Banished from the mainstream, a campaign is on in Gujarat to give Muslims a voice again
The recently concluded assembly elections in Gujarat saw the culmination of a process that has seen minorities being banished from the political narrative in the state. This came as an irony of sorts, because since the 2002 assembly polls that were held in a communally polarised atmosphere following the Godhra train burning and the subsequent anti-Muslim pogrom, minorities always found reference in the political narrative. However, in the recent polls, even the Congress did not mention minorities for fear of losing majority votes.
Now, a new drive is underway in Gujarat to bring minorities and their issues back into the mainstream political narrative. Under this initiative, there is a plan to send at least one lakh individually signed representations by the Muslim community members to the state government by 14 February. This initiative was launched on 15 January under the banner of the Minority Co-ordination Committee Gujarat (MCCG). A follow up event was held this past Sunday in Bhuj to give added impetus to the movement.
“The efforts in this direction were started last year, when we set up this front enrolling volunteers who were neither affiliated with any religious institution, nor any political party, and were also not a paid employee of any social organization,” explains senior MCCG functionary Mujahid Nafees.
“The exercise was triggered by our analysis of the status report of the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs, when we found that, out of the 27 schemes meant for the minorities, only three had been initiated in Gujarat, and this included allocation of a mere Rs 55 lakh for rural housing and Rs 70 lakh for upgradation of some institution. There was a big zero against other schemes like skill development, starting of self-help groups, etc.,” he points out.
Speaking of the same report, Nafees recounts that, at the state level, there was no specific allocation for Muslims in the state budget, while the Rs 55 lakh that was allocated was to the clubbed category of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Castes and minorities. This paltry amount becomes even smaller when compared with the annual state budget of Rs 1,76,000 crore. This blatant apathy from the state government is what pushed the MCCG to act.“We decided to start a movement to ensure that we must avail what is constitutionally our right,” Nafees stated.
A three-month drive was launched, under which one lakh post cards listing the demands of the minorities were addressed to Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani. Though there was no formal response from the government, there were enough telephonic calls from officials making promises.
“Our biggest achievement was that Rupani had to talk about what his government proposed to do for Muslims in the presence of Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on 29 August. This was the first time that the state government was talking about Muslims in a poll year,” says Nafees.
Following this, the MCCG made representations to the district collectors simultaneously across the state on 18 September. Thereafter came the model code of conduct and the polls. Now the move has gained pace with this fresh signature campaign.
The representation, signed by members of the Muslim community, points out that Muslims account for 9.7 percent of the state, and 82.3 percent Muslim children take admission in primary schools, but this figure comes down to a mere 32.5 percent by the time they reach matriculation level.
The representation says that Gujarat has witnessed large scale internal migration for years following the 2002 riots and subsequent establishment of industries on the coast. These two lakh people are now living in slums in cities without the minimum basic amenities.
“In Gujarat, we have no separate ministry for minority affairs, no budget allocation for the upliftment of minorities in state budget, no implementation of schemes started by the government of India. There is no grievance redressal mechanism for minorities in Gujarat in the form of a commission,” it underlines.
The main demands raised by the community is the formation of a ministry for the welfare of minorities in the state, making specific financial provisions in the state budget for development of minorities, and opening of government higher secondary schools in areas where minorities reside, such as Juhapura, Naroda, Shah Alam, and Jamalpur areas of Ahmedabad.
There is another demand seeking parity between certificates of madrasas and those given by the Gujarat Board of School Education. The Muslims are further asking for a state minorities commission after passing of a law by the state assembly that gives it a constitutional status.
The representation further asks for the community to be provided with a special financial package and a policy formed for the rehabilitation of persons who have been internally displaced because of natural disasters and communal violence.
“Our aim is to generate the self-confidence among the educated youth of the community to avail what the Constitution has provided for them using political and democratic means. The community and its issues have to be brought back to the democratic political narrative of the state. This is something that has vanished from the political discourse,” says Nafees.
A silenced minority
In the recent assembly elections, the BJP tried to sell its development narrative while the Congress countered it on its failures over the last two decades. Simultaneously, there were attempts to polarise voters on communal grounds, but this never became the main narrative of the campaign.
The Congress, on the other hand, did not talk at all about Muslims, lest Hindu voters see it as pro-Muslim. This was so pronounced that even senior Muslim leaders from the state, such as Ahmed Patel, were not seen campaigning. On one occasion, when social activist Gagan Sethi referred to the insecurity among the Muslims before Congress president Rahul Gandhi, the latter made a generalised promise that the Congress would ensure safety of all when it came to power. The Muslims also kept quiet during the entire campaign. Some saw this as tactical silence, while others interpret it as disillusionment.
It is amid such a scenario that an initiative like the one being executed by the MCCG assumes significance, because the complete whitewashing of a community from the political landscape of the state is definitely not a good sign for the days to come. After all, if this status quo is maintained it will only lead to more inequality and insecurity.