Wait for skull cap outcome
In the middle of next month when mercury will bob between 40 to 44 degrees, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Commander of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) Amit Shah will also be facing a strong heat wave emerging from the electronic voting machines (EVM) used in five Indian states. The outcome of Assembly elections in Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry will heavily depend on how more than 55 million Muslim population answer to the political call during six weeks of voting exercise in these states.
Out of 184 million Muslims population in India, 25 million lives in Bengal. Assam is home for 17 million. Kerala has 9 million Muslim population. In Tamil Nadu, 4.5 million Muslims live and even in Puducherry their number is 75 thousand. More than 34 percent of Assam’s population is Muslim. In Bengal, their ratio is 27 percent and it is similar in Kerala too. Tamil Nadu has only 7 percent Muslim population and Puducherry 6 percent.
I am sure that despite national and international events such as giving a touching speech in World Sufi Conference, forming government with PDP in Jammu & Kashmir, a wonderful visit to Shaikh Zayad Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, and successful tours to many Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia and UAE, within his heart Modi knows about an innate connection he and Muslims have. It is bound to reflect in the elections for five Assemblies.
Modi tried to be politically correct while speaking at the Sufi Conference when he said that none of Allah's 99 names stand for violence and at a time when the dark shadow of violence is becoming longer, you are the noor—the light of hope. But his obligatory tokenism failed to influence the general opinion of Muslims. I have no clue what Modi personally think of Islam, but I know for sure that all his praise for Islam and hugging leaders of Muslim world gives more credence to the fact that he is a Prime Minister with an unwashable Hindutva tag. Deliberately ignoring the swooping down yogis and sadhvis of BJP is enough to wipe out any efforts Modi makes to woo his Muslim “brothers and sisters”.
One thing the media managers of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), and BJP have successfully achieved is to project non-issues as core issues. We see a sense of pride that Indian media has acquired in giving undue coverage to the stories like a Muslim translating Hanuman Chalisa in Urdu or a Hindu family that adopts a Muslim child, or a Muslim girl winning a contest about the Gita. Sangh Parivar and its government’s tendency to over-highlight such incidences is seen as a speck in the beard. Are we passing through a phase when we need to repeatedly celebrate the natural sprinkles of our plurality?
BJP had got 171 million votes in 2014 general election. Now it claims to have a membership base of 110 million people which is around 10 percent of country’s total population and is more than 106 million votes what Congress could get in 2014. Wearing huge membership feather in its cap, BJP must not forget that two years of strongly promoting India’s Hindu identity have taken millions of moderate Hindus away from the party with a difference. Liberals had not joined hands with the hardliners in supporting Modi so that a Ram temple could be built in Ayodhya. This chunk of liberal Hindus had voted for his promise to promote development, create employment and easing the environment to do business. BJP government could not show any results on these three counts. The grossly disappointed large population of non-fanatic Hindus’ voting pattern in these Assembly elections will also be a deciding factor.
The pattern of Muslim vote had shown its importance in 2014 general election too and Modi's landslide win was because of nearly double the Muslims voted for BJP that time. In 2009 general election, only 4 percent Muslims had voted for BJP, but 8 percent of them had given their mandate to BJP in 2014. Until 1998 Lok Sabha election it was almost impossible for BJP to get any support from Muslim voters. However, in December 1999, the BJP leadership opened a small window for them in its party document known as Chennai Declaration. BJP initiated a confidence building exercise in the community. The year 2014 was the peak for BJP when it could harvest the yield of its one and a half decade old efforts. But against the party's half a century old history of stand on Muslim issues, Chennai Declaration hardly has the potential to change the hearts of Muslims towards BJP and hearts of BJP towards Muslims. RSS and its sister organisations also never swallowed Chennai Declaration and continued with the same mindset, the sour taste which Muslim community has felt in current Modi regime. A fallout of this is imminent in the outcome of assembly results.
BJP has historically played communal politics in order to create a strong Hindu vote bank for its benefit. It has started boomeranging. B.R. Ambedkar, who is BJP leadership's latest icon these days, often mentioned that "majorities are of two sorts--communal majority and political majority. A political majority is changeable in its class composition. A political majority grows. A communal majority is born. The admission to a political majority is open. The door to a communal majority is closed. The politics of political majority are free to all to make and unmake. The politics of communal majority are made by its own members born in it".
Modi and his BJP might ignore it as a non-issue, but Sayed Imam Shahi Saiyed, a cleric of a small Dargah in Pirana village on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, is alive in the minds of Muslims. They still recall that how he had gone up to the stage to greet the then Chief Minister of Gujarat at University Convention Hall and had offered Narendra Modi a “skull cap” and Modi refused to wear it, asking him to offer a shawl instead. Modi's non-acceptance to a particular cap lies in the very foundation of BJP-RSS ideology and the last two years have proved that old habits die hard. Therefore, BJP cannot gather thistles and expect pickles this time.
(Author is Editor and CEO of News Views India. The views expressed are personal.)