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“The Congress seeks to exploit the Muslims politically. The BJP chooses to demonise them ideologically. The Congress wishes to take care of the religious and cultural needs of the Muslims rather than advance their real, tangible, economic and material interests. The BJP denies that they have any needs or interests at all.”

— Ramachandra Guha,

Author and Commentator

A battery of Bollywood stars last week gyrated suggestively in front of ministers and bureaucrats under a giant, centrally-heated tent in Saifai, a dusty village in India’s political heartland state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). The occasion was an annual orgy of political and muscle power funded by government money where Salman Khan, Madhuri Dixit and many other stars descended in private jets, all paid for by the Akhilesh Singh Yadav government.

Less than a 100km away in Muzaffarnagar, Muslim children, women and men, shivered in three degrees Celsius in refugee camps set up after communal violence in which up to 60 Muslims were killed and many women were raped by wealthy Hindu farmers. Just days before Chief Minister Yadav’s hometown jamboree, his government admitted that more than 30 children had died of cold and hunger in these refugee camps — a colony of tarpaulin shelters devoid of sanitation, electricity and food. Muslims were forced to live there after marauding Hindu mobs burnt their houses, raped and killed women and men in one of the worst incidents of communal violence in years.

Unperturbed by the widespread media criticism of the Saifai event, Yadav sent his ministers and legislators on a three-week foreign tour, fully paid for by his government. Two years ago, his Samajwadi Party was elected to rule Uttar Pradesh, a state where Muslims make for up to a third of the electorate. Muslims voted decisively for Yadav, a young politician who promised good governance, welfare and security to Muslims.

Today, Muslims in Uttar Pradesh are disappointed and angry with Yadav, his father and party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, fondly called “Maulana Mulayam” for his pro-Muslim overtures, an image he carefully built over the last decade. Uttar Pradesh, that sends 80 members to Indian parliament’s elected house of Lok Sabha, is critical for victory in Delhi.

Three months before India goes to polls in a keenly watched general elections, India’s 180 million Muslims are facing a big dilemma — whom to vote for. Like the Hindu voters, Muslims too believe that the ruling Congress must be voted out for its failure on many fronts — inflation, corruption, mis-governance and policy paralysis. While the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by right-wing star Narendra Modi, has emerged as an alternative for many Hindu voters in cities, Muslims have no such clear choice. Muslims regard Modi as their enemy number one for his role in anti-Muslim Gujarat violence in 2002 and the community hates him for pursuing a right-wing agenda. On the other hand, Congress, seen as a party of choice for Muslims at the national level, has also failed the community on many fronts. A large number of Muslim youths were falsely implicated in terror cases in Congress-ruled states. Hundreds of Muslim youngsters are languishing in jails without trial — an indication of systemic bias of India’s security and intelligence apparatus. This week, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde wrote to states, asking them to withdraw cases where Muslims had been falsely implicated. This letter, at the fag end of United Progressive Alliance’s ten-year rule, is seen by Muslims as too little too late. Modi, who never loses an opportunity to demonise Muslims, dubbed Shinde’s directive as Congress’ attempt to appease the community and said only courts, prosecutors and investigators can take a call on such cases.

The community, seen as a vote bank by politicians, is the single biggest block of voters who can influence election results in up to 150 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats. Yet, in the six decades after independence, Muslims are ranked low on most social and economic parameters. In 2006, a government survey, the largest of its kind, found a quarter of Muslim children under 14 years never went to schools. The community has limited access to banking system and an average Muslim household spends less than Rs500 (Dh29.85) in urban areas every month. Muslims account for less than four per cent of the total workforce employed by governments in states and at the federal level.

More shocking is their representation in political parties and legislative bodies. Sample this: Thirteen of 28 states have no Muslim ministers; only 57 of the more than 600 ministers in states are Muslims; if the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir is excluded, there will be only 39 ministers in the entire country, while Muslims make for up to 14 per cent of a billion-plus population.

Let down by the mainstream political parties, Muslims now may be willing to bet on a new entrant — Aam Admi Party (AAP) led by activist and former income tax inspector Arvind Kejriwal. After his stunning victory in Delhi state assembly polls, Kejriwal has indicated that his party will fight in 300 Lok Sabha seats, including 80 in UP. Some Muslim leaders have hinted they will support Kejriwal if AAP emerges a credible alternative to Congress and Samajwadi Party at the national level. Kejriwal enjoys widespread support among urban voters — both Hindus and Muslims — who are disgusted with the political class in general and want a clean party to rule India. It is too early to predict whether Muslims will throw in their lot behind Kejriwal, but the community is eager to keep Modi out of Delhi and punish Congress.

Bobby Naqvi is Editor of XPRESS, a sister publication of Gulf News.