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Old wine in new bottles
BJP woos Muslims 
By S U Rahman


NOW ON START LOOKING LIKE THE PORTRAIT I"VE PAINTED OF YOU! (Laxman/TOI)The BJP has decided to step into the shoes of the Congress. It has now decided to go in a big way to placate and woo Muslims for its long-term survival. Its traditional vote banks are now eroding and the reality of coalition governments is here to stay. Hence Muslims and other segments have to be coopted in order to keep the BJP in power. The new BJP president is a dalit and the choice for the general secretary is said to be Mukhtar Naqvi, a ‘Muslim’ (at least by name). Congress’ efforts to woo Muslims have come a cropper. Muslims are yet to forget its leaders role in the Babri demolition.

Following the new BJP president, Bangaru Laxman’s call in the party’s Nagpur conclave to bring Muslims into the party fold, serious internal differences have arisen among rank and file of the party as well as its god-father the RSS and ally Shiv Sena. Bangaru had said that there is an immediate need to bring Muslims into the party fold. Otherwise the party will remain stagnating where it has been, he added. 

The call was quite amazing at a time when Muslims all over the country are facing the brunt of the Hindutva brigade. Muslims are subject to every sort of injustice, riots have become routine and there are moves to harass Muslims in every possible way. States under direct rule of the BJP are leading the march of anti-minority and anti-Muslim crusade. Riots following the massacre of Amarnath pilgrims in Ahmedabad and Surat are enough indication of what the Hindutva brigade is planning in regard to minorities, particularly Muslims.

BJP has a habit to speak in different languages at different times. Even the person who spearheaded the campaign to demolish Babri Masjid in early nineties, LK Advani, had spoken in more or less same tune on 13 June 1997 as president of the party. He too tried to woo Muslims, knowing that without placating them it would be hard for his party to establish a stable government. His statement was not taken seriously by Muslims.

The difference this time is that now there are serious differences between him and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. The PM has been sincerely advocating for long to bring Muslims into the party. He condemn the Babri demolition and chastised the only Muslim minister in the BJP government in UP for going to Ayodhya to pay respects to the Ram idol alongwith other cabinet ministers. Later he became prime minister but he failed to bring any perceptible change in the outlook of his party which not only actively helped in demolishing the Babri Masjid, but also tried to help and shield communal forces whose sole aim is to harass minorities in all the ways possible as a means to consolidate the Hindu vote bank.

Vajpayee has emerged stronger and confident in recent times particularly after the Nagpur conclave. He has shown that he has neither any peer nor any challenger who could question his wisdom or authority over the functioning of the NDA government. It was he who lobbied for Bangaru Laxman, a dalit, to be elected president of the party and it was the first time when the president of the party spelled new policies for the party distancing it from the old tradition of toeing the line of RSS.

Bangaru Laxman, speaking at the Nagpur convention said that ‘the BJP’s inability to secure Muslim votes was one of the chief reasons for less than expected performance of the BJP in the last Lok Sabha polls held in 1999.’ He further said, ‘Muslims had certain misgivings about the BJP, which had to be removed for mutual benefit. We have not made sustained efforts to reach out to Indian Muslims. We have somehow taken it for granted that our party will never receive any significant support from them.’.

This was first such strong statement from within the top brass of the BJP spelling doom for the old policy of the party that hovered around hatred of Muslims. It also assures the Muslims of the country that people of Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi’s ilk no longer command ability to stop the winds of change as a result of hard political facts on the ground.

The Nagpur convention has given direct indication that the RSS can no longer take the BJP for granted. And the era of Sangh Parivar’s unchallenged domination over the party is over. It is the first time that the party has shown such a strong desire to bring Muslims nearer to it. The party is aware of its standing in states specially in the largest state of UP where Muslims make a sizeable chunk of population.

Is this all going to be as much smooth as it seems on paper? BJP has made its meteoric rise on the issue of building Ram temple where the Babri Masjid once stood and took up the RSS agenda lock, stock and barrel. The BJP rode on the piggyback of Babri demolition to the portals of the power. It was only the realpolitik of coalition which forced the BJP to dilute its policies in order to keep divergent forces together. There is a fear deep down the minorities hearts that the BJP will revert to its old games once the NDA falls apart or the party secures a good majority in parliament. The behaviour of BJP governments in UP and Gujarat confirms these fears.

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