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Published in the 16-31 Mar 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Green turbans, saffron heads
By Zafar H. Anjum

I am not a political commentator. Reading the op-eds and columns penned by our eminent political analysts generally suffices for me.
And yet, when our Prime Minister appeals to the Muslims of India to help BJP "create a new India," I feel an itch to reach out to the keyboard. I cannot help responding to his call: "I have come to appeal to you…stop being afraid, give it (The BJP) a serious thought." This when he had once famously said – the BJP does not need Muslim support and gave a clean chit to Modi in Gujarat.
The likes of Arif Khan and Najma Heptullah should realize that they are being used as symbols, as cogs in the wheel, of the BJP’s juggernaut of building a Hindu India: maybe a developing and ‘shining’ India but a fascist India. 

Anyone following the news can see the context. Holding the general elections in the backdrop, let’s zoom in to the micros. The faux pas of inducting D P Yadav into the BJP was getting too hot to handle. Sonia Gandhi’s road show in UP was creating ripples.The CBI’s investigations in the Bilkis Yakub Rasool case in Gujarat were once again smearing the party’s "shining" image. The time was right to generate another "feel good" wave. Now was the turn of the 130 million-strong Indian Muslims. After all, they too deserved their fifteen minutes of fame. To add power to the show, some new ‘stars’ were paraded. After the coy Smriti, graceful Hema, suave Sidhu and macho Suresh Oberio, it was the time of maverick Arif Mohammed Khan, and the blunderbuss Najma Heptullah. Though Najma is yet to formally join the BJP, indications are that she might if invited by the party.

The media lapped up the story as an insatiate dog. Vajpayee, the master and commander of the game show, had thrown them a juicy bone. He, donning a green turban, roared from every news channel. Arif Mohammed Khan hopped from one channel to another, explaining his leap of faith. Najma Heptullah whiningly reasoned why was she falling for the gravitational pull of the BJP. 

As a concerned citizen, one did not know how to react to the fast changing political drama. I know that Arif Khan’s or Najma Heptullah’s flight to the BJP might not even be a footnote in the history of this nation. However, given the dearth of Muslim leaders today (only 32 Muslim MPs in the 544-member parliament!), it did have shock value. The shift mattered especially given their astute political backgrounds.

Arif Mohammed Khan quit the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet in 1986, against the enactment of the Muslim Personal Law. Then he joined the BSP, again to quit it when the BSP joined hands with the BJP to form a government in Uttar Pradesh.

And, now he joins the same BJP. What is the logic behind this move? Join them if you can’t beat them, as the cliché goes. He wants to earn the goodwill of the Hindu nationalists for the Muslims in India. Honorable intentions indeed, but looks like a pipe dream. This is exactly what the RSS wants ("India comprises two separate nations, Hindus and Muslims, wherein the very existence of the latter must depend on the goodwill of the former"). It is like Gandhi joining the British to fight the British! 

Similarly, Najma Heptullah has been in the Congress for so many years. Just because Sonia Gandhi ignored her, she changed her views overnight vis a vis the party. Now she is all praise for Mr Vajpayee. The pertinent question is why now? Just because the battle lines are being drawn for the next Lok Sabha elections? 

As for Mr. Vajpayee’s call to the Muslims, there are more questions than there are answers. Why think of reaching out to the wretched Muslimsd now, just before the elections? What did his party do to win over the affections of the Muslims in the last five years? Just a few days ago, flagging off the BJP’s electoral campaign in Ayodhya, Vajpayee talked of the BJP’s pledge to build the Ram Temple there. Now he was trying to woo the Muslims.

Needless to say, post-Gujarat, the Indian Muslims have completely lost their faith (if ever they had any) in BJP. Even today what is happening in the BJP-ruled states? In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, they are directing State policy in open defiance of ministerial oaths to the Constitution and in violation of its basic structure. 

The likes of Arif Khan and Najma Heptullah should realize that they are being used as symbols, as cogs in the wheel, of the BJP’s juggernaut of building a Hindu India: maybe a developing and ‘shining’ India but a fascist India. They are one of the symbols :like Naipaul, like some film stars and cricketers. Anything for a "feel good" image, for a simulacrum, in these postmodern times. And they are being used for a larger purpose. My fear is, by the time they realize their mistake, it will be too late. ¤

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