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

'Come into my parlour' said the Spider to the Bee
How and why the BJP is wooing Muslims?
By Syed Shahabuddin

The BJP's chase of the Muslim voters is looking like the chase by a jilted lover of his long lost beloved. But there has never been a love affair not even a love-hate relationship between the BJP and the Muslim Indians even going back to its earlier incarnation the Bharatiya Jan Sangh. It seems that the founding fathers of the BJS/BJP - the Savarkars and the Golwalkars - and even their successors right down to Sudarshan never thought much of the Muslims, indeed they thought, and not only thought but wrote, awful things about the Muslims which need not be repeated. 

Every politically literate person in India, on this or that side of the political fence, is fully aware of the vilification, the demonisation, the vituperation, the distortion and the falsification by the Grand Mahants of Hinduvad or Hindu Rashtravad or Hindutva, to give their ideology its latest title, as they claim duly sanctified by the Supreme Court. Essentially they built up their concept of Hindu renaissance as a zero-sum game between the Hindus and the Muslims. They preached that - particularly after the Partition in 1947, for which the Muslims were held solely responsible, India that is Bharat, was too small for both Hindus and Muslims to live in peaceful coexistence. Either the Muslims had to be forced out or converted to Hinduism, by persistent pressure, punctuated with force and turned into 'Mohammadi Hindus' or learn to live as vassals and to behave in accordance with the dictates of the Hindu majority, since India was essentially the land of the Hindus. Their slogan is 'one country, one people, one culture', 'culture' being an euphemism for religion.

Governments may come and go but this pressure was maintained, sometimes with the collusion of the administration, more often with the active support of the guardians of law and order. The administrative machinery and particularly, the security services, were deliberately penetrated; the mass media was influenced; bias and prejudice, scorn and hatred were sown in the mind of the common man through massive propaganda. Thousands of incidents of anti-Muslim violence were incited, the Gujarat genocide was staged with full participation, of the police under the direction of the State Government, accompanied by the onslaught of Sangh Parivar, to teach the Muslims a lesson, to force them into making a 'choice between Pakistan and Qabristan'. And today the Great Oracle, in his unmatched rhetoric, in all its ambiguity, asks the Muslims to forgive and forget Gujarat - when Modi, who should have been dismissed and prosecuted , continues to rule. When horrifying details of rapes and killings and their cover-up are being unearthed every day and when not one culprit has been punished and when Muslims are threatened with many more Gujarats, this is not an appeal to human compassion but an absolution of crime against humanity.
But there were so many. Gujarat stands out because the RSS, the BJP, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal were caught with their pants down and the world heard the cries of anguish and the nation, including the National Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court, took notice. But the story of the Sangh Parivar in igniting anti-Muslim violence, creating situations of confrontation, procuring and distributing arms, recruiting, training and deploying the hate brigades against Muslim localities, providing the political back-up and the tactical police cover, helping them when it desired to be protected is too long to be repeated. And every Muslim remembers it, in every locality, which was ever their target.

The Vajpayee Government claims that Gujarat apart, for five years or more it kept the country riot-free. This is a lie. Its Home Minister has stopped the publication of statistics but hundreds of anti-Muslim riots have occurred since 1998, counting only those in which at least one human being lost his/her life, at least one woman was raped and at least one dwelling or shop was torched. Now the Great Oracle speaks of 'chhut-put ghatna'. A sense of deep physical insecurity pervades the Muslim community resulting in increasing ghettoization. Go to any Muslim area of any town and find out the cost of land or price of dwelling space. You will be shocked to find that the going rate in Muslim slums is comparable to the elite colonies!

Hinduism is, by definition, tolerant of religious and denominational diversities, but it has the historical propensity to absorb all alien religions and find their 'gods' and prophets a place in the Hindu pantheon. So the Muslim Indians are today in a state of religious siege. The sinister and senseless campaign against their religious institutions, the Masjids, the Maktabs and the Madrasas, as dens of Pakistani espionage and training ground for the terrorists (though Home Minister Advani has not been able to identify and prosecute any Imam or Ustad), the systematic occupation of Muslim graveyards and prayer grounds, the 'conquest' of Muslim shrines as in Baba Budhangiri caves in Karnataka, because Muslims in their innocence opened the doors to the Hindu devotees, the permanent lock out and deliberate neglect of 'Protected' Masjids and the step-by-step conversion into Hindu temples as in Kamal Maula Masjid in Dhar, the persistent claim on 30,000 Masjids and shrines across the country including Dargah Khwaja Saheb in Ajmer and Jama Masjid, Delhi on the false assumption that they were all built on the sites of preexisting Hindu temples, after demolishing them, the systematic saffronization of school education and of school culture to brainwash and Hinduise Muslim children, the routine tearing and burning of the Quran in all anti-Muslim riots and even in broad day light in the capital city of Delhi (what happened to the inquiry, Vajpayee had ordered?), all show the Sangh Parivar's implacable hostility to Islam, the Holy Prophet and the Quran. How can the Muslims feel religiously secure if their faith is permanently under attack? 

