Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state and a BJP citadel for long, has not had a Muslim Lok Sabha MP since senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel won from Bharuch in the 1984 polls. Muslims form around nine per cent of the state's population, and are traditionally seen as Congress supporters.
Congressman Patel won from Bharuch defeating Chandubhai Deshmukh in 1984. He lost to Deshmukh in 1989. Patel, a Rajya Sabha MP now, had won from the seat in the 1977 and 1980 general elections as well.
A Hindutva surge following BJP patriarch LK Advani's Rath Yatra from Somnath in the state to Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh in 1990 has made the state a saffron citadel, leading to Muslim candidates drawing a blank at the Lok Sabha hustings, observers said.
1990’s Rath Yatra Changed the Equation
While the Congress has fielded Muslim candidates, at least one, in every Lok Sabha poll, the ruling BJP is yet to do so.
"In Gujarat, unfortunately, we have a clear communal divide which the political leadership has created with a definite vision. The purpose is political gains," political analyst Dr Hari Desai told PTI.
“Earlier, seats like Banaskantha and even Bharuch, where Hindus are in a majority, have had Muslim MPs. But after the 1990 rath yatra, which started from Somnath in Gujarat, it seems impossible for a Muslim candidate to win due to the polarisation,”Dr Hari Desai, Political Analyst
He predicted that it would be difficult for a Muslim candidate to win in the near future from Gujarat.
"Gujarat has seen many riots between the two communities which is another reason for the political marginalisation of Muslims in the country," he said, citing the 2002 Godhra riots as an example.
“Though the BJP talks about sabka saath, sabka vikas (support and progress for all), it has never given tickets to members of the minority community. They even try to brand the Congress as a Muslim party,” Desai claimed.
"When Prime Minister Narendra Modi is setting the agenda, the Congress is also caught in the trap and has to follow soft Hindutva, which is evident in the various temple visits by their leaders," he said.
Congress Calls the State a ‘Hindutva Laboratory’
Mujahid Nafees of the Minority Coordination Committee, an NGO working for minority rights and greater representation for them in the political sphere, said, "There are several reasons why Muslims are not being elected. One of them is that, in our democracy, it works on caste and religious lines."
“So it is now difficult for a minority member to get elected as MP. We have released a list of demands of the minorities to all political parties seeking social, economical and political inclusion of their members who are marginalised here.”Mujahid Nafees from the NGO, Minority Coordination Committee
The opposition Congress blamed the situation on the "Hindutva laboratory" and the "polarisation" created by the BJP.
“The Congress believes that minorities should be given representation in the political process at every level in order to empower them. However, in Gujarat, post polarisation in the 1990s, the scene has changed. The state, being a Hindutva laboratory, politics has taken a new turn and it is difficult for them (Muslims) to get elected,”Manish Doshi, Gujarat Congress spokesperson
"The Congress has given tickets to minority community members in parliamentary to village panchayat elections," he added.
Our Focus is Winning: BJP
The BJP, however, said that winnability is the deciding factor in choosing a candidate rather than his faith.
“Our chief minister Vijay Rupani belongs to a minority community. We believe in sabka saath, sabka vikas and work according for development of all. We do not have a problem with any community or religion. Winnability is the criteria when we distribute tickets. CM Rupani, though he hails from a minority community, is winning from his seat.”Prashant Vala, State BJP Media Coordinator
Rupani belongs to the Jain community.
In Gujarat, three seats- Kutch, Ahmedabad East and Bharuch have sizable number of Muslims. In Bharuch Lok Sabha seat, the population of Muslims stands at over 22 per cent, which is the highest, while the other two seats are reserved for members of the Scheduled Caste communities.
In 1962, in the first Lok Sabha polls after Gujarat was formed out of Bombay state, Johra Chavda had won from Banaskantha.
In the 1977 general elections, the state sent two Muslim MPs to Parliament, the highest ever, with Patel and Ehsan Jafri winning from Bharuch and Ahmedabad seats respectively.