Muslim Representation Dwindles in Gujarat’s Political Landscape

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The state witnesses a complex interplay of political strategies and alliance dynamics in shaping Muslim representation in parliament.

Mohammad Alamullah | Clarion India

NEW DELHI — In the electoral landscape of Gujarat, representation of the Muslim community in the Lok Sabha has been notably scarce, with the last member elected four decades ago. Ahmed Patel’s victory from the Bharuch constituency in 1984 marked the final instance of a Muslim representing Gujarat in the Lok Sabha.

Historically, only three Muslim representatives have been elected to the Lok Sabha from the state. Besides Patel, Zohra Chavda from Banaskantha and Ehsan Jafri, who tragically fell victim to the Gulbarg Society massacre during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots, were the other two. Patel, securing his parliamentary seat thrice, emerged as a prominent figure in Muslim representation, winning in 1977, 1980, and 1984 from Bharuch.

All three MPs belonged to the Indian National Congress, with Chavda making history as Gujarat’s first female Muslim parliamentarian, elected to the third Lok Sabha in 1962. Her husband, Akbar Chavda, had previously won twice — in 1952 and 1957 — from Banaskantha for the Congress, albeit before the formation of the Gujarat state.

Jafri’s election in 1977 coincided with Patel’s initial victory from Bharuch, a year notable for Gujarat sending the highest number of Muslim MPs to the Lok Sabha — two in total. However, since then, Muslim representation has steadily declined, with Congress consistently nominating either one Muslim candidate or none at all. The ongoing elections mark the fourth occasion where the Congress has refrained from nominating any Muslim candidates in Gujarat — a trend observed in 1967, 1996, and 1999.

In contrast, the ruling BJP, since its inception in 1980, has not nominated any Muslim candidate for the Lok Sabha from Gujarat. Despite a failed Lok Sabha bid in 1989, Ahmed Patel served Gujarat for five consecutive terms, emerging as the face of Muslim representation. However, after Patel’s tenure, the parliamentary representation of Muslim leaders dwindled, with Rauf Valiullah and Irshad Mirza concluding their terms in 1990.

Presently, no Muslim parliamentarian from Gujarat is alive, highlighting the absence of active Muslim participation in parliamentary affairs despite Muslims constituting nearly 10% of the state’s population. Nevertheless, members of the Muslim community continue to participate in elections as independent candidates or representing small parties, albeit with limited chances of success. Of the 266 candidates in the fray from Gujarat, 39 are Muslims.

Despite not nominating any Muslim candidates in the current election, the opposition Congress, in alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), has not overlooked the importance of Muslim votes. This is evident in the list of star campaigners declared by the Congress, with approximately 10% comprising Muslims, including notable figures such as Rajya Sabha MP Imran Pratapgarhi and Patel’s daughter Mumtaz.

Mohsin Lokhandwala, BJP minority cell president, emphasises the party’s focus on winnability over other factors. “For the BJP, winnability takes precedence over any other factor. Ahmedabad and Bharuch boast large Muslim populations. However, Ahmedabad is a reserved seat, while Bharuch is not the deciding vote,” he said. Imran Khedawala of the Congress remains the only Muslim candidate elected to the 182-member Gujarat assembly.

Vajir Khan Pathan, chairman of the minority department in the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee, elucidates the party’s decision-making process regarding candidate selection, noting, “We normally field a Muslim candidate in Bharuch. However, this time, our party is in alliance with the AAP, whose MLA, Chaitar Vasava, won the assembly polls with a significant margin. AAP wished to field him in the Bharuch constituency. Therefore, in the interest of the party and to preserve the alliance with AAP, we decided against insisting on a Muslim candidate.”

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