Where Imams decide parties and devotees vote

April 19th, 2009 - 12:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Milan Char (Assam), April 19 (IANS) The call of the muezzin echoed quite a distance as most men, old and young, left their chores and rushed to the nearest mud-and-straw mosque for the afternoon prayers.
After prayers, the motley group of devotees, numbering about two dozen, assembled outside the mosque at this small village located on a sandbar in northern Assam, dominated by Bengali-speaking Muslims.

Soon they were all engrossed in a serious debate with the focus being the April 23 parliamentary elections.

A frail looking man with a wrinkled face curiously asked if the Imam of the village, about 100 km from Guwahati, had issued any fatwa for the elections.

“We are yet to decide whom to vote,” replied Hafiz Badar Qasimi, the village priest.

Their views differed - some said they should not vote for the ruling Congress party and instead try the Muslim-based party called the Asom United Democratic Front (AUDF).

The villagers dispersed without any unanimity with the priest announcing that they would meet once again after the night prayers to make a final decision.

“We generally vote en bloc - more than 90 percent of the votes would go to one candidate,” said Karim Ali, a village schoolteacher.

The same is the case among a vast majority of Bengali-speaking Muslims in other villages - they all vote for one party and the decision is taken well in advance with the priest or a village elder having the final word.

“The most important consideration is whether the party that we vote for would win the elections and whether we would be safe under that government,” said Raunak Ali, a village elder.

Muslims in Assam account for about 30 percent of the state’s 26 million people and have for decades been at the centrestage of electoral politics with the community holding the key in at least four of the 14 parliamentary constituencies.

Come elections and minority Muslims in Assam become the heartthrob of all political parties and this time too the scene is no different.

The Bengali-speaking Muslims, most of whom migrated from Bangladesh, were traditional Congress supporters although their loyalty to the party has wavered in recent months.

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