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by A. Surya Prakash

Unable to contain the Modi juggernaut, the Congress Party, which has consistently pursued a policy of minority appeasement for ten full years is now playing its final gambit before the Lok Sabha election to frighten the religious minorities and consolidate their votes in its favour.

This was the purport of Congress President Sonia Gandhi's recent meeting with the Shahi Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari and a few other Muslim clerics. However laughable it may sound, reports of the meeting say that Ms.Gandhi appealed to the Shahi Imam to ensure that "secular votes" did not split during the Lok Sabha election. This has been the consistent line of the Congress Party ever since Ms.Sonia Gandhi became its President. The party believes that only Muslims, Christians and such other religious minorities are "secular" and that the Hindu majority is not, forgetting that India would never have had a secular, democratic Constitution and political system, if the Hindu majority was not secular.

Not satisfied with the Congress Party's decade-long dalliance with Muslim appeasement, the Shahi Imam is understood to have told Ms.Gandhi that innocent Muslim youth were arrested in terror cases. He wanted reservations for Muslims in educational institutions and better security for Muslims during communal riots. He also wanted implementation of the recommendations of the Sachar Committee Report and the report of the Ranganatha Misra Commission. Obviously Ms.Gandhi would have offered the appropriate assurances to the clerics. The Shahi Imam has since openly declared his commitment to the Congress Party.

As the election campaign enters the final lap, the Congress Party finds itself driven to a corner and is desperately in need of some solid support from the Muslim community. However, the irony is that despite ten years of appeasement, the Muslims have begun to desert the Congress Party. They swung away from the Congress many years ago in Uttar Pradesh and most of their votes are now shared by the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. The last assembly election in Uttar Pradesh saw a massive swing of Muslims towards the SP. But what has hurt the Congress Party the most was the huge swing of Muslims in Delhi towards the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi State Assembly Election last December. In that election, Muslim voters were torn between the Congress and the AAP. Although the Congress won five of its 8 assembly seats in Delhi in Muslim dominant areas, it suffered heavy losses because of the split of the Muslim vote.

Independent surveys have shown that while in the past, around 65-70 per cent of the Muslim voters supported the Congress Party in the capital, this dropped to about 45 per cent in the 2013 assembly election. The biggest beneficiary was AAP, which took away about 35 per cent of the Muslim vote.

Ms.Gandhi's meeting with the Shahi Imam is meant to drive home the message to Muslims that in the Lok Sabha election they must all rally round the Congress Party, as otherwise a Narendra Modi-government will be a certainty.

The Congress Party has often frightened the Muslims into voting for it, by pointing a finger at the Bharatiya Janata Party and saying that religious minorities would be unsafe if the BJP were to come to power. The BJP has been in power in several states in the country for several years and there is no evidence to suggest that the Muslims are discriminated against by the BJP governments in any of these states. That is why this gambit may not pay of this time.

Congress managers are baffled at the attitude of Muslims towards the party, despite the Congress' open policy of minority appeasement. Before the advent of the United Progressive Alliance Government led by the Congress in 2004, no other government at the national level had resorted to such blatant measures to appeal to a section of the population. This attitude of appeasement of religious minorities and especially Muslims by the Congress Party and its President has had its impact on every facet of government, be it appointments to key posts or policies or laws. The first act of the UPA government on coming to power in 2004 was to appoint the National Commission for Religious and Linguistics Minorities headed by Justice Ranganath Misra in October, 2004. This commission was asked to recommend welfare measures for socially and economically backward sections among these minorities. This commission suggested reservations for Muslims and other minorities in government jobs and educational seats.

Then came the Sachar Committee, which was appointed in 2005 by Mr.Manmohan Singh to prepare a report on the social, economic and educational conditions of the Muslim community. This committee made many controversial suggestions and even made a preposterous attempt to take a communal head count of the Indian Armed Forces. This was strongly rebuffed by the armed forces establishment and sections of the media, which felt that the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh combine was taking its minority appeasement policy to absurd levels and going berserk. What was even more tragic was the acquiescence of persons like Justice Rajinder Sachar in an activity that was blatantly anti-national, as it sought to disturb the secular character of the country's armed forces. The Sachar Committee also glossed over the irresponsible acts of Muslim clerics who launched a campaign against the polio vaccine thus causing many Muslim children to be afflicted with the dreaded virus. Neither of these two bodies thought it fit to examine the pernicious effect that Muslim clerics were having on the social and economic and educational conditions of the Muslims and the communal poison that they regularly injected into the community.

In fact minority appeasement reached such low depths during Mr.Manmohan Singh's prime ministership that often it appeared as if the government was run by persons who had developed a visceral hatred for the Hindu majority. The first draft of the Communal Violence Bill was a clear pointer in this direction. This Bill, drafted by persons close to Ms.Sonia Gandhi, held Hindus responsible and accountable in every communal riot situation. This obnoxious law was founded on the premise that whenever there is a communal riot, the majority community would have to take the blame. Similarly, Hindu officers in government and police would be held accountable. Never before has Indian Parliament seen such a blatantly communal law coming before it. Further, in order to make things abundantly clear, Mr.Manmohan Singh declared publicly that Muslims had the first right to resources in the country.

It is indeed ironic that a party that titled so fully towards the Muslims for ten years is now almost begging for Muslim votes in the country. Meanwhile, because of the party's sustained tilt towards the minorities, the Congress Party may have forfeited the votes of substantial sections of the Hindu majority. It now finds itself bereft of both the majority and the minority votes and is therefore falling between two stools. "Na Ghar Kaa, Na Ghat Kaa" as they say in Hindi.

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