//Congress setback due to Muslim anger, say leaders

Congress setback due to Muslim anger, say leaders

By M.R. Narayan Swamy,

New Delhi, May 9 (IANS) Muslim leaders said Tuesday that the community's disaffection with the Congress party was a key reason for its anticipated setbacks in elections in Kerala and Assam.
They said in interviews that among the many domestic and other issues, one that had caused the community immense pain was India's growing relationship with the US, evident in the warm reception President George W. Bush got here in March.

Exit polls at the end of staggered assembly elections Monday forecast a rout for the Congress in Kerala, where Muslims and Christians make up almost half the population, and a possible defeat in Assam, where Muslims live in large numbers.

"There is no doubt that Muslims are angry and upset with the Congress," said Shahi Imam Ahmed Bukhari of the Jama Masjid, a 17th-century mosque in the city's old quarters here.

Bukhari, who had campaigned against the Congress in Assam, said a string of domestic and other issues had combined to push Muslims away from the Congress. He identified one of this as New Delhi's growing strategic ties with the US.

Far away in Mumbai, Intezar Naeem, editor of the Radiance weekly, agreed.

"The problem with the Congress is that it keeps making promises but does not deliver," Naeem told IANS over the telephone. "Why will anyone vote for a party like that?"

He said Muslims had put away a decade of visible anger towards the Congress, sparked by the 1992 razing of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, to vote for it in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections that surprisingly brought the party to power.

"But the expectations generated by the Congress victory have not been fulfilled," he added. "Muslims are the greatest sufferers in our society. They had expected practical steps from a Congress government. It never happened.

"Be it Assam, be it Gujarat, be it Maharashtra, be it nationally, everywhere Muslims feel disappointed. Even recommendations of official committees that have probed communal riots are not implemented. How can the Congress expect Muslims to vote for it?

"On top of everything, Western companies are killing our small enterprises. The US is acting like the (British) East India Company. No Indian likes this. Muslims too don't like this."

Muslims number some 140 million in India and form its largest minority. The country is home to the world's second largest Muslim population.

Moulvi Mohammed Mouzzam Ahmed, the Naib Imam of the historic Fatehpuri mosque here and a member of the Delhi Waqf Board, echoed their views, highlighting the various complaints of his community.

"There is a feeling that the Congress is not worth the Muslim vote," he said. "Muslims have justifiable demands related to education, welfare and security. They are not making these demands just as Muslims but as Indian citizens. But these demands are not being met."

All three leaders said the community's main grouse related to employment and education. Besides, they said, the Congress needed to ensure a riot-free society irrespective of which party ruled which Indian state.

"When (Congress president) Sonia Gandhi led the party to power (in 2004), we did feel that she needed to be given a chance and that she was sincere. But she has done nothing for Muslims as a whole.

"The government seems to be simply trying to put a carpet over legitimate Muslim grievances by appointing so-called high-power committees. What is the use?"

Both Naeem and Moulvi Ahmed argued that India's vote against Iran in Vienna on the nuclear issue and New Delhi's tilt towards the US amid the Iraq bloodshed had also caused acute bitterness.

Imam Bukhari said Muslims were, however, fully behind the Left in both Kerala and West Bengal because of the communists' commitment to secular values. In the former, several Muslim groups that in the past have supported the Congress called upon their supporters to vote for the Left this time.

Naeem said the Congress should realize its errors.

"They still have time," said Naeem, recalling the meetings Muslims leaders have had with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. "They need to talk less and do more. All Muslim problems are the creation of the Congress. So they need to resolve them."