During his campaign for the 2017 Gujarat elections, Rahul Gandhi's temple run mostly skirted areas where the minority vote lay. Even when passing through such areas, he breezed through, waving at crowds from his vehicle. The BJP, on the other hand, actively wooed Muslim voters in the spirit of the much-hyped 'Sadbhavana (goodwill) Mission' launched by Narendra Modi in 2011, when he was Gujarat chief minister.
Nevertheless, the Congress showed greater goodwill in supporting the candidature of Muslims, giving them six tickets in the 2017 polls; the BJP offered none, citing factors such as winnability and caste.
Of the six Muslim candidates fielded by the Congress, four have won. In 2012, there were only two Muslim MLAs, both from the Congress, in the Gujarat assembly. In 1980, the number had peaked at 12 but the rise of Hindutva progressively brought the figure down.
In the 2017 elections, Imran Khedawala won Jamalpur-Khadia; Solanki Naushadjee BalaajeeBhai in Dasda; Gyasuddin Shaikh in Dariapur and Mohammed Pirzada in Wankaner. Khedawala registered the biggest victory, winning by 29,339 votes against the BJP's Bhushan Bhatt and ending the BJP's 42-year reign over the constituency. The BJP bastion was once held by Bhushan's father, late Ashok Bhatt. After delimitation in 2012, Muslims constituted 61% of the electorate.
Shaikh retained Dariapur with a margin of 6,187 votes, while Pirzada scraped through, winning by 1,361votes. The Congress candidates who lost are: Adam Chaki in Bhuj, Iqbal Patel in Surat (West), and Suleman Patel in Vagra.
Muslims comprise around nine per cent of the electorate and over the past few years, the BJP has been cozying up to the community, especially the moderate, business-oriented sects such as Bohras and Khojas. In this election, the party had pinned its hopes on garnering the support of Muslim women following the NDA-government's clearance of a bill that makes triple talaq a criminal offence.
In his speeches during the campaign, Prime Minister Modi highlighted that he was warned against taking a stand on triple talaq because it could adversely impact the BJP's prospects in the elections. "But I did not pay heed as I am concerned about the welfare of my mothers and sisters in the Muslim community," Modi said in one of his campaign rallies. BJP national president Amit Shah kickstarted 'Mann ki Baat, Chai ke saath' outreach from Dariapur and Danilimda constituencies, the only two of the 16 in Ahmedabad city which were not with the BJP after 2012. They still aren't.
In Gujarat, there are 35 seats where the Muslim population is 15% or more. Interestingly, the Muslim factor has given equal advantage to the Congress and the BJP this time, with both winning 17 each of such seats. Vadgam, a seat with 28.5% Muslim voters, has elected Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani who is a Congress-supported candidate.
In fact, after Ahmed Patel won the Bharuch Lok Sabha seat in 1984, no Muslim has won in the general elections in Gujarat. In 1998, the saffron party gave a ticket to a Muslim for the first time. But that candidate, Abdul Ghani Qureshi, lost miserably in Vagra. The party never again gave mandate to a Muslim.
From that period to the dawn of Sadbhavana, the BJP campaigns were unabashed in the use of polarizing rhetoric. For Modi, 'Miyan' became a term of derision for enemies. Modi attacked 'Miyan Musharraf' in 2002, and 'Miyan Ahmed Patel' in 2012. Allusions to Sohrabuddin Sheikh, who was killed in an encounter, were pressed into service by Modi in 2007.
In 2017, the poll narrative was largely dictated by caste-based agitations, Aurangzeb and Babri came into play during campaigning. BJP leaders repeatedly reminded people how the Congress would bring back the 'riots' and 'curfew raj'.