token presence to Muslims by fielding Yunus Khan, a former Minister, in Tonk, against the Congress leader Sachin Pilot. Naturally, Khan could not win. The Congress, which is the ruling party in the state at present, has given tickets to 15 Muslims. The party had allocated the same number tickets to the community in the previous (2018) elections too.
However, the Congress, which is trying to return to power in the state under the leadership of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, has carefully avoided making any mention of BJP not giving ticket to Muslims. All the other secular parties including the the Aam Admi Party (AAP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and even the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – CPIM- have refrained from questioning it”. The nascent parties in Rajasthan like the Lok Jantantrik Party two tribal parties, BTP and BAP do not make any mention of this. The Congress, even while making claims on giving more tickets than the BJP to the Other Backward Caste (OBC) communities, as well as to the Dalits and women, chooses not to make any noise about BJP’s practice of ‘untouchability” to Muslims. The Dalits and women have been “accommodated in excess of their reservation quotas“, say many Congress leaders.
There is little doubt that the senior leadership of the BJP, especially the national leadership led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, is making a concerted attempt to whittle down the dominance of the former party Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje in the current elections. Yunus Khan is a camp follower of Raje and the talk within Rajasthan political circles is that this could be a reason why he was denied a seat to contest. Khan, like a few other Raje supporters who have been denied tickets, is fighting as an independent from his home turf, Didwana in Nagaur district. Khan was elected to the Rajasthan Assembly in 2003 and 2012.
More shocking, or rather pathetic, is the case of Abhishek Singh, whose name was initially announced as the BJP candidate from Masuda constituency in Ajmer district. Later on, there arose a whisper campaign among the BJP-RSS cadres that Abhishek belonged to one of the Muslim sects found in the Ajmer-Mehrat region, who were recent converts from Hindus. As this whisper campaign gathered momentum, his name was struck out from the list of candidates. This happened even as Abhishek Singh went on reiterating that he was a practicing Hindu and a descendent of the great king Prithviraj Chauhan.
“The BJP wants to make it known that they don’t need Muslims. However, I want to ask whether it is proper for a so called nationalist party like the BJP to leave out Muslims like this? Is it a proper behaviour on the part of a ruling party at the national level?” asks Shabbir Khan, businessman and the president of Muslim Musafirkhana, Jaipur. “Governance without the participation of such a sizeable population cannot be equitable or just,” he asserts.
The BJP’s insistence of totally leaving out Muslims is indeed part of its election strategy. It not only helps to consolidate its position among the Hindus in this Hindu majority state (88.49 per cent Hindus) but also allows continuing the party’s tirade against the community. And not surprisingly, Muslim terror and the ongoing Israel-Hamas war are hot topics in the election discourse that the BJP in Rajasthan is trying to push. The speeches made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Aditya Nath as well as other senior BJP leaders during the past fortnight had several references to Islamic terror.
In Tijara, a BJP leader’s aggressive postulations against the minorities lead to an embarrassing situation for the saffron party. Local BJP leader Sandeep Dayma spoke about the threat from the mushrooming “masjids, mosques and gurudwaras”. As the Sikhs in Jaipur and Alwar protested Dayma later took back the “gurudwara” part of his utterances and apologized for the ‘slip’. The Sikh body, (SGPC), however said it was not satisfied with the apology. Even after exempting gurudwaras, it would not approve anyone speaking ill of any place of religious worship, it observed. “He should be ashamed of himself”, SGPC said of Dayma. The BJP has since expelled Dayma from the primary membership of the party.
When all this is happening on the BJP front, with systematic attempts to brand and run down the minority community, there is curiously no reaction from those who are expected to counter it. No one seems to be questioning the BJP. No media, no opposition party including the Congress posed any questions to the BJP in this regard. And, strangely not even the Muslim organisations in Rajasthan have initiated any debate on the outright exclusion of the community by the BJP, in their candidates list The only reaction from a community member so far had been that of Amin Pathan, a BJP leader and former vice-president of Rajasthan Cricket Association. Khan, a big name in the state’s cricket politics, announced his decision to quit BJP and join the Congress on 15 November 2023.