What the Congress means by "secular vote" is open to scrutiny. If by secular vote the Congress means the Muslim vote (Bukhari in any case has only some clout among Muslims), it is objectionable because it tends to say that only the Muslim vote is secular and the Hindu vote is not.
However, in this case the "secular vote" is more a euphemism for the Muslim vote that the Congress wants en bloc. This is ironical as the Congress wants a community's vote - and hence it can be called a communal vote - while pretending to be secular.
The Congress stand seems to be: If you are contesting on the Congress ticket, you are secular; if on the BJP ticket, you are communal, a hate monger and, in the present scenario, a Narendra Modi stooge.
Also, if you are contesting on any other party symbol against a Congress candidate, you are an "agent" of the BJP out to beat the "secular forces".
I happen to live in a densely Muslim populated area of Old Delhi and have seen Congress candidates, from former Delhi minister Haroon Yusuf to Congress heavyweight Kapil Sibal, taking this line election after election.
Irrespective of whether it is a municipal or a Lok Sabha election, the Congress candidates have a single point message for the Muslim electorate: Don't divide the "secular vote".
The issues of development, schools, employment opportunities, Muslim representation in grade A government jobs, inflation and widening economic disparity hardly find a mention in Congress candidates' speeches made to Muslim voters.
What's interesting, and tragic, is that they succeed most of the times in garnering Muslim votes.
In the current scenario, when the ground is slipping from under the Congress feet, and the writing is almost clear on the wall, the Congress' only hope is perhaps the "secular" Muslim vote.
They have taken this vote for granted in the past. Now that none other than Narendra Modi is spearheading the BJP campaign, the Congress brass must be seeing a ray of hope in these otherwise disillusioning times.
Bukhari must not have suddenly woken up one fine morning to the idea of meeting the Congress president. It is very difficult normally to get an appointment with her or even her political secretary. There must have been some behind-the-scenes moves; some carrots must have been dangled for the Shahi Imam's sake.
The horror of the 2002 Gujarat riots have won the Congress Muslim votes in two Lok Sabha elections. Now that the Grand Old party is battling major corruption charges of the last 10 years, it is again raking up the issue.
Before deciding who to vote for, Muslims should compare their standing in society vis-à-vis the Sachar Committee findings.
The report came during UPA-I. Now that the Congress has been at the helm for two full terms, it is time to analyse the socio-economic status of the Muslim community in the country.
I have no scientific data to back me. But looking around, I can say with certainty that if such a committee were to be set up again, its findings on the Muslim community will be far more harsher.