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Will minorities respond to BJP overtures?

Will minorities respond to BJP overtures?
Highlights

In what can undeniably be termed as the boldest ever move to woo minorities voters, the BJP has gone into full gear to spare no efforts to win over...

In what can undeniably be termed as the boldest ever move to woo minorities voters, the BJP has gone into full gear to spare no efforts to win over votes in the general election; the party which had hitherto shied away from acknowledging their existence as a political force and its voting potential. The BJP recently followed up its national minorities' convention by promising to come out with a vision document on their problems. Such conventions have been held as poll-eve rituals earlier too; what is new this time around is the concerted and conscious effort on the BJP's part to attract minorities.

It is clear that the term 'minorities' is a political euphemism for the Muslim community, and, more significantly at a point of time when Narendra Modi is the party's election mascot, icon and messiah following fanfare at his anointment as chairman of the BJP's election campaign committee. It would thus be na�ve to believe that the ongoing vote-catching exercise could be without Modi's blessings. Modi is not only the choice of the rank-and-file but he is also the new favorite of the all-powerful umbrella organization, the RSS.

This is all very interesting and merits deeper understanding of the working of the Hindutva core and its votaries; Muslims constituting at least 75 per cent of the countries' minority population have hitherto been regarded as expendable, if not non-existent, in the party's political calculations. This was so not without reason: Muslims were not only seen as inveterate opponents of the BJP but also as a major source of strength for the Congress in parliamentary elections.

The atmosphere of suspicion bordering on hostility has been mutual between the Parivar and the Muslims. Thus at this juncture one faces a complex question defying a simple answer. But what is noteworthy is the difference of rhetoric of the BJP leaders in tone and tenor. Indeed, there is familiar accent on the scrapping of Article 370, coupled with the insistence on enforcement of a uniform civil code. The temple in Ayodhya also remains on the agenda with the usual proviso of the BJP being voted to power in sufficient strength to put the plan through.

However, there is a slight shift on this point with the BJP spokesmen getting more vocal in pledging themselves to abide by the court verdict on the issue. The shift is also perceptibly on another score: on the question of communal riots. This is not without interest. The party President Rajnath Singh has been more forthcoming with his poser to the Muslim community "if they could not possibly forget the 2002 Gujarat riots" he, of course, went on to remind that "more than 1300 riots" had taken place under the Congress regimes. The A-word (apology) of course remains a taboo. Perhaps it will be stretching the imagination too far.

Much has been made of the Congress fault lines. True, the Congress Party defaults on this front have been many, but at no point those in governance were found to be actively involved even if one cannot absolve the administrative machinery. In UP, Bihar and elsewhere it was often the constabulary that was nailed as a major culprit; the PAC in UP, for instance.

The anti-Sikh riots of 1984 were a harder case resulting in large-scale bloodletting. There is indeed no defending the indefensible, for, several Congress leaders faced the accusation of leading anti-Sikh crowds indulging in loot, arson, murder and killings in the capital.

Then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had just taken over following the assassination of Indira Gandhi; yet he is impugned to this day for a remark which was indeed highly offensive even if quite unintentional. However, one wrong will not justify another. Modi's record in the case of Gujarat riots has been both crude and cruel.

Coming back to the main question, one wonders where the BJP exactly stands vis-�-vis Muslims. That there is a concerted wooing attempt of Muslims is unmistakable, but where do they go from here? At best, the promised vision document would be a statement of pious intentions only slightly different from election manifestos. The Congress has plenty of such statements, ones that catch momentary media hype but leave no lasting public impact. In the case of the BJP there is the complex issue of bridging the large credibility gap, a problem that the Congress does not face for historical reasons.

At this point, the persona and image of Modi assume particular importance. Modi's projection as Prime Minister-in- waiting comes at a time when he has emerged as the undisputed leader of Gujarat getting his party into power for the third time in succession. This by itself does not make an icon countrywide (remember the Marxist record of unbroken rule in West Bengal and the image of Jyoti Basu, the man who refused to be Prime Minister).

But the BJP is hell-bent on capturing power at the Centre with Modi as leader. He has the powerful backing of the corporate bosses as well as the corporate mass media, apart from the party cadres. Modi did show some resilience during his first campaign speech in Pathankot with soft reference to the youth of the Kashmir Valley along with Ladakh and Jammu region but not without berating secularists.

The question mark over the A-word remains. Regret or apology would expose extreme opportunism and would most probably be an exercise in futility as far as the minority vote is concerned. The best the ongoing exercise can be expected to achieve is to lessen the cloud of existing suspicion between the two parties in question.

The party President Rajnath Singh has been more forthcoming with his poser to the Muslim community: "if they could not possibly forget the 2002 Gujarat riots" he, of course, went on to remind that "more than 1,300 riots" had taken place under the Congress regimes

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