Vejalpur constituency: an assessment of secularism in Gujarat

By Mohd. Ismail Khan,,

Ahmedabad: Sitting in amidst a group of party workers Murtuza Khan Pathan tries to keep everyone happy and strains to keep people in good mode visiting his constituency head office at Juhapura.

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Its election time and Congress first time candidate from Vejalpur constituency Murtuza Khan Pathan. Spotting the trademark white khadi kurta Pathan is busy listening to political situation and gossips from his party workers.

Vejalpur is newly formed constituency with huge concentration of Muslim voters. Earlier Vejalpur was part of Sarkej constituency represented by tainted former home minister and accused in fake encounter cases Amit Shah.

Sarkej once being the biggest and most populated constituency in Gujarat in which Amit shah won with the margin of 2.5 lakh votes is now being divided into three constituencies. Vejalpur is one among them.

Poster of Murtuza Khan Pathan

The main source of Muslim political power in Vejalpur comes from Juhapura, a huge Muslim ghetto and second biggest Muslim locality in India after old city of Hyderabad. Juhapura has 3 lakh Muslim populations out of which 1.1 lakhs are registered voters.

Juhapura was basically a slum located at western suburb of Ahmedabad and was constructed for the flood victims. But after the 2002 communal riots even ‘creamy layer’ of Muslims shifted to Juhapura and changed its face from a Muslim slum to Muslim urbanized ghetto. Christophe Jaffrelot in his recent book ‘Muslims in Indian City’ described Juhapura as city within a city.

Juhapura with the migration of rich Muslims is blessed by real estate boom and construction of new urbanized housing societies by Muslims businessmen are in full swing.

But polarization runs in the streets of Vejalpur constituency, the trends set by its past leader Amit Shah still haunts it. Amit Shah had cleverly used Hindu-Muslim divide to win Sarkej constituency. He even called Juhapura “mini-Pakistan,” a name that local Hindus often use to describe this Muslim ghetto.

Construction of a housing society in Muslim dominated Juhapura

Not surprisingly, the upcoming Bollywood film ‘D-Day,’ based on Dawood Ibrahim and its scenes of Karachi is being shot in Juhapura and neighboring Sarkhez Roza,a prominent dargah.

Locals claim that there was a time when BJP could not even think off entering in Juhapura-Sarkej area, but only after in the corporation election when they fielded ex-IG and IPS officer A. I. Syed and projected him as a future mayor that the party was able to set up an office in the locality. However Syed lost the election and was made the Gujarat Wakf Board chairman.

Murtuza Khan has a formidable opponent in BJP candidate Kishore Chauhan, a RSS worker, former Vegelpur Nagarpalika president. Murtuza Khan Pathan knows well that he cannot rely on Muslim voters alone to win the election, and so willing to go any length to appease the Hindus in his constituency.

He hence cleverly designs his interviews and public meetings portraying his ‘secular’ image, and tries hard to remain neutral from community identification.

Unlike his other Muslim contestant colleagues in Congress, he is fighting his election battle only on the issue of development.

Pathan doesn’t even use the word Muslim and often reiterates that if he will be elected he will raise the issue of every community in the assembly.

He often declines to give interviews to media as he claim they will mould it and present him as a Muslim candidate. Even if he agrees for interview he will put up a condition ‘no question on Gujarat riots.’

Murtuza Khan, who has been in politics for almost 30 years, enjoys support in Juhapura where he owns schools and building contracts. But he is facing difficulty minimizing the Muslim vote distribution as BJP allegedly has fielded seven proxy Muslim candidates to drift the ‘community’ voters.

Real estate boom in Juhapura

Besides, there is is dissidence in his own party as well. Supporters of Kaushik Patel have staged several demonstrations in front of the Congress headquarters for denying him the ticket from Vejalpur. As Kaushik Patel’s supporters are not backing him, he may have difficult time convincing the traditional Congress voters like Dalits, Maldharis, and Ksahtriya-Thakurs.

It has been ten years since the deadly riots; the Hindu-Muslim divide is being exploited to win the elections. But many in Gujarat have claimed that polarization is fading. In 1984 there was a time in Gujarat when 15 Muslim MLAs were elected from the votes of Hindu community, in the coming elections Vejalpur constituency can very well be a secular test for Gujarat politics.

TCN series on Gujarat elections