Punjab Polls: The mood in Malerkotla and Qadian

The microscopic minority vote in Punjab, curiously, cannot be taken for granted as Muslims in Malerkotla and Qadian root for candidates, not parties

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

V Dikshit

Punjab’s Muslim population is concentrated in two pockets. Malerkotla, the only Muslim-dominated assembly seat in Punjab, will see a three-way contest between siblings—former two-time Congress MLA Razia Sultan, and her brother, actor Arshad Dali, fielded by the Aam Aadmi Party—and businessman Mohammad Owais, a political greenhorn, fielded by Shiromani Akali Dal. The major issue among the voters here is demand for development. “Malerkotla is backward in all respects”, complain voters.

Qadian in Gurdaspur Parliamentary constituency is a study in contrast. Here, the roads are paved, flower beds surround lanes, all the streets have CCTV cameras, about 80% of the people are literate, and they say they have no issues with electricity or water supply. The small town has 13 educational institutions, translation centres and libraries, and a lot of construction work going on round the year, which attracts people from Odisha, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and elsewhere, who come to study or work.

The birthplace of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, Qadian remained the centre of the Ahmadiyya movement until Partition in 1947. About five million Ahmadiyyas migrated in large numbers to Pakistan during Partition. But they have become a persecuted minority there, and have been deprived of constitutional rights. In Qadian, though, communal harmony prevails. Even the reports of discrimination against Muslims by the Trump Administration in the US has little resonance among people here. “Yes, it hurts when some party men make irresponsible statements against a community and the party doesn’t take the person to task,” they concede. But Muslims here have no problem considering the SAD-BJP combine’s sitting MLA, whose performance they praise.

In their annual congregation, thousands of Ahmadiyyas from all over the world come to Qadian for a week. The community is well organised with a designated spokesperson, who alone is authorised to speak to the media. “Has your khalifa suggested who to vote for this time,” I ask one of the members of the majlis. “He sits in Jalandhar and we don’t vote for any particular party; we have voted for Congress, for Akalis too. Charanjit Kaur Bajwa of Congress did a lot of work for five years and so did Sewa Singh Sekhwan of SAD during the last five years,” the member said. Confident of his performance, Sekhwan is again contesting this election from Qadian on an SAD ticket. Fateh Jang Singh Bajwa, brother of PCC President Partap Singh Bajwa, is contesting for Congress.

With voters seemingly approving of the performance of its past representatives, will the SAD prevail again, or will Fateh Singh once again plant the Congress flag in the Bajwa family’s hometown? Tomorrow, Qadian decides.

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