Kejriwal's 'Confession' on Muslim Vote Shift Will Be Music to Congress's Ears

The minority community holds considerable sway in at least three of Delhi’s constituencies – East Delhi, North-East Delhi and Chandni Chowk.

New Delhi: Arvind Kejriwal’s candid confession that the Muslim votes in the national capital shifted away from his party and towards the Congress at the last minute is significant for many reasons.

One, it cannot be ignored because it comes from a senior leader who has everything to gain or lose from the swing. In 2015, when Kejriwal steered the Aam Aadmi Party to an absolute majority in Delhi, it was on the back of this Muslim vote. That Dalits also felt that the Congress no longer posed a serious challenge to the BJP helped matters, and the AAP won 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi assembly.

However, the Muslim votes swinging towards the Congress just four years on shows that the AAP has lost a lot of ground. It also adds weight to the sentiment of the local Congress leadership to not ally with the AAP for the Lok Sabha elections.

Reflection of Kejriwal’s performance?

The swing can also be interpreted as a verdict on the performance of the Kejriwal government. Incidentally, on the day alliance talks with the Congress were called off, deputy CM Manish Sisodia said the Congress’s vote share was no more than 7-8% in Delhi.

A bigger repercussion of this claimed “shift” would be that the Congress will approach the Delhi assembly elections due early next year with greater vigour. The debacle of 2015 will seem like the distant past. After seizing power from the BJP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the Congress will look to repeat this feat in the national capital.

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For a party that was reduced to zero seats in Delhi in 2015 after ruling it for 15 years, Kejriwal’s words must have sounded like music. Though former CM and now Delhi Congress chief Sheila Dikshit was guarded in saying that it was Kejriwal’s bad record that shifted the voters, clearly she must be thanking her stars for the turnaround.

Despite demand Congress did not field a single Muslim candidate

Few in the Congress too expected such a sudden shift. Many local leaders were wary that the Congress’s decision to not give even a single ticket to a Muslim in any of the seven Lok Sabha seats would backfire. This was especially the case since a delegation of former Muslim MLAs wrote to party president Rahul Gandhi in April, asking that at least one seat be given to a Muslim candidate. The demand was ignored.

But, it appears that the party’s bet to trust Sheila Dikshit has paid off. Though the Congress was third in all seven seats, behind the BJP and AAP, in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, it is expected to do much better this time.

Shift in vote may impact result in three constituencies

Muslims constitute about 13% of Delhi’s votes, and have a significantly higher presence in North-East Delhi, East Delhi and Chandni Chowk constituencies. A shift in their votes could well mean that the Congress candidates in these three seats – Sheila Dikshit, Arvinder Singh Lovely and J.P. Agarwal – could pose a major challenge to the BJP.

Kejriwal’s confession, while holding significance for Delhi politics, also has bigger ramifications. It shows that Muslims continue to vote as a block or at least try to vote against the BJP or other Hindutva parties. The fact that many BJP leaders spew venom against the community breeds fear and insecurity.

But distancing themselves from the party has also meant that fewer members of the community have made it to the parliament when the saffron party does well electorally.

Delhi Congress chief Sheila Dikshit. Credit: PTI

Muslims have little representation in BJP and parliament

According to the 2011 Census, Muslims constitute 13.4% of the population. But since 1998, their representation in the Lok Sabha has remained between 6-7%. In 2014, only 23 Muslim MPs were elected. The BJP had given tickets to just five Muslim candidates, but all of them lost. This time, out of the party’s 437 candidates, seven are Muslims.

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Though the BJP has been fielding Muslims candidates and has some known names from the community to tom-tom like former minister Shahnawaz Hussain, Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, and even spokesperson Shazia Ilmi, it has not been able to win the hearts and minds of the community. The daily rants of its leaders and candidates against the community has harmed its prospects. As with Delhi, it would continue to face such a backlash till it sincerely tries to reach out to the community and changes its stance on issues which affect them.

But that appears unlikely. As a senior BJP Delhi leader one said, “No matter what we do, Muslims vote against us. So we have also started ignoring them and counting them out. For us too, elections are now about the other votes.”