Modi appears in a new avatar
Who will the minority vote for its protection and economic development if all political parties turn totally secular and pro-minority? The question is no longer hypothetical after BJP’s massive Muslim recruitment drive in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand ostensibly to erase its anti-minority image in the country’s traditional minority bastion ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Bharatiya Janata Party and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi desperately need at least some Muslim support to ascend to the governmental power and comfortably control the 16th Lok Sabha. BJP’s Muslim recruits from Gujarat are being dispatched in good numbers to the north and eastern India to interact with local Muslims and seek their support for Modi. Whether or not such tactics would work for Modi and BJP, only poll results can say. The party’s bid to recruit 3.5 lakh Muslim voters in Uttarakhand alone shows its eagerness to reach out to the community for votes. BJP is in communication with Muslims even in West Bengal in a bid to divide Muslim votes as a four-corner contest among Trinamool Congress, Left Front, Congress and its party has thrown open a rare opportunity to mark BJP’s solo presence in at least two to three seats. Bollywood super-star Salman Khan is believed to have promised to descend in West Bengal to campaign for buddy Bappi Lahiri. The singer-cum-composer is one of BJP’s star candidates fighting the election from the state.
Winning minority votes have never appeared to be so challenging for national and regional parties, except probably for Maharashtra-based Shiv Sena and MNS, as it’s this time. Does this suggest that the minority will have a bigger say in the next Lok Sabha? Most unlikely. In the 15th Lok Sabha, the number of Muslim MPs was down to 30 from 35 in the previous House. Of them, four were from Jammu and Kashmir! Thus, Muslims as a group accounted for a mere five per cent representation despite constituting over 13 per cent of India’s population. Despite the rhetoric, Muslim representation in the Lower House has been downward. Gujarat has not returned a single Muslim MP during the last 25 years, under both the Congress and BJP rule. The Muslim presence in the 16th Lok Sabha is unlikely to beat the earlier trend.
Not surprisingly, opportunist communalists are out to once again hijack India’s popular franchise, the biggest ever in terms of eligible voters’ count, totaling over 814 million people – a number larger than the population of entire Europe – in the world’s biggest democratic exercise. The country’s so-called anti-communalist elements have made sure that challenging the intangible threat of communalism, which divided India at the time of its independence from the British rule in 1947, continues to stay as the top election agenda. And, it overrides all other pressing tangible issues such as low economic growth, high price rise, massive unemployment, poverty and the neglect of the minority, workers’ exploitation, social injustice, crime against women, children and the elderly, unaffordable quality education and undependable healthcare, terrorism and all pervasive corruption that have, over the last six decades, made the country as the world’s most poorly governed democracy. So much so that BJP couldn’t even find time to release its economic manifesto before the first round of polling on 7 April.
Trapped by those communalist forces, all political parties seem to be vying with each other to paint a non-communal image, all singing the secularism’s swan song, irrespective of their inner belief, for a share of an over 120-million-strong Muslim ‘vote bank’. Muslim votes are generally perceived to be controlled by die hard Islamists and clerics, though not always with merit. The perception provides a special position to rival Imams and Muslim clerics before political parties ahead of elections. Every political party seeks their blessings and support to influence its followers. For instance, Congress president has already sought and got the support of north India’s most influential cleric, the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid.
Ascending to the highest political power to govern the country without the so-called Muslim block vote support is considered difficult, if not impossible, since the rest of the voters are largely divided on caste and community lines. Communal identity of voters poses a big challenge to a candidate’s success in an election even in a highly literate state such as Kerala. Communalists are aware of the dilemma and take its full advantage before elections, forcing a party’s political agenda getting better of its economic charter no matter how it impacts the otherwise dull and directionless life of the large minority the wellbeing of which they profess to advance in the national and regional political arena.
It is no wonder that even BJP, which has always portrayed itself as a Hindu nationalist party, has, for the first time, fallen prey to the design of communalist forces to change its old attire to appear in a new robe as secularism’s latest convert. So desperate is BJP’s attempt to project its secular credentials that the party is out to freely distribute its membership and senior party positions to leaders and others from the Muslim community irrespective of their personal belief and background. Almost a similar change is witnessed in Aam Aadmi Party, the newest to enter the national poll scene after its striking maiden performance in last December’s Delhi elections spearheading the fight against corruption. Having named over 350 candidates for the Lok Sabha elections, the party has discovered that its anti-corruption module may not impress electorates to secure a fare share of Muslim votes without which chances of poll success in the much larger parliamentary format are remote. This has led to AAP’s mid-way priority change from corruption-free pro-poor administration to fighting communalism for its electoral survival.
Who can ignore 110 million eligible Muslim voters, including some 2.5 million first-timers in the age group of 18-19? Not certainly Narendra Modi, if his party is looking for 230-plus seats.
The Gujarat chief minister is having the biggest test in posturing secularism which he may not truly believe in heart. On the face of it, BJP’s strong strive for minority votes have, to a good extent, shaken the usual contention that the party will be without minority votes and the majority votes will stay as usual divided. IPA