New Delhi: The number of Muslims contesting the assembly polls in Delhi has fallen significantly in comparison to 2013. And Muslim leaders and pundits feel most Muslims are likely to vote for the AAP.
Of the 673 candidates in the fray for Saturday`s battle for the 70-member assembly, 68 are Muslims - down from 108 two years ago when the total number of contestants was 810. In 2013, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party fielded the highest number of Muslims -- 11 each. The BSP`s Muslim candidates this time has slid to seven. The Samajwadi Party is not in the race this time.
Muslims account for over 11 percent of nearly 17 million population in Delhi.
Up to eight constituencies have significant Muslim presence. These include Okhla in south Delhi, Mustafabad and Seelampur in east Delhi and Matia Mahal and Ballimaran in Old Delhi.
Matia Mahal has most Muslim candidates among all constituencies: 14 out of 17.
The number of Muslims put up by the Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) remains virtually unchanged.
The Congress fielded six Muslims in 2013 and four of them -- or 50 percent of its eight legislators -- won. It has put up six Muslims now.
According to the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), 53 percent Muslims voted for the Congress in 2013.
The Congress vote share, however, slipped in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, indicating a shift of a part of its Muslim vote base among others to the AAP.
The Congress is hopeful that Muslims will stick by it now.
"The Congress will retain all its Muslims constituencies. Individual factors also matter. People know that only we (Congress) can stop communal forces like BJP," Matin Ahmed, who has not lost any election since 1993, told IANS
The AAP has given ticket to five Muslims, down from six in 2013.
"We are sweeping Muslim votes this time," asserted Irfanullah, who heads the AAP`s wing for minorities.
"In 2013 they (Muslims) were not sure about us. Now they know that the AAP alone can stop the BJP," he said.
The BJP has fielded only one Muslim - Shakeel Anjum Dehlavi, who was formerly with the AAP. The number was the same in 2013.
"The BJP does not believe in the politics of so-called minority and majority. We choose candidates based on their winnablity criterion," Atif Rashid, president of Delhi BJP`s Minority Cell, told IANS.
The Hind Congress Party has fielded four Muslim candidates
The Nationalist Congress Party, All India Minority Front, Indian Muslim League, Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party, Communist Party of India and Janata Dal-United have fielded one Muslim candidate each.
So who are Muslims in Delhi most likely to vote for? The most widespread answer is: AAP.
"AAP appears to the most favourite among Muslims," Sanjay Kumar, a Fellow at the CSDS, told IANS. "Most Muslims think only the AAP can overcome the BJP."
Mufti Mukarram, the Shahi Imam of the 17th century Fatehpuri mosque in Old Delhi, agreed with Sanjay Kumar`s assessment.
"From whatever interactions I have had with Muslims, I get the feeling that most Muslims will vote for the AAP.
"The main reason is that Muslims are able to connect to the issues raised by AAP. Also, Muslims, like everyone, remember the 49 days when (AAP leader Arvind) Kejriwal provided a corruption-free government."