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Published in the 1-15 Apr 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Minorities and Lok Sabha elections
By Asghar Ali Engineer

Coming days will assume greater and greater importance as election battle comes closer. The coming Loksabha elections are assuming increasing importance as for both the alliances i.e. the BJP alliance – NDA – on one hand, and the Congress alliance, on the other. The Congress, which was shunning alliances until recently, in fact as recently as the elections in the four states in last December, has already entered into alliance with 16 parties and is negotiating with some more, particularly in U.P.

Despite the bravado, and India shining campaign or feel good factor, the BJP is far from sure about its decisive victory. If I am not wrong, it is even scared as the Congress has entered into alliance with so many regional parties. No party, the Congress or the BJP, can win elections on its own image. The NDA combine could win Loksabha elections in 1999 for variety of reasons, chief among them was that it had no inhibition to enter into alliance with any party, even if it happened to be ideologically its opposite. It was determined to come to power whatever apparently its ideological cost. It was the Congress which had all reservations about entering into alliances with other parties and hence was defeated.

Now the Congress has shed all its complexes about alliances and is working hard to woo regional parties and sending shivers down the BJP spine. BJP has not only succeeded in wooing more parties, it has also lost some of its old allies like the DMK, Paswan’s Lok Shakti etc. The two biggest Hindi belt states like Bihar and U.P. are far from its grip. How can its fortune shine? In Maharashtra also, the Congress-NCP alliance and likely alliance with other smaller parties, is not going to help the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance. In Tamil Nadu after alliance with DMK the Congress fortunes have improved and so is the case in Andhra Pradesh after Congress’s alliance with TRS.

In West Bengal, BJP’s alliance with Mamta Banarjee can hardly help NDA. The Left Front Fortress is quite impregnable. North East does not have many parliamentary seats and except Meghalaya BJP hardly has any toehold in that region. Yes, Gujarat, M.P., Rajasthan and Chattisgarh are its strongholds and BJP’s position would improve slightly in these states but it would not help much. As against this it is likely to lose some seats in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Thus the sum total may not improve.

It is for this reason that BJP, which had maintained in 1999 that we could win elections without support of the Muslims, now is out to woo Muslim minority. No less a person than Mr. Vajpayee had said that our victory has shown that we can win without Muslim support. Problem is Atalji is not so atal (firm) after all. He keeps on changing his views like other politicians. Today he is in desperate need of Muslim minority votes to win coming elections.

They have brought Arif Mohammad Khan and Najma Hibatullah into BJP. Najma Hibatullah had never contested any election so far. She remained confined to Rajya Sabha. She has no following among Muslim masses whatsoever at all. Arif Khan did have an image of a progressive Muslim who could stand for principles. He too was not a mass leader but had acquired great deal of popularity by resigning from BSP when it entered into alliance with the BJP for forming Government in U.P. All secularists thought he is really man of principle. He resigned from Rajiv Gandhi cabinet on principle and again resigned from BSP on principle. But he slurred his image by joining BJP. He cannot convince anyone whatever reasons he gives for joining BJP. He talked of building bridges with Hindus. Who knows better than Arif Khan that the BJP is ideologically controlled by RSS and it is not only party of Vajpayee but of Narendra Modis and Uma Bhartis and when crucial time comes Vajpayee also throws his lot with them rather than they throwing their lot with Vajpayee.
Anyway Arif Khan has lost the image he had built for himself by joining the BJP and he may certainly personally gain but BJP can hardly gain anything by inducting few such Muslim faces. Muslims feel double threat from Sangh Parivar — of their very existence and of their religio-cultural identity. 

Whatever the BJP leadership says today on the eve of Loksabha elections about the Gujarat riots (Shri L.K.Advani even called it a blot on the ‘fair rule’ of the BJP) but they all stood by Narendra Modi when his Government was involved in butchery of helpless Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. Then the Muslim carnage helped the BJP in Gujarat to win elections and now wooing Muslims is likely to help them. Thus their only principle is to win elections rather than respect human life or secular values.

The Muslims are feeling intensely threatened by the Sangh Parivar on both levels i.e. on physical as well as on the level of their identity and even if few more Muslim leaders join BJP the Muslim masses are not going to support it in the elections. As we have already pointed out in an earlier article Muslim masses have stopped reacting emotionally and even the leader like Mulayamsingh Yadav had to hurriedly withdraw Friday prayer concession he offered to Muslim students. 

Muslim masses no longer listen to leaders who want to manipulate their votes for their own political purposes. All those leaders who mattered during the eighties have been totally marginalised today. No new influential leader with all India image has emerged thereafter. And with regionalisation of politics this may not happen. The Muslim masses are not only going to vote according to their regional interests but also on the basis of defeating communal candidates.
The BJP has included in its vision document not only Ram temple but also uniform civil code and deletion of Article 370 from Constitution. How can then any Muslim be convinced that the BJP has given up its Hindutva agenda. On the contrary there is always a lurking fear in the minds of Muslims that if ever the BJP energes with greater strength the NDA partners will be further subdued. On issues like Gujarat none of them could protest, not even symbolically and if BJP is further strengthened in the Loksabha, the NDA partners would be further emasculated.

Thus no Muslim would run the risk of voting the BJP to power. And not only Muslims now the Christians are also under attack and the Church has also sent out a clear signal to its followers that they should vote on the basis of values and merit of the candidate. According to the Catholic Bishops Conference of India Catholics should vote for a person who “stands for values to promote human dignity, social equality, religious harmony and national integrity.”
In fact the Muslim intelligentsia could ask for no better conditions for voting. Of course as far as Muslims are concerned there is no church or central religious or secular authority to guide them. But some organisations floated by Muslim intelligentsia are performing similar role and asking Muslims to vote for those candidates who are known for their commitment to secularism and well being of minorities. Two leaders of a Muslim political organisation All parties Muslim Political Conference have stated in a press conference in Delhi that a political conference of Muslims would be held in Delhi on 15th March in Gandhi Peace Foundation. This conference is going to prepare an agenda for removing educational and economic backwardness of Indian Muslims and place it before various political parties.

The Muslims in India today also feel that for Vajpayee and Advani it is not enough to express regret over what happened in Gujarat in 2002 but they should also see to it and commit themselves to get justice to the victims of Gujarat. Narendra Modi Government is determined to deny them any justice. He is going ahead with his agenda. He also intends to delete Good Friday from the list of public holidays in Gujarat. Is central leadership of the BJP doing anything to stop Narendra Modi from enacting his anti-minorities agenda? 
Now we have also Uma Bharti in M.P. determined to pursue her Hindutva agenda under the active guidance of the RSS. If it is a fact that the ideological strings of the BJP are in the hands of the RSS and BJP is unable to sever its relation from it, is RSS prepared to shed its anti-minority bias? Is it ready to give up its serious reservations against minorities like Muslims and Christians? There is no sign of it anywhere in the air.

While the RSS is strongly committed to its ideology it is highly regrettable that the only well-organised Dalit Party the BSP is committed only to gaining power, even if it has to make serious compromises with the Sangh Parivar. It is very weak ideologically. Had it not been so the Dalit-minority alliance would have created a serious challenge for the Sangh Parivar.

Ms. Mayawati has repeatedly betrayed the cause of minorities and secularism in her insatiable desire for power. It has complicated the scene and weakened secular cause in the country. It is most unfortunate. Weaker sections are hopelessly divided and their leaders are more interested in power and have no hesitation in betraying the cause of their own people for that purpose.
The Lok Sabha election results could be very different if Mayawati throws her lot with people that are in power. ¤

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