Debating India
Home page > Photocopieuse > Vajpayee, Muslims and the BJP

Vajpayee, Muslims and the BJP

Wednesday 28 April 2004, by KHARE*Harish

Is the BJP’s effort to reach out to Muslim voters a temporary phenomenon, confined only to the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, or are we witnessing sincere efforts aimed at a historic revision of ties?

THREE DAYS ago, Dainik Bhaskar, north India’s most widely circulated Hindi newspaper, reported that the Jama Masjid’s Shahi Imam, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, had issued a fatwa (decree) to the Muslim community to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Shahi Imam was quoted as saying that he was confident that the BJP would fulfil its promise of justice, employment and education to Muslims in India. Dainik Bhaskar is read and respected for its proximity to the Sangh Parivar; it is also reportedly one among the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s favourite newspapers. So far, there has been no comment from the BJP or the Sangh Parivar on the Shahi Imam’s change of heart or his invocation of the fatwa stratagem.

The Shahi Imam is not the most appetising of personalities among Muslim clerics, and has been routinely ridiculed by the BJP and its various cheer-leaders as the much over-prized thekhedar (contractor) of the community who has misused his office to garner voters for the "pseudo-secular" parties. But now the good Imam is in good company.

The Najma Heptullahs and the Arif Mohammed Khans have already made their calculations, personal and political. Some of the senior-most Muslim editors have also used their credibility and news column space to suggest that the so-called secular parties such as the Congress and the Samajwadi Party do not deserve the Muslim vote and that it is about time Muslims got themselves a new deal by refusing to behave like bonded labourers.

For good measure there is this "Atal Bihari Vajpayee Himayat Committee," formed five weeks ago. Its national convenor, Khwaja Iftikhar Ahmed, was reported to have argued that Mr. Vajpayee should be re-elected for another term, because there was nothing in the Vajpayee Government’s record to cause any kind of disquiet among Muslims.

Are we, then, witnessing a historic re-defining of the relationship between the BJP and the Muslim community? If "Gujarat" is kept aside, then it does appear that the National Democratic Alliance has indeed observed all those rituals that Muslim leaders saw as entitlements and which the Sangh Parivar traditionally denounced as "appeasement." The Haj subsidy has gone up; Haj pilgrims can take off from more and more terminals; and, the National Commission for Minorities has not been done away with. The Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, believes Muslims are prepared to give the BJP a break because Mr. Vajpayee has brought about "peace" with Pakistan; as if the Muslims’ political preferences were predicated upon New Delhi-Islamabad ties. And now the Prime Minister says his Government would appoint two crore (he meant, most probably, two lakh) Urdu teachers. He has even said a few nice things about madrassas. Muslims cannot be complaining. It is possible to suggest that the BJP poll managers have got carried away by the heat of the moment. But admittedly, they are entirely within their rights to try to encash electorally the Vajpayee-induced national sense of equanimity by enticing a section of Muslims.

The big question is: is this effort to reach out to Muslim voters a temporary phenomenon, confined only to the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, or are we witnessing sincere efforts aimed at a historic revision of the BJP-Muslim ties? Have six years of experience in national government made the BJP leaders rethink the limits of their strategy of cobbling together a parliamentary majority without the Muslim vote? Is the BJP ready to change the direction it took at Palampur in 1987?

As Prime Minister, Mr. Vajpayee has, at times, given indications that he is keen on a rapprochement with the minorities. It was always obvious that the Vajpayee constituency of the middle classes would not tolerate for long a perpetual state of Hindu-Muslim tension of the kind that fetched votes for the BJP since the first rath yatra days. It was also obvious that India would not earn the international community’s respect if its ruling party continued to practise politics of civil war at home. Objective conditions do suggest the need for a rethink of the BJP-Muslim relationship.

If we are witnessing — and it is a big "if" — the beginning of a new relationship between the Muslims and the BJP, then who has changed its ways? The BJP? Or the Muslim community? It is possible for the BJP leadership to come to a comforting conclusion that the community is no longer prone to engage in aggressive pursuit of "minorityism," an aggression that all these years was supposedly instigated by the Congress-Samajwadi Party’s politics of appeasement.

The BJP brass should feel reasonably satisfied that it has redefined Indian nationalism, giving it a definite Hindutva-centric tone, and that there is no longer any reason for the majority community to entertain fears of being overwhelmed by the minority. After six years of benign Vajpayee leadership, combined with the bitter lesson that was administered to the minorities in Gujarat after the Godhra massacre, the Muslim community as a whole can be presumed to have realised the futility of giving offence to the majority community.

The BJP leadership can also have the satisfaction that the NDA regime has facilitated the Sangh Parivar activists’ penetration in civil and police bureaucracies at all levels and that it would not be difficult to take care of Muslims should they choose to get out of hand. In other words, Muslims can be dealt with from a position of strength.

In fact, according to the current Sangh Parivar thinking, nationalist Muslims are already thinking in terms of "one country-one people." The RSS hierarchy takes considerable satisfaction from the birth of something called the Rashtravadi Muslim Andolan - Ek Nayi Raah (Nationalist Muslim Movement — a new way). The movement was supposedly born on December 24, 2002 when the RSS chief, K.S. Sudarshan, attended an Id Milan. According to a report in the RSS organ, Organiser, since then, 54 conventions of "nationalist" Muslims have been organised where resolutions have been passed on banning cow slaughter, giving equal status to women, abolition of Article 370, and the peaceful resolution of the Ayodhya issue through dialogue, etc.

The unstated assumption is that the matters have been so arranged that a section of the Muslim community is willing to change its views and preferences on terms dictated by the Sangh Parivar. On its part, the Parivar’s "take it or leave it" approach towards Muslims remains unchanged.

How big is this section of Muslims that believes that the BJP or the Sangh Parivar is good for the community? Not a big slice, by any reckoning; but this slice believes, with all the fervour of a new convert, that the community has nothing to lose by doing a rethink on the BJP.

It is in this context that Mr. Vajpayee is telling the Muslims: empower me and I will transform the BJP. It is debatable whether Mr. Vajpayee has left it too late in the day to reach out to Muslims. Nonetheless, they will have to judge for themselves whether Mr. Vajpayee emerges as a stronger Prime Minister or a much weaker leader, less sure of himself and even lesser sure of his command over the party. On that judgment hinges the next turn in the BJP-Muslim relationship.

This brings in "Gujarat." The Muslim community would have to judge Mr. Vajpayee’s equivocal stand. He has bought hook, line and sinker the Narendra Modi story line on why there was violence after Godhra. Till this day, Mr. Vajpayee has not indicated that the Gujarat Government went amiss in its constitutional duty of enforcing law and order, irrespective of the nature of the provocation for one community to take to the streets. Even after the Supreme Court’s comprehensive indictment of the Gujarat Government in the Best Bakery case, he did not distance himself from the Modi regime.

On the other hand, a few days ago, he was reported as having expressed the confidence that his party’s tally in Gujarat would go up. In other words, he was endorsing the Modi brand of politics of undeclared war on the minorities and on all those who think that constitutional institutions such as the Supreme Court and the National Human Rights Commission were duty-bound to protect all citizens, irrespective of their religion.

Mr. Vajpayee still has a historic role to play, whatever the outcome of the parliamentary elections. If he is voted back to power, he must see to it that the process of reconciliation is carried forward sincerely; if his party has to sit in the Opposition, he must ensure it does not relapse into old habits. A genuine reconciliation between the majority and the minority communities is the only lasting legacy he can hope to leave behind.

See online : The Hindu

SPIP | template | | Site Map | Follow-up of the site's activity RSS 2.0