Bhopal: The Indian National Congress, in its manifesto, has guaranteed a caste-based census if they secure victory in the upcoming assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh. This promise follows the example of Nitish Kumar’s Bihar government, which released the findings of a caste-based census on October 2. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi endorsed the findings of the Bihar census with the slogan– Jitni Abadi Utna Haq (equal rights for all in proportion to the population). Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticized the slogan during an event in Chhattisgarh.
With the elections scheduled for November 17 in Madhya Pradesh, the parties are announcing the names of their candidates. Out of the 230 assembly seats, the Congress party has allotted 62 tickets to OBC (Other Backward Classes) candidates, 80 to Rajputs and Brahmins, 48 to Scheduled Tribes, and 34 to Scheduled Castes. But only two tickets have been given to Muslim candidates, sparking discussions on the Grand Old Party’s stance and inclusivity. These two seats are located in the state capital, in the Bhopal Madhya and North constituencies, and have stirred disappointment in the Muslim community.
Madhya Pradesh has 47 constituencies reserved for Scheduled Tribes and 35 constituencies for Scheduled Castes. According to the 2011 census, Scheduled Castes constitute 15.6%, and Scheduled Tribes make up 21.1% of the state’s population of 7.26 crores. According to the State OBC Welfare Commission, 48% of voters in Madhya Pradesh belong to OBC.
Anas Ali of the Barkatullah Youth Forum expressed his disappointment, saying that the Congress party has continuously ignored minorities, especially Muslims, with their ticket quotas being reduced in every election. Even their manifesto has nothing for Muslims. Congress must clarify its policy for minorities. “Knowing that Muslims are a decisive factor in victory, the Congress is neglecting them in politics. It is a sort of bulldozing of their representation. The Congress party once again refuses to put any effort toward the Muslim community, considering their votes as a gift. Muslims need to look for a third option, or they will become politically invisible,” said Ali.
In 2013, the Congress nominated 5 Muslim candidates, in 2018, the number was reduced to 3, and in the current election, it stands at 2. Though the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party nominated 1 Muslim candidate in 2013 and 2018, this time their candidate list does not include any Muslim contenders.
The Madhya Pradesh state assembly currently has two Muslim Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). Arif Aqueel, a seasoned Congress leader, has been serving as the MLA for the Bhopal North constituency since 1990, except for 1993. Congress has nominated his son, Atif Aqeel, as their candidate. In 2018, Congress MLA Arif Masood defeated BJP’s Surendra Nath Singh from the Bhopal Madhya constituency, marking the first time in 33 years that the Madhya Pradesh assembly had two Muslim MLAs.
The BJP is leaving no stone unturned to win those seats in the upcoming elections. They have fielded former MLA Dhruv Narayan Singh as their candidate for the Madhya constituency, while former Bhopal mayor Alok Sharma is contesting from the North constituency.
Congress State Media Department Chairman KK Mishra, in a conversation with eNewsroom, said that the Congress party has ensured representation of all communities after calculating the caste surveys. He highlighted that while the Congress party has allocated 40% of tickets to the OBCs (Other Backward Classes), it is not practical to provide tickets to everyone. “Minority constitutes other communities as well besides the Muslim community. We have given tickets to Muslim candidates based on their population and potential to win elections. Congress has allotted 10 tickets to the Jain community, which no other party did. BJP has not given a single ticket to a Muslim candidate. Why does the responsibility to answer the question lie with Congress?” stated Mishra.
The Muslim population in Madhya Pradesh is 6.57%, while the Jains have 0.78%.
Muslim Vikas Parishad convenor Mohammad Mahir, speaking to eNewsroom, said that the Congress party is taking Muslims for granted. Whenever the majority community gets angry with the BJP, they choose to elect a Congress government, and vice-versa. The Muslim community’s vote is the deciding factor in many constituencies. “80% of Muslims in Madhya Pradesh vote for Congress because they don’t have other options. If we look at the Muslim population in Madhya Pradesh, they deserve at least 15 seats. Even the Burhanpur seat is not allocated to a Muslim candidate. Muslims did not properly vote in the assembly elections of 2008 and 2013, leading to the formation of the BJP government,” said Khan.
He added that Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee chief Kamalnath had said in 2018 that 90% Muslim votes could help Congress to form a government in Madhya Pradesh. The Muslim participation helped Congress to emerge as a single largest party forming a coalition government with SP, BSP, and independent candidates.
A video of Congress leader Kamalnath went viral in 2018, urging his party workers to ensure Muslim votes. “We are doomed if we do not get 90% Muslim votes,” Kamalnath could be heard saying in the video.
“There are 47 Muslim-affected constituencies in Madhya Pradesh, with their margin of influencing from 5,000 to 10,000 votes, and 22 seats are decided by the Muslim electorate. Last time, Muslims openly supported Congress, which helped them reach the digit of 114. If we subtract these 22 seats where Muslims are the decisive factor, Congress would have fallen short at 85 seats, unable to secure a majority and form the government in 2018. Whether they include us in a manifesto or not and whoever forms the government, we will cash the votes this time,” Khan concluded.
Though the Indian National Congress Party secured the most seats in the 2018 state assembly elections with 114 out of 230, the BJP had a slightly higher vote share at 41.02% compared to the Congress’s 40.89%.
The Bhopal Municipal Corporation Leader of the Opposition, Shabista Zaki, admitted that Muslims are irked with the unequal candidature. “Muslims work hard for the Congress. They should not be treated with discrimination. Was there not a single seat throughout Madhya Pradesh outside Bhopal where Muslims could have been given tickets? Instead of following the footsteps of another party, Congress must stick to the right and fair way,” Zaki remarked.