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

Peace process or electoral card?
For Advani, Indian Muslims are more Pakistani than Indian
By Danish A. Khan

n its lust for power, the Hindutvite BJP seems to have gone a complete metamorphosis. This is as much evident with the party’s strongest-ever bid to lure the minority Muslims into voting for it in the coming general elections. The underpinning of the Hindutva party is brutally clear. Significantly, the tone and tenor of the old warhorse, rabble-rouser Lal Krishna Advani signals the undercurrents and a perceptible sense of unease which the BJP has been undergoing of late so as to romp home to power yet again albeit taking Muslims very much into confidence.

During his ongoing ‘Bharat Uday Yatra’ at Nagpur—the Hindutva citadel and RSS headquarters, Advani in no uncertain terms appealed to party hardliners on March 19 not to spoil the "feel good" atmosphere which the BJP had so laboriously tried to create by bringing Muslims into its favour, particularly by raising the contentious Ayodhya issue at this juncture. "Ram temple is a significant issue for us. Several people had sacrificed their lives and agitated for it. It was the desire of the entire country that a temple be built but there was no need for agitation. The NDA government has created an atmosphere favourable for a negotiated settlement. At this stage, I feel that an atmosphere should not be created that will turn away the Muslim community…," urged Advani in utter desperation.

At another stopover during his ‘Bharat Uday Yatra’ in Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, Advani on March 17 said that now there was a growing realisation among Muslims in the country that they were used by the Congress and other parties as mere votebank for five decades. "The Congress has spread false propaganda against us and created a sense of fear among Muslims about Jan Sangh and the BJP. But Muslims have now seen through the game-plan of the Congress and are realising that they misled all these years," said Advani adding "they have seen with their own eyes that their lives are secure and there is no discrimination against them. There is a growing realisation that they were taken for a ride by the Congress." However, in the same vein trying hard to impress upon Muslims Advani stated: "It was said that if the BJP comes to power, it will declare war on Pakistan. On the contrary, we have extended a hand of friendship and peace and carried forward the dialogue process."

"I have seen Muslims in my meetings. The change which has just begun will not come all of a sudden. It will take time to percolate. But there is a very perceptible change and at least a very large section of Muslims do feel that for many years opponents of the BJP have created an image about the BJP which is totally different from the reality," opined Advani.

True, in some parts of the country a handful of Muslims have been made to join the BJP. Muslims who have joined the party on poll eve from states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi have their own reasons for doing so. Muslims joining the party from Mumbai complained bitterly about the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra. "The government said that it would allocate Rs 500 crore to the Maulana Azad Muslim Welfare Corporation and set up hostels for poor Muslim and backward class students in every district of the state. But what happened? They remained promises and we have decided not to take it anymore. There had to be a decision made with the interests of the Muslim community in mind," they alleged. Congress, which opposed POTA, has been overactive in misusing it against Muslims in the states it rules.

Many Muslims taunted Congress Party’s misdemeanours when it came to pursuing ‘soft Hindutva’ policy which it did with elan. "The Congress Party has developed a taste for flirting with soft Hindutva. Recently, when the party got a chance to do so, it did unashamedly in cases of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, and tried to ape the BJP," Muslims observed. "The enthusiasm of the Congress Party to play soft Hindutva card was so much that during the Gujarat assembly elections in the aftermath of the carnage the party did not think it necessary at all to give assembly tickets to Muslims or field senior Muslim party leaders for campaigning in the elections," agitated Muslims felt. Moreover, secular parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party are not being spared by the community either which have only ditched and used them at every available opportunity. Muslims were particularly incensed with the insensitive attitude of BSP supremo Mayawati towards the community. They are now openly questioning Mayawati’s stand in giving 22% tickets to Muslims during the current general elections while during her tenure as chief minister she campaigned for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi during state assembly elections which took place after the massacre of Muslims under Modi’s stewardship. "Is Mayawati after all a true friend of Muslims?" people ask. 

Mulayam Singh Yadav’s moves too are being seen with suspicion by U.P. Muslims. Till recently, the hero of Babari Masjid demolition, Kalyan Singh, was Mulayam Singh Yadav’s friend. Community leaders nevertheless questioned Mulayam’s friendship with Kalyan, who felt himself proud in being called Hindu Hriday Samrat [King of Hindu hearts] and has been ever unrepentant for the Masjid demolition which took place during his regime. Moreover, some of the recent actions of Mulayam Singh Yadav government like a holiday for Muslim students on Fridays was seen as a miscalculation which will help the Hindutva party in the consolidation of Hindu votes. 

The Muslim electorate finds itself sitting on the horns of a dilemma today. For the community it is the choice between the tweedledum and tweedledee. It is after quite a long time that the present elections are being fought in the absence of the so-called secular Third Front. Even the prime opposition Congress Party has not been able to cobble together a viable coalition of likeminded parties which could give the Hindutva party a run for its vote.

Even though the fight for the Muslim electoral pie has begun in right earnest the community is not being allowed to settle down in peace. While, on the one hand the RSS has decided to "accord" Muslims the status of "nationalists" like Hindus and other Indian citizens after its famed meeting with a prominent Muslim organisation, Jamiatul Ulama-e Hind, the BJP—its political arm—on the other hand, continues to view Muslims as "pro-Pakistan" by using the Pakistan peace process as its trump card. The way in which Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani are using the peace initiative with Pakistan as an election issue demonstrates their feelings towards the Indian Muslim community and the way the BJP leadership tends to paint the entire community with the Pakistan brush and thus using them as a negative votebank.

Howsoever it may be, has the BJP after all succeeded to win over Muslims by showing them the ‘Pakistan’ lollipop? Or, are Muslims really cosying up to the BJP as it is being constantly made out by party spokesmen?

Undoubtedly, there is a perceptible change in the BJP Muslim thinking. It is never too late in politics to realise your mistake and make a turn. Will BJP be ready to walk the extra mile to win over the hearts of hundreds of millions of people it has overlooked or vilified so far? As far as Muslims are concerned, BJP should apologise for Babari demolition and Gujarat pogrom and change its narrow communal mindset in order to embrace all people of India in order to become a national party.  ¤

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