Prime Minister Narendra Modi's advice to the party to reach out to Muslims like Shia Bohras and 'Pasmanda', the socially backward class in the community, has created a new buzz in the BJP at the ground level, write Dipak K Upreti, Saugar Sen Gupta, Biswajeet Banerjee
Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was among the few BJP leaders who had somewhat acceptability among Muslims because he kept an unstated channel of communication open with the Muslims and genuinely tried to reach out to them. LK Advani who was largely responsible for the demolition of the Babri masjid, also tried to do a course correction during his Karachi 'Yatra' in 2006 when he visited the 'Mazar' of the founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The RSS went all out against Advani for his reverence shown to the man Parivar hated the most. Advani had to pay a heavy political price and humiliation.
The advent of the Narendra Modi era in 2014 set aside all past equations of the BJP with Muslims in the country.
In the last nine years, the ruling BJP has been accused of aggressively cultivating a 'Hindu vote bank' and making the community dispensable which according to the 2011 census constitutes 14.2 percent of the Indian population.
The BJP has roundly refuted the charge arguing that it was ‘saving’ Muslims from the clutches of "appeasement" and "vote bank politics" of the Congress, Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal, and likes of others and taking them to the path of "Vikas" that eluded them in over 70 years of national politics.
In this backdrop, Prime Minister Modi's concluding address at BJP's National Executive in Delhi on January 17 where he asked his party to vigorously approach Muslims like Shia Bohras and 'Pasmanda', the socially backward class in the community, drew more than casual interest of the observers as well as the party leaders from within.
"We have identified 60 constituencies in 10 states where Muslims are more than 30 percent. Around 5000 people from each of these constituencies who have genuinely appreciated PM Modi's development programmes would be selected and be part of scooter rallies in different states creating awareness among Muslims and taking their feedback.", says Jamal Siddiqui, BJP Minority Morcha national president.
The Morcha has appointed a 'Prabhari' for each of the Lok Sabha constituencies selected for the rallies where all key BJP leaders of the region will also be present.
He asserts that PM 'Yojnas' relating to housing, drinking water, ‘Garib Kalyan’ and scholarships and education, among others, have "convinced" Muslims that they were used all these years for "vote bank politics".
Sioddiqui rejected the charges that the BJP has been inimical to Muslims and claimed that 50 percent of Muslims in Gujarat, 20 percent in UP, 22 percent in Delhi, and 20 percent in Assam are now voting for the BJP.
“ Muslims voters are not captive to any party now,” Siddiqui said.
The BJP leader says the party will organize scooter rallies in 60 constituencies for four months as part of its Muslim outreach. Some important constituencies Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's Lok Sabha seat in Wayanad in Kerala, Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, and Behrampur in West Bengal.
" We will contact social workers and take the message in a door-to-door campaign and communicate with Muslims of all categories", he says.
On February 1 and 2, the Morcha will have its National Executive in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, where it would further discuss and strategize its 'Muslim Approach '.
After four months of scooter rallies in 60 Constituencies, the Muslim representatives will "gather in Delhi on the first of May and meet the Prime Minister for dialogue and take the campaign to the next leg.
The whole idea is to connect and communicate with the community and make it aware of PM's welfare programme which benefited it "away from the vote bank politics" which "kept Muslims backward" for " so long."
Muslims in Mamata Banerjee's West Bengal are the " most poor and backward", he goes on to add.
The 'paradigm shift' in the development policies, asserts Siddiqui would leave Congress high and dry as far as minorities are concerned.
" jab tak 2029 LS elections ayenge.. Congress ki arthi lo Kandha Lagane Wala bhi nahin milega..", he hits out at the opposition party and its minority–friendly image
Senior BJP leader and former union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi pointed out that the BJP has been winning in the Muslim dominant or majority constituencies like Rampur and Azamgarh.
He maintains that under Modi’s leadership, the BJP won 16 percentage of Muslim votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll and 20 percent in the 2019 elections.
Annulment of triple talaq has also impacted Muslim women positively, says Naqvi adding Modi's " reform, perform and transform" has done well for the community.
In several parts of the country, BJP has already started the Muslim outreach programme. For example in West Bengal, where Muslims account for nearly 30 percent of total voters, BJP leaders have started to walk Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s talk.
An initial sign of the BJP’s changing tack came in the form of the January 25 “solidarity march” in support of the sole Indian Secular Front MLA, Naushad Siddiqui, who is a scion of Furfura Sharief, the largest Muslim congregations of the State.
Naushad was arrested after his followers clashed with the police in Kolkata where thousands of them had gathered to protest against an attack by the TMC goons.
Siddiqui’s ISF --- in alliance with the Left Front --- had won the Bhangar Assembly seat in 2021.
BJP Minority Cell chairman Charle’s Nandi’s statement assumes importance as he says, “Though we represent different ideologies the brutal attack and arrest of Naushad Bhai an opposition MLA is deplorable … the BJP demands his immediate release… we will launch a statewide protest against his arrest.”
Bengal Opposition Leader Suvendu Adhikari too condemns the arrest of Siddiqui. He says, “apart from the BJP there is only one opposition MLA in the House we allot time to Naushad Bhai from our slot to let him speak … we will stand by him in distress.”
