MUMBAI — As India marathon general polls begin, many Indian Muslims find themselves caught between voting for the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), an "open enemy" to their community, or the ruling Congress party, an "unfaithful friend".
"It's certainly a tough choice," Zohra Javed, a political activist, told IslamOnline.net on Thursday, April 16.
India's voters started casting ballots on Thursday in the first part of a five-stage election that will end in mid-May.
But for Muslims who live among India's 1.1 billion population, the vote is an impasse as the two main front-runners are seen as least-tempting.
"If BJP is guilty of sins of commission, then Congress is guilty of sins of omission," says Nihal Ahmed, a Muslim leader of the center-left Janata Dal party.
"One party, BJP, accuses us of being appeased while the other, Congress, does very little in the name of appeasement."
Javed agrees that the Congress’s so called "appeasement" of Muslims is an eyewash.
"Muslims have to choose between the Congress that betrayed our trust and the regional parties that promise to keep up their promises of delivering justice," she said.
"The BJP is certainly not in the running as far as Muslim votes are concerned.
"The BJP and its likes use it for Muslim bashing and projecting Congress as being soft on Muslims while Muslims really don’t gain anything in essence and nothing changes for the better for the community on the ground."
There are some 140 million Muslims in Hindu-majority India and they have long complained of being discriminated against in all walks of life.
"Both the Congress and the BJP have similar economic and foreign policies and represent for the most the same caste and elite class," says Feroze Mithiborwala, of Muslims Intellectuals Forum.
Mithiborwala believes the solution for Muslims is in finding a third party.
"Muslims especially in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madya Pradesh, Chattisgargh and Rajasthan will have to take the initiative or join the initiatives challenging the Congress /BJP polarity."
Maulana Abdul Hameed Azhari, a Muslim scholar, also sees that abandoning both parties will be the answer.
"In this election, Muslims will prove that they will not be used as a vote-bank anymore,”" he told IOL.
"Now there are new avenues in the form of regional parties."
But M.J. Akbar, a veteran journalist and former lawmaker, believes the solution is in Muslims own hands.
"For sixty years they have voted out of fear, so that is what they have got from those they elected: the politics of fear."
He also says the problem is that Muslims never tried to think of their own leadership.
"Indian Muslims don’t have leaders, they have pleaders. They plead with their mentors for crumbs; and they plead with their electorate once every five years for survival.
"Indian Muslims will get development the day they vote for development."
IslamOnline.net April 16, 2009