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Early release of Bilkis case condemns talking point in Gujarat polls but opinions divided over Cong gain

The early release of 11 convicts in the 2002 Bilkis Bano gang rape case has become part of the political and electoral discourse in Gujarat ahead of next month’s Assembly polls, with the opposition Congress citing the episode in its polling manifesto and promised to ensure justice to the survivor.

Some observers and activists believe that the 20-year-old issue and the latest development will help the opposition party gain votes, while others think it will have no impact on parliamentary elections to be held on December 1-5.

In the polling manifesto unveiled a few days ago, the Congress said it would revoke the pardon granted by the state government to the 11 convicts sentenced to life imprisonment in 2008 in the Bilkis Bano case by a Mumbai court .

After the pardon, these 11 men convicted in the case left Godhra Penitentiary on August 15.

Bilkis Bano was a resident of Randhikpur village in the tribal-dominated Dahod district, which comes under the seat of the Limkheda Assembly, currently held by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Kaleem Siddiqui, a prominent activist who opposed the exemption granted to the convicts, said Congress’ stance on the issue has “consolidated” Muslim votes in his favor and prevented these voters from going to the Aam Aadmi party (AAP) or the Alliance. India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) led by Lok Sabha MP Asaduddin Owaisi.

Working Gujarat Congress President Jignesh Mevani, one of the most vocal voices in the episode, believes that while the party’s stance was necessary to secure minorities, it may not have won any votes because the issue was not addressed to the raised because of the achievement of political or electoral milestones.

However, both believe that the early release of convicts is not an important election issue in Gujarat.

According to Siddiqui, the impact of the pardon issue, which has now reached the Supreme Court, will be felt more in Panchmahal and Dahod districts, which have significant numbers of Muslim voters.

“The way Jignesh Mevani had raised this issue, even in the presence of Rahul Gandhi, made Muslims feel that someone had at least raised their concerns. However, Hindus see this from a common point of view. If they had considered it an issue of violence against women, the Bilkis Bano case and the subsequent pardon of the convicts would have become a major issue,” he said.

In September, Siddiqui and other activists organized a foot march, “Bilkis Bano Apology Padyatra”, from Randhikpur to Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad to protest against the early release of the convicts. However, the yatra could not be completed because the organizers did not have prior permission for the protest march from authorities.

“Since the leaders of the Aam Aadmi party remained silent and did not comment on this issue in Gujarat, ordinary Muslims became alert when they realized that despite several flaws, the Congress was still behind them. Because only Congress leaders have openly criticized the BJP on this issue, both at the state and national level,” he said.

According to him, local Muslims are dissatisfied with the AIMIM because they are not doing anything concrete like the Congress.

“It was previously assumed that the Muslim vote would be split between the AAP and the AIMIM. Even Muslims considered voting for the AAP for what the party had to offer. But this issue (pardon) has actually played a key role in consolidating Muslim votes for Congress. Now there is more clarity among Muslims about who to choose in these elections,” said Siddiqui.

Mevani, who has repeatedly attacked the state BJP government for premature release of the convicts, admits that ordinary citizens do not get emotionally involved in such issues.

“I can’t say for sure that this case will get us any votes. And for us, this issue is all about giving someone justice, not making political gains in polls. It is a reality that when something happens to the members of a community, you don’t see all of Gujarat taking to the roads to demand justice for the victim,” said the Dalit activist and MLA.

“The way I and other leaders, including Rahul Gandhi and Jagdish Thakor, the president of the state congress, have expressed their views on this issue, at least assured the major constituents of the congress that we are talking about issues that affect Dalits and concern Muslims. And now this issue is also part of the election program,” he added.

However, people living in Limkheda claim that the situation on the ground is completely different from what is portrayed in the media.

“Bilkis Bano case is not a problem at all in the election. Nobody even talks about it because it’s a past for all of us. Both Hindus and Muslims live peacefully throughout the region, including in Singwad village bordering Randhikpur,” said Kalpesh Panchal, a resident of Limkheda taluka.

Limkheda incumbent MLA Shailesh Bhabhor also claimed that Bilkis Bano is not a poll and claimed that even Muslims are in favor of the BJP.

“That is not the case at all in this election. People live peacefully and even Muslims in this area support the BJP and it is wrong to predict that the Bilkis Bano case will help the Congress by consolidating the number of Muslim votes,” said Bhabhor, who was reappointed by the seat. BJP.

Even the Owaisi-led AIMIM is unsure whether Muslims in Gujarat will vote given which party took which position in the Bilkis Bano case.

“It was the Congress that raised the status of Prime Minister Narendra Modi by raising Bilkis Bano and all other post-Godhra riot cases. Rather than making it a political issue, I want to know if Rahul Gandhi will ever raise this issue in Parliament? Can they bring justice just by eliminating yatras?” asked Gujarat AIMIM spokesman Danish Qureshi.

“It is a fact that Bilkis Bano has not received justice. And ordinary Muslims do feel that pain. But there are many factors influencing voters and it is not clear whether they will vote considering this issue,” he added.

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