Delhi: Simmering discontent among Muslim voters over AAP’s silence on crucial issues

Silence by AAP on issues directly concerning the Muslim community, like Shaheen Bagh protest and north-east Delhi riots of 2020, reinforces a possible shift among Muslim voters to the Congress

AAP, MCD elections, Muslim voters, Congress, councillors
Out of nine Congress candidates who won as councillors in the MCD, seven are Muslims, mainly from the 2020 riots-affected areas in Delhi | Photo: PTI

The recent Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) results can be taken as an indication of the simmering discontent within the Muslim population. And, the political posturing and silence maintained by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on issues directly concerning the community in Delhi reinforces a possible shift among Muslims to the Congress, albeit in small numbers.

Out of nine Congress candidates who won as councillors, seven are Muslims, mainly from the 2020 riots-affected areas in Delhi.

Possible course-correction

The fact that AAP nominated Muslim councillors in two out of the five posts including for the deputy mayor and the standing committee member — Aaley Mohammad Iqbal and Aamil Malik, respectively — is being seen by many as AAP’s course correction. This was after the party faced reverses in Muslim concentration areas in Northeast Delhi and Okhla in the MCD elections.


Also read: Karnataka election: AAP banking on Kejriwal to gain a toehold

With parliamentary elections in 2024, the AAP will be keen to avoid a repeat of 2019 in which it was reduced to the third position in five out of seven Delhi Lok Sabha seats. A major reason for this was a massive shift in Muslim votes to the Congress. Whether the brewing discontent among Muslims will further dent AAP’s electoral fortunes can’t be said with certainty at this juncture, however the undercurrent is palpable. The Muslims in Delhi had overwhelming voted for the AAP in 2015 and 2020.

The undercurrent

Explaining the reasons that convinced Muslims in areas worst affected during Delhi riots to vote for the Congress in the civic polls, Mahroof Khan, IT cell head of AIMIM’s Delhi unit, said the absolute silence maintained by the AAP regime after the 2020 Delhi riots was the first indication that its inclusive plank was merely a ‘vote-catching instrument’.  Muslims were left on their own and the state dispensation didn’t ensure justice. AAP’s tactical stance not to be seen with Shaheen Bagh protest only reinforced AAP’s motive.

“The alleged demonization of Muslims and the ensuing statements by senior AAP leaders during Covid era, when Tablighi Jamaat was blamed by several people for spread of coronavirus in the national capital, brought out the true face of AAP,” said Khan.

However, an AAP functionary said that the party adheres to an inclusive model and as such “results from the North-East Delhi wards were unexpected.”  On the condition of anonymity, the functionary said that the party will undertake special efforts to address their (Muslim’s) concerns and make sure that their grievances are met as they are an integral part of the party. “The timely completion of the mayoral polls will allow us to start work as the formal process is yet to begin,” said the functionary.

Contrasting responses

Recalling Delhi CM’s statement during Shaheen Bagh protest, Khan said Kejriwal had said during the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act that if his government had control over the Delhi Police, they would have cleared Shaheen Bagh in two hours.

However, the silence on anti-Muslim slogans by Hindutva supporters at a protest in Jantar Mantar on December 8 belies AAP’s larger inclusive plank. Besides being the chief minister of Delhi, Kejriwal is also the MLA from New Delhi, the area in which the protest took place, recounted Khan.

Days after the MCD outcome, Mustafabad — one of the many areas impacted during the 2020 Delhi riots — saw an interesting political development. Delhi Congress vice-president Ali Mehdi and their respective area councillors, Sabila Begum and Nazia Khatun, jumped ship twice in a span of hours — they abandoned the Congress to join AAP, before returning late at night. The ensuing protests saw residents unequivocally speak against the AAP government and the sitting MLA Haji Yunus from AAP.

“We had voted for AAP in 2020 assembly elections, but the MLA hasn’t ensured any developmental works in our area. Basic facilities like roads, schools and dispensaries are missing here. The sheer helplessness we experienced during the riots are fresh in our memory. Our votes should not be taken for granted by the dispensation,” said Intezaar Malik, a resident of Mustafabad.

“When all the parties had turned their backs on us, Congress stood by us. Even during the riots, when many of our boys were falsely implicated, former Congress MLA Hasan Ahmed tried his best to help us by accompanying us to the police station. Whereas we received no help from our AAP legislator despite efforts to contact him. As a community, we want someone to stand up for our rights and fight for us. That’s the real issue,” observed Malik.

What explains AAP’s stance

Taking to The Federal, Ajay Gudavarthy, associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) Centre for Political Studies, says AAP has carefully chosen to remain quiet on issues that fundamentally concern the Muslim community. By following a strategy that blends social welfare and an alternate vision, AAP doesn’t want to been seen as a party siding with the Muslims. It wants to keep the core Hindu vote intact, he said, but at the same time talk about an ‘inclusive fold’ that includes communities and the marginalised. With the Congress presence waning, AAP sees itself as the only alternative for the minorities. The assembly elections’ outcome in 2015 and 2020 is a reflection of that, Gudavarthy said, pointing out that all seven Muslim-dominated seats had been won by AAP.

Elucidating further, Gudavarthy said, AAP has taken a call to position its politics in a way that ensures a smooth shift of BJP voters. The other assumption is that Congress voters, particularly Muslims, would in any case shift to AAP to defeat the BJP. These trends were clearly visible in state and parliamentary elections. Nearly one in three BJP voters – or close to 19 per cent of Delhi’s electorate – prefer the BJP at the Centre and the AAP at the state level.

Also watch: Delhi mayoral election riddle: Who’s right? AAP or BJP?

Civic issues still matter

Besides AAP’s silence on developments like the release of Bilkis Bano convicts and police action in Jamia Milia Islamia over the screening of BBC documentary, civic issues will always be at the forefront. Roads and civic infrastructure in many of the Muslim-populated areas are abysmal.

“The main road that runs through Jamia Nagar, connecting Batla House and Jamia Milia Islamia, is packed with garbage. Clogged drains, lack of government schools and primary medical care are issues that need to be addressed. These issues concern the residents and the larger community,” Ariba Khan, Congress councillor from Abul Fazal Enclave, told The Federal.