At the time of election, the BJP leaders are offering equal treatment to Muslims. Putting aside their massive under-representation in the Parliament (55%) not to speak of State legislatures (upto 100%), and even in the Civil Services (75%), Vajpayee, Advani and Co. and their other shining stars should place before the Muslim community the proportion of Muslims the Vajpayee Government has recruited in non-gazetted jobs with various Ministries, Departments and their attached and subordinate offices, as assistants, clerks, messengers and drivers, police constables and army jawans? At least, let them give the names of Muslim Indians nominated as Directors of Government Corporations, Public Sector Undertakings, Banks and other financial institutions and as member of various autonomous bodies like Boards and Authorities, during the last 5 years.

That they have just one Muslim in the Council of Ministers is explicable. After all, the BJP had put up only four or five candidates for the Lok Sabha, only two from Muslim concentration seats - old and tired warhorse Naqvi from Rampur and the young, inexperienced Shahnawaz Husain from Kishanganj. Naqvi lost. Shahnawaz won and became a Minister of State, then a Minister. He has paid his keep through regular poems of praise to his new gods. But he has done nothing for the community, not even recruited Muslim 'loaders' in the airports. How can he, poor fellow? It is all done by merit or money. The Muslim youth is genetically devoid of merit and of course he has no money.

The Muslims constitute a Backward Class in every sense of the term, by every nationally accepted parameter. The Supreme Court does not bar reservation on the basis of religion if a religious group is backward, the Venkatachaliah Commission affirmed that there was no constitutional bar and that it was a matter of political will. But the Vajpayee Government has ignored the advice and so far it has not provided reservation in public employment for Muslims, as a whole or even a separate quota for the Muslim Sub-communities which are on the OBC List. We have no figures. But the Muslim community knows that under the Vajpayee dispensation, the doors of public employment even in Category D are firmly closed for its youth. Before seeking Muslim vote, let the Vajpayee government remove the feeling of Economic Insecurity by putting in the public domain the statistics relating to the proportion of appointments, grade-wise and department/authority-wise made during the last 5 years that has reached the Muslims. Public employment provides the major financial input not only for consumption but for savings and investments. Today the Muslims are more deprived than ever before and the government is simply unconcerned that 1/8 of the national population continues to live a sub-human life in a state of deprivation.

The BJP spokesmen will repeat the half-truth that the Muslims shun modern education. But let Dr. Joshi, the Minister of Human Resource Development, put before the country and the Muslim community the additional number of government primary, upper primary, middle and secondary schools, established in Muslim concentration villages and urban Mahallas (above 20% Muslim population) since 1998-1999 or under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for All) and compare them to their entitlement under the national norm of ONE Primary School for a Population of 300. Dr. Joshi has also to explain why the schools, opened under the SSA with central funds, do not teach Urdu or teach Urdu-speaking students through the medium of Urdu, at least at the primary level in areas of Urdu concentration?

Dr. Joshi waxes eloquent about funds allocated to the National Council for the Promotion of Urdu during his years in office but Urdu calligraphy, Urdu computer and Urdu distance education or even the ill-conceived and ill-motivated intervention in Madrasa education in the name of modernization are not a substitute for primary and secondary education of uniform quality. And how much does it all come to? The total expenditure on the promotion of Urdu, Persian and Arabic through the NCPUL and otherwise over 5 years 1998-2003 comes to no more than 35 crores!

