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Gujarat Vote Exacerbates Muslim Pains

Published: 20/11/2012 05:18:21 PM GMT
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CAIRO - As preparations are in full swing for next month's election in the western Indian state of Gujarat, Muslims are worried of a new era of marginalization and injustice under the rule of Hindu nationalists.“You can lo (more)

CAIRO - As preparations are in full swing for next month's election in the western Indian state of Gujarat, Muslims are worried of a new era of marginalization and injustice under the rule of Hindu nationalists.

“You can look at the open gutters and accumulated garbage,” Sajid, who runs a hole-in-the wall watch repair shop in Juhapura area in the western outskirts of Ahmedabad, the largest city of Gujarat, told The Hindu Business Line newspaper.Gujarat will hold election on December 13 to elect a new legislative assembly.

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Incumbent Chief Minister Narendra Modi of the nationalist Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), in power since 2002, is running for a fourth term against opposition leader Shaktisinh Gohil of the Indian National Congress.

But Muslims are worried that Modi's re-election would mean more years of marginalization under his rule.

Saajid, a member of the 400,000-member Muslim community who represents the majority in Juhapura, earns about Rs 3,000 from his work.

But the high living costs make this is not enough to feed his family of four.

“We can still live with that, but no bank is willing to give us loans,” he said.

“We can open accounts and deposit money, but the moment they see a Juhapura address, no loan is sanctioned.”

“We have to borrow from moneylenders paying 60 per cent interest.”

Aslam Mirza, who runs a tea-stall nearby, agrees.

With “limited education and a Juhapura address, Muslim youth cannot get decent jobs,” he said.

“What is the last resort for a hungry and desperate guy? Crime of course.”

There are some 140 million Muslims in Hindu-majority India and they have long complained of being discriminated against in all walks of life.

Muslims complain of decades of social and economic neglect and oppression.

Official figures reveal Muslims log lower educational levels and higher unemployment rates than the Hindu majority and other minorities like Christians and Sikhs.

They account for less than seven percent of public service employees, only five percent of railways workers, around four percent of banking employees and there are only 29,000 Muslims in India's 1.3 million-strong military.

Suppressing Poor

Experts blame the financial policies of the BJP party of exacerbating the difficulties facing poor Muslim communities in the state.

“Many of these poor communities depend both directly and indirectly on CPR and feel alienated and victimized by Modi,” social scientist Achyut Yagnik said, referring to the common property resources.

“The State might think it is the absolute owner of these resources, but it isn't; they belong to the community.”

According to the Anthropological Survey of India, there are 87 Muslim communities in Gujarat, of which only three are business communities.

Those businessmen said would vote only for Modi.

“It's because Bohras, Agha Khanis or Khojas and Memons are all mercantile communities and they support him. And the Bohra support is because their spiritual leader Syedna openly supported Modi in Rajkot recently,” Yagnik said.

But the majority of Muslims opposed Modi's re-election.

“The remaining Muslims are not well to do and they don't support Modi,” Yagnik said.

“Distribution of coastal land for industrial use has adversely affected a large number of fisherfolk or machiara in the Kutch region, most of them being Muslim.”

In addition to their deteriorating economic conditions, thirty of the 87 Muslim communities complain from being defined as the socially- and educationally-backward class.

This classification makes it extremely difficult to get certification from “the lower bureaucracy, which is mainly Hindu and staunch supporters of Modi,” says Yagnik.

Relations between Muslims and the BJP have been strained since the 2002 massacre of Muslims in the state.

More than 2,000 Muslims were hacked and burnt to death in Gujarat in 2002 by Hindu mobs after Hindu pilgrims died in a train fire first blamed on Muslims but which a later inquiry concluded was accidental.

Several investigations at the state and federal levels accused police of failing to protect Muslims under orders from Modi and his aides, fanning one of the worst instances of sectarian violence in India.In August, an Indian court sentenced a former Indian state minister from the BJP to 28 years in jail party.

Reproduced with permission from