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Confidence vote for ‘Constant’ Congress, ‘Pehle’ AAP or ‘Polarising’ AIMIM?

Gujarat Game Plan

‘Gujarat doesn’t need an Asaduddin, it needs a Gyasuddin’ – the two-time Congress MLA of the Muslim-dominated Dariapur seat in Ahmedabad city, Gyasuddin Shaikh, repeats his viral statement to News18 on the busy street of his residence on the Rahemani street early Monday morning.

Next to his house, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has put up a poster of its candidate Hasankhan Pathan, while the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has also put up a Muslim candidate, Taj Mohammad Kureshi.

Traveling through the Muslim-dominated seats of Dariapur and Jamalpur-Khadia and dominating the discussion is one question: will their support be with the Congress as always or are they willing to experiment with the AAP or AIMIM?

All three parties also have Muslim candidates in Jamalpur.

Most Muslims here say they will stay with the Congress. “We know that the Congress is not able to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat. It had its best chance in 2017, but failed. There is no point in voting for the AAP or AIMIM as they are here to cut votes,” Mohd Aslam and Tala Sharif tell News18 near a Jamalpur mosque. They say the “mistake” of 2012 should not be repeated when the BJP first won this seat over a Muslim vote split.

‘MONKEY QUIET ON BILKIS BANO, AIMIM IS BJP’S B-TEAM’

Speaking to News18, Shaikh questions why the AAP leadership has not spoken out about the release of convicts in the Bilkis Bano case and denounces the AIMIM for “always helping the BJP” by reducing Muslim votes. “The voters of Gujarat have realized who Asaduddin Owaisi is. He speaks in a one-sided way for his policy of polarization that benefits the BJP. We have made it clear to people that such one-sided talk is not good for us to succeed financially or socially,” he says.

A banner of the AIMIM candidate nearby. (News18)

He adds that Muslims can move forward better if they get support from the Hindu community. “Owaisi practices a policy of polarization that isolates the Muslim community. People like him will come from Hyderabad and say things here, but if that causes problems in Gujarat, Gyasuddin Shaikh will have to travel all over the state, become the voice of Muslims and fight for them,” said the Congress MLA. Shaikh is convinced that Muslim voters will not go for the AAP or AIMIM.

He said Gujarat has always been a two-party system. “The AAP creates a hype, but the balloon has deflated. People have seen how the AAP blamed the Nizamuddin Markaz for the spread of Covid in Delhi, failed to meet Shaheen Bagh protesters and did not stand with the victims in the Delhi riots or the demolition of Jahangirpuri. In Gujarat, they have not said a word about the release of the convicts in the Bilkis Bano case,” said Shaikh.

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The AAP wants Muslim votes but also keeps their distance from them, so the Muslims of Gujarat know that the AAP is a “small complement” to the BJP and stay away from them, Shaikh tells News18.

THE CONGRESS LOW-KEY CAMPAIGN

Shaikh denies allegations of a lackluster congressional campaign, saying the party has opted for a “low-profile campaign” involving door-to-door talks rather than large rallies. “We didn’t want to make it a high-profile election, because otherwise the BJP will succeed in polarization,” he says. Shaikh also says that the biggest problem in Gujarat elections is inflation and people are quietly angry about it.

Congress is the trusted choice of the community. (News18)

There is also a feeling among locals in Dariapur and Jamalpur-Khadia that the Congress campaign has lost its momentum this time compared to 2017 when the Congress had led the BJP very close.

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“The option for us is not the AIMIM. We know the damage Owaisi did in the Bihar elections that brought the BJP to power. We don’t want a repeat in Gujarat,” says a group of elders in Jamalpur, expressing their confidence in Congress candidate Imran Khedawal.

Political observers point out how the Congress vote share in Gujarat has always remained constant over the years at between 35% and 40% due to strong Muslim support, even after the Godhra riots. It is difficult for a newcomer like the AIMIM or AAP to court them, says a local journalist.

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