Similarly, former State BJP president Dilip Ghosh says, “Naushad Bhai too is my MLA because I am a resident of his constituency … ISF is a democratic party … the police have no right to arrest him like this.”
The BJP’s pro-ISF stance is not an end in itself. The party has a larger plans to reach out to the Muslim masses.
“We are taking an inclusive approach where the Muslims will definitely play a big role … Muslim voters impact at least 17-18 parliamentary constituencies … we are working accordingly,” one leader said.
Another leader says how the party is in touch with the youth Muslim leaders. “Many of them are contacting us and are ready to join us … like the one leader from Hooghly who has come directly from the Indian Navy,” says a leader.
On whether the BJP too wants to pursue the policy of “appeasement,” State BJP Yuva Morcha chief Dr. Indranil Khan says, “This is not appeasement … In Bengal, all parties have exploited the minorities but left them deprived and poor … the BJP will stop that exploitation”
On whether the party would soft-pedal the CAA issue, another leader Pronoy Roy says, “the Muslims are realizing that CAA will not take away their citizenship and hence they are taking a different view.”
Another senior leader says that many Muslims have realized that there is a difference between CAA and NRC “as CAA will not lead to loss of citizenship they will have no problem with it,” adding "panchayat elections will give us indications about our future path.
IN UP, the BJP has been actively wooing the Pasmanda Muslims. On October 22, 2022, the Uttar Pradesh unit of BJP held its first state-level Pasmanda Muslim meeting to sharpen its outreach among the socially backward Muslims, who have benefitted from government schemes like free ration and housing.
“Prime Minister had given credence to our efforts when he asked the party workers to reach out to marginalized sections of the society including Pasmanda Muslims, irrespective to the fact that they vore for BJP or not,” Uttar Pradesh minister Danish Azad Ansari, who belongs to the community, said.
The Pasmanda community has 41 "castes", including Ansari, Qureshi, Mansoori, Salmani, and Siddiqui. They are in professions such as butchers and weavers and are considered backward in social, economic, and political terms. The party claims it's working for the community's political uplift after their social and economic empowerment.
Azad said that the idea of social justice has reached 85 percent of Muslims, who constitute the Pasmanda community. In his message of outreach, Prime Minister is not only invoking Pasmanda Muslims but also opening the doors of political empowerment and social-economic upliftment for them. This is not influenced by religion but by the larger spectrum of poverty and backwardness.
President of the Uttar Pradesh BJP's minority wing Basit Ali said that BJP plans to give tickets to Pasmanda Muslims in the coming urban body elections. "We have planned that people from different groups of Pasmanda Muslims will hold conferences in their societies and BJP leaders will participate in these to convey to them the party’s ideology and government plans," Ali said.
He said the parties like SP, BSP, and Congress have used Muslims as their vote bank, but BJP will empower them by giving them political power.
But the Opposition Congress is not convinced that the BJP will ever shut its distrust and dislike of Muslims.
They are quick to point to the recent hue and cry over the screening of the Bollywood film Pathaan starring megastar Shah Rukh Khan and say it has exposed the diabolical attitude of the BJP towards minorities.
“Perhaps this is for the first time that the country is witnessing such a sharp divide in the screening of films, mainly featuring Muslim actors. Who is behind such a dirty campaign? Citizens are free to watch a movie if they like. But today the Saffron cadres have taken over the role of the Censor board. The way the entire machinery is working to create a hate narrative and divide Bollywood is a serious cause of concern and reveals the BJP’s true attitude towards the minorities, particularly the Muslims,” said Pranav Jha, AICC Secretary and Coordinator to the Congress President office.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi in his Bharat Jodo Yatra had been talking about the palpable ‘anger' among the people towards BJP and dismissed Modi's call for Muslim outreach as a deceptive move.
Congress chief spokesman Jairam Ramesh told The Pioneer that Bharat Jodo Yatra has in a true sense made the BJP and RSS nervous and forced them to visit mosques and talk about reaching out to Muslims. .
AICC head of Media and Publicity Pawan Kheda said with the tide turning against them, the BJP is forced to reach out to all the minorities.
Khdea asserted that the BJP’s attitude towards minorities will never change. He pointed to The BJP’s attempt to commercialize the holy pilgrimage centers of Jainism such as Sammed Shikharji, Palitana’s Shatrunjaya hills (in Gujarat), Mount Girnar (also in Gujarat) and make them a medium to “fill the State coffers”.
“Be it Muslims or Jains, the BJP has equal antipathy for the minorities, or for that all the weaker sections of the society,” he said.
“Till so long they (BJP/RSS) accused Congress of appeasement. Now what do we call their so-called course correction and attitude towards the minorities? “ asked Kheda.
Congress leaders believe the Bharat Jodo Yatra and further outreach programs of the party will help in bringing together all sections of society including the minorities.
“A party which does not field any Muslim candidate in elections and gives no representation to Muslims in the organization cannot be trusted by Muslims, The BJP has risen by fooling people. The minority outreach programme is another similar attempt—this time to fool Muslims. No one is going to buy this,” said a senior Congress leader.