The drumbeaters of the Vajpayee government speak of economic and educational development of Muslims through the National Minorities Finance and Development Corporation, the Abul Kalam Azad Education Foundation, the Central Wakf Council (the Scheme of Commercial Development of Wakf Properties) but the total amount invested in economic and educational development of a community of 150 million over 5 years comes to less than 100 crores!
And speaking of wakfs, the parting kick of the Vajpayee Government, which has done almost nothing to vacate wakf properties under Government occupation, was to trifurcate the Punjab Wakf Board. This will deny the flow of the surplus income from the wakfs in Punjab, which has a very small Muslim population, for the much more numerous Muslims of Haryana! Today the Imams and the Muezzins of the Masjids and the teachers of Maktabs and schools in Haryana are not being paid and yet the President of the All India Imam's Organization is one of the accredited darbaris of the Vajpayee court.

Today, the BJP is anxious to build bridges with the Muslim community. But the Muslim Indians would like to ask: have they, PM or the Home Minister, taken any interest in the community during the last 6 years? Have they ever invited any Muslim organization of national eminence, the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Musahwarat, the All India Milli Council, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, the All India Shia Conference, the Markazi Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Hadith, the All India Momin Conference or 'granted an audience' to them for a submission or representation, not to speak of discussion or dialogue, on matters of concern to them or for explaining government policies and programmes? 

Some members of the elite were invited to the Darbar from time to time. Some had their own reasons to show their face, Some appeared reluctantly but out of courtesy. Vajpayee, more than Advani, had many photo-sessions with a Muslim coterie consisting of a few non-entities, persons who lack standing in the eyes of the community. 

After Chennai Declaration, Bangaru Laxman took the initiative to draw the Muslim close to the BJP but the initiative died with his exit. Since the dark shadows of Gujarat fell upon Muslim community's relation with the Vajpayee Government, there have been many Sammelans - organized by the Muslim show boy Shahnawaz Husain or by the Social Welfare Minister Jatiya or by various bodies like NMFDC, the NCM, the MAEF or the CWC. But did the Sammelans lead to the adoption of any concrete programme of action and installation of a mechanism for the periodical monitoring.

Far from it, the Vajpayee Government has never taken any steps to ensure that the Muslims at the grassroots level get their due share of the welfare and development programmes funded by the Union. No direction was ever issued that the religious minorities at the Panchayat/Block/District level, should receive their due share in the distribution of facilities and benefits. What is worse, the Government has simply forgotten about the PM's 15-Point Programme and, to the best of our knowledge, has not issued any progress report on its working and results during the last 5 years.

And now Vajpayee, Advani, Venkaiah Naidu, Naqvi and Shahnawaz Husain in order to show off their latest catch Arif Mohd. Khan and the hired busloads from Rampur and Kishanganj, organized the Rashtriya Muslim Vikas Mahasammelan which proved to be no more an exercise in rhetoric. Even Jaswant Singh did not announce any concrete programme of VIKAS for the community.

The Muslim Indian is no longer a babe in the wood; he understands why he is in the news, why he is being assiduously wooed, why he is being offered regrets and apologies and promises and asked to forgive and forget and why he is being invited to join in a fresh start, to trust the BJP.

The answer is very simple: The BJP secured 23.75% of the votes polled in 1999 i.e. less than 15% of the total electorate, more or less in line with its performance since 1996. The BJP has realized that in its drive towards a monopoly of power, it had struck a plateau, that to make further progress it had to make a quantum jump. In terms of votes, it had wrung the last drop of juice from the Hindutva ideology. In Gujarat it had a 'landslide' victory but its votes did not exceed 35%. Neither did they in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh. Its strategists have realized that it has to broaden its social base, and wear a secular mask to hide its fundamentalist, fanatical and fascist face, in order to attract the liberal and secular Hindu voters who are sitting on the fence to jump on its bandwagon. It is to make its brand new secular mask credible that the BJP has suddenly discovered the Muslims and is showing concern for their welfare and progress and inviting them to give it a try. 

The electoral proposition is very clear: If 10% of Muslim votes can be attracted to the BJP, it will mean only 1% increase in national terms but even this small but visible shift will make an impact on the secular and liberal Hindu voters who are disenchanted with the secular parties and do not vote. Thus another 4% non-Muslim voters who were sharply critical of the BJP's anti-secular ideology and policies may be attracted. With 5% additional votes, the BJP may even secure a majority in the Lok Sabha and form a government on its own and thus become free of the compulsions and unreliability of a coalition and implement its real agenda.

