MUMBAI — Fed up of the alienating politics of the Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the ruling Congress, Muslims are seeing a glimmer of hope in the more reconciliatory regional parties, seen by experts as a potential threat to the traditional powers.
"Congress and BJP are two sides of the same coin. We need a new coin," Ravish Zaidi, a political activist from the financial hub Mumbai, told IslamOnline.net.
"For a change anything different would do."
Coalitions of small regional parties have emerged on the political landscape lately, with the aim of ending the monopoly of the BJP and Congress.
The Third Front, a coalition of ten regional parties from various ideological backgrounds united under the banner of offering a new political alternative, was launched in March at a massive rally in the southern state of Karnataka.
The Fourth Front, another coalition of three regional parties, also came to surface earlier.
For many Muslims, the rise of regional parties offers a chance to challenge the reign of the Congress and the ultra-Hindu BJP, whose politics have long alienated India's some 140 million Muslims.
"I am fed of Congress and BJP," says Zaidi.
Muslims also credit the pro-poor, pro-women and pro-minorities regional parties for reaching out to them, something they complain the main political parties never did.
In Mumbai alone, the Third Front is fielding two Muslim candidates in the ongoing, month-long general elections, while the ruling Congress has none.
"For sixty years, the Congress has exploited Muslim sentiments," Maulana Hameed Azhari, a Muslim scholar who campaigns for the Fourth Front, told IOL.
"In this election, a major chunk of Muslim vote will move away from Congress and vote for smaller regional parties."
A five-stage polling to elect a new Lok Sabha, the lower house of the parliament, began on April 16 and ends in mid-May.
"Third Front and Fourth Front are a phenomenon because of the Congress arrogance," M.J. Akbar, a veteran journalist and former lawmaker, told IOL.
He explained that a few months ago the Congress, the main faction of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), refused to make any pre-poll fronts.
"[This] paved the way for the formation of Third and Fourth Front."
Analysts believe the new regional alliances pose a serious threat to both the Congress and the BJP in the parliamentary election.
"Regional and potential Third Front partners are increasingly going independent," notes Ghulam Muhammed, a political analyst.
"[They] are loath to give space for the two national parties to attain their high count of seats, to be able to lead any coalition."
Akbar, once a spokesman for late premier Rajiv Gandhi, agrees.
"The Third Front and the Fourth Front may not agree on much," he noted.
"But… if they get together to patch a post-poll alliance, they will not accept a Congress Prime Minister."
IslamOnline.net April 26 2009