A first after riots: BJP to field Muslims in Gujarat?

Senior Delhi police officials with social activist Arvind Kejriwal at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Sunday during a protest

Senior Delhi police officials with social activist Arvind Kejriwal at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Sunday during a protest

The Sangh Parivar’s Hindutva icon and BJP Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi may be forced to play the minority card in the forthcoming Assembly polls. These polls, first after the delimitation exercise, may see the saffron party fielding Muslim candidates as some of the constituencies, which were considered BJP strongholds, have become Muslim-dominated. If the BJP fields Muslim candidates, it will be a first after the post-Godhra riots for which Mr Modi is often blamed. For Mr Modi, a claimant for the Prime Minister’s post, the forthcoming polls are a do-or-die battle.
Delimitation has drastically changed the electoral profile of around 28 Assembly constituencies in the state, with minority voters increasing substantially. Of these 28 Assembly segments, nine constituencies, including Khadia and Sarkhej, which were considered strongholds of the saffron party, have now majority voters belonging to the minority community.
Though the saffron party had fielded Muslim candidates in the recently held local bodies polls, most of whom had won, the problem with the BJP is that it does not have any “known faces” from the minority community in its fold who can be fielded in the polls.
Even though the BJP maintains that Mr Modi, a three-time CM, gets minority votes because of “good governance” and development schemes undertaken by his government benefiting all communities, delimitation has certainly posed major challenges to the ruling party.
Mr Modi, who is battling the anti-minority tag, does not want to be seen antagonising the minority community, which could harm his electoral prospects. He has asked party leaders to come up with a list of probable Muslim candidates. Also, the Opposition Congress and dissident leader Keshubhai Patel, who has launched his own outfit, are giving him a tough time.
In the last Assembly polls, the BJP won 10 seats less than the 2002 polls. Of the 182 Assembly seats, it won 117 in 2007.
Sources disclosed the state unit has begun screening probable candidates for these crucial seats, where delimitation has changed the electoral profile. Some of these Assembly seats are in and around Ahmedabad, South Gujarat and Rajkot. Mr Modi, it is learnt, is personally monitoring the screening process.
Party sources said the saffron party is of the view that if it fields a sizeable number of minority candidates, the Opposition will find it difficult to attack it and its chief minister of being anti-minorities.

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