Sunday, May 17, 2009

Muslims Celebrate Secular Congress Win

Congress Gets a Free Hand: Congress workers celebrate party's historic victory in New Delhi (Picture courtesy: Hindustan Times)

NEW DELHI — Many Indian Muslims are content with the victory of the Congress-led alliance in the general elections, saying it upholds the country’s secular values.

"It’s a historic moment for us," Nazia Erum, a Muslim student from the capital New Delhi, told on Sunday, May 17.
With some results still being counted, the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is winning 260 seats in the 543-seat parliament.
The Congress Party, which leads the alliance, was expected to end up with 200 seats alone, its best performance since 1991.
"Muslims are extremely happy with the election result," Khurshid Ansari, of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), told IOL.
Ansari, whose party is part of the UPA, said Muslims have largely voted for the UPA, in spite of previous speculations that they would be supporting the newly-emerged regional parties.
"Initially, there was a feeling that Muslim political loyalty is compartmentalized into many zones."
In a statement mailed to IOL, the umbrella All India Muslim Majlis-E-Mushawarat (AIMMM) welcomed the results.
"The results are to a large extent due to a clear Muslim swing, especially in the north," it stressed.
There are some 140 million Muslims in Hindu-majority India, the world's third-largest Muslim population after those of Indonesia and Pakistan.
The month-long, five-stage election was of special importance for Muslims who have long complained of being discriminated against in all walks of life.
Like many Muslims, Erum believes that the Congress's win was a victory for secularism.
"Despite its flaws, Congress is the only party whose pendulum swings very close to the idea of secularism."
Ansari, the NCP official, agrees.
"It has become abundantly clear that Muslims have voted for secular parties especially the UPA."
AIMMM President Zafarul-Islam Khan says that while Muslim voters have long rejected the divisive politics of Hindu nationalist parties, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the UPA secular agenda offered a much better alternative.
He noted that Muslims’ lean towards the Congress party comes for the first time since the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992.
Many of India's Muslims have voted for the Congress in the first five general elections after independence in 1947.
But the demolition of the 464-year Babri mosque in Ayodhya by militant Hindus and the Congress government’s reluctance to use force to protect the mosque was a turning point in relations between the Congress and the Muslim community.
The incident has since drained the Congress of the Muslim community's support.
Maulana Abdul Hameed Azhari, a scholar, says Muslim candidates did not fare well in the election because of a double standard of secularism.
"We feel that people expect us to prove our secularism but other people are not required to prove their secularism," he told IOL.
"When there is a non-Muslim candidate, Muslims vote for him."
Apart from the Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) and the Muslim League of Kerala, dozen-odd Islamic parties did not do well in the election.
Azhari asserts that any candidate should be voted on the basis of his/her agenda rather than religion.
"Proportionate representation was our right and we should have got it."
Popular Singh
Others believe secularism was not the only reason Muslims voted for the UPA.
"The UPA has won not because of the Congress but because of the charismatic personality of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh," Mufti Mohammed Ismail, president of Indian Muslim Congress Party, told IOL.
The election victory means a second term for Singh, whose calm, pragmatic persona appealed to voters looking for political stability.
Ismail says the 77-year-old premier appeals to Muslims because he knows how it feels being from a religious minority in Hindu-majority India.
"The Congress understands the sentiments of minorities because Manmohan Singh comes from Sikh minority."
Singh has long called for Muslims to be given top priority within the development matrix of the country, drawing fierce criticism from Hindu nationalists.
He has appointed a high level Committee, known as the Rajinder Sachar committee, to investigate the social, economic and educational status of Muslims.
Singh has declared a 15-point welfare program to address Muslims grievances, especially in education.
Ismail maintains that although the Congress has miserably failed to implement the 2006 Sachar report, still Muslims have faith in Congress because of Singh.
"UPA has not done much to implement the recommendations of Sachar Committee report but Manmohan Singh’s 15-point program is one of the key-reasons that Muslims voted for the Congress on national level." May 17 2009

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