Could Muslims hold the key to India’s upcoming election?
Voting gets underway in the biggest-ever democratic process next Monday and ahead of the first of nine polling days, the ruling Congress party has been reaching out to India’s Muslim groups.
Earlier this week, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi met with a delegation from Delhi’s Jama Masjid, among the most important mosques in India. Among the delegation was the mosque’s chief cleric, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, who has long held political links to various parties.
“Our meeting with the Congress president lasted for 40 minutes. Issues like security, education and employment for Muslim youth were discussed,” said Mr Bukhari, according to the Times of India.
Muslims account for 20 per cent of India’s population and large numbers have traditionally voted for the Congress party, even though studies show they suffer in terms of access to decent jobs and education.
Many Muslims are wary of Narendra Modi and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), especially because of the massacre of hundreds of Muslims that took place while he was chief minister in Gujarat in 2002.
But the BJP has been increasingly reaching out to Muslims, especially in urban areas, pitching a message of aspiration and development and arguing that the Congress has taken their support for granted. A number of Muslim candidates have been selected for important seats and a leading Muslim journalist, MJ Akbar, recently joined the party as a national spokesman.
All of this may explain Mrs Gandhi’s attempt to shore up Muslim support. She reportedly told the Delhi cleric: “One of the main reasons I entered politics was to safeguard and promote secularism”.
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