//Cong goes all out to woo Muslims

Cong goes all out to woo Muslims

New Delhi: A minority affairs ministry, amendments to the Foreigners’ Act and then a minority census in government service – Congress’ political strategy is becoming quite obvious.

And now, CNN-IBN has learnt that Congress President Sonia Gandhi has issued an internal note to the party men that Muslims must be seen as the party’s natural allies.

The issue of minority welfare is now likely to be top of the agenda when Mrs Gandhi’s National Advisory Council meets on Wednesday.

It all started a year ago when Sonia Gandhi suddenly decided to attend a meeting organised by Muslim leaders in Jama Masjid. It was an unscheduled visit, but still an indication that winning over the Muslims was to be the party’s strategy over the next year.

On Wednesday, at the meeting of the National Advisory Council, the agenda will again be the welfare of the minorities.

The party’s topmost leader has made the party’s stand on the issue categorical.

In an internal note, Mrs Gandhi said: "Muslims have always been our natural allies. We must take steps to ensure them that they hold a special place for us."

It came as no surprise that in the recent Cabinet reshuffle, the UPA Government carved out a special Minority Affairs Ministry under veteran Congress Muslim leader AR Antulay.

The crucial amendment in the Foreigners’ Act followed. It made deportation of an illegal immigrant really difficult. And now the latest controversy over the survey of minority population in various government institutions has once again raised the issue of vote bank politics, a charge the Congress rejects.

"There’s nothing wrong in it," says Congress spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan. "Just because the Congress party does not indulge in Narendra Modi-type genocide politics, does not mean we are pandering to Muslims."

In all the states that are going to the poll in May – West Bengal, Kerala, Asaam and Tamil Nadu – Muslims are a key constituency. And in next year’s UP elections too, which is crucial for the Congress – the party is keen to get back its old votebank from the Samajwadi Party.

UP is crucial, because it is from here that Rahul Gandhi is hoping to kickstart his political career and after the Babri demolition more than 13 years ago, Muslim goodwill holds the key to the revival of Congress’ fortunes.

The Congress has usually maintained that it is the true representatives of Muslims, but recent woo-Muslim policies of the Government, coming so close to Assembly elections, raises a question mark over the focus of the government policies.

Pallavi Ghosh, CNN-IBN, Updated 1929 hrs IST (+GMT 5:30), 14.02.06