But what is then the game plan? Once in a majority, the BJP can do what it likes - ride roughlished over the Constitution and the laws, and all the democratic and secular conventions built painstakingly since independence, rub out the last traces of the heritage of the Freedom Movement, make India a de jure Hindu State, though the BJP-led NDA Government has already made it a de facto Hindu state, with the Sarvasanghchalak of the RSS as the Rajguru and RSS activists and shakha graduates adoring the offices of the Ministers, siphoning off national resources in land and money for their projects. Then it can move towards its ultimate goals - promulgation of Hindu Rajya, adoption of the Hindu agenda, formulated by the VHP and emasculation of religious minorities through religious assimilation and cultural submergence, in the name of Cultural Nationalism.


Pakistan-Kashmir Angle
It is debatable whether the latest moves for friendly relation with Pakistan and dialogue with the Hurriyat on Kashmir are also part of their Muslim strategy or an effort to promote the agenda of peace and development. But unfortunately they are being presented to the Muslim community as the reasons why the Muslims should embrace the BJP. This very approach shows the communal conviction of the Sangh Parivar that all said and done, the Muslim Indians have at least a special place for Pakistan in their hearts, even if they do not yet constitute Pakistan's fifth column in our country!

All parties, on the eve of election, make promises, give assurances, even write them in their Manifestos, but hardly ever keep or fulfill them. So the Muslim community should not take the BJP's love-calls at their face value. But it should put a few simple demands to the BJP to prove its love for Muslims and commitment to Secularism:

1. Will the BJP severe its links with the RSS and disown the ideological heritage of Savarkar and Golwalkar? Will it allow the RSS Chief to act as extra-constitutional authority? Will it stop making special dispensations in favour of the RSS-linked organizations, institutions and individuals?

2. Will it stop performance of Hindu rituals at State functions?
3. Will it let the law take its course on the Ayodhya question, commit itself to the execution of the final judicial verdict and the implementation of the October, 1994 road map of the Supreme Court? Will the BJP commit itself not to repeal the Religious Places (Special Provisions) Act of 1991 and protect all places of worship as they were on 15 August, 1947?

4. Will it promise the enactment of a comprehensive law on Social Violence, in all its forms and manifestations, providing for investigation by a federal agency, prosecution by Special Courts and payment of uniform compensation for loss of life, honour and property and imposition of collective fine? Will it apply the law retrospectively to all anti-Muslim and anti-Dalit cases since 1999?

5. Will it establish primary and secondary schools in adequate numbers in all areas of deprivation, village by village, ward by ward, in accordance with the national norm, with the mother tongue as the medium of primary instruction and the teaching of the Mother Tongue as Compulsory First Language and of the Principal Language of the State as Compulsory Second Language to all students belonging to linguistic minorities and introduce secular textbooks and non-denominational school culture?

6. Will the BJP introduce reservation for Muslims in Legislatures (under joint electorate), in public employment including security forces, in higher education, in welfare and development benefits and flow of bank credit, in proportion to their population at the operational levels?

7. Will the BJP ensure against State intervention in matters of religion including religion-based family laws and against any tilt in situations of inter-religious conflict?

8. Will it guarantee full and unrestricted exercise of freedom of religion under Article 25?

9. Will the BJP nullify the Trifurcation of Punjab Wakf Board, restore Wakf properties in the hands of the State and Include Public Wakfs in the list of Public premises?

10. Will it give its tickets to at least 50 Muslims for the Lok Sabha, even to its faithful acolytes, old and new, and get them elected from safe seats?

11. Will it commit itself to include at least 10% Muslims in the Council of Ministers?

12. Will the BJP commit itself to include one Muslim among 10 government nominees in all statutory and non-statutory bodies?

13. Will the BJP stop the vilification of Islam and demonization of Muslims, by word of mouth or in writing, as terrorists, subversives, infiltrators, criminals, as Babar-ki-aulad, as historic adversaries?

We know that the BJP will not; it cannot. The BJP cannot rise above tokens and symbols, above ambiguous rhetoric and emotional appeals. But, sitting like the spider at the Centre of its web of deceit, conspiracy and subversive, the BJP will continue to invite the Bee to its parlour.

We know that the BJP will use every trick in the trade to divide Muslim votes and reduce their turnout and thus their impact particularly in Muslim concentration seats. We know it shall coerce, browbeat and even bribe some influential Muslims in the country to sell the BJP - the changed BJP - as a strategic investment for Muslim future in Hindu India. We know that in power, it shall use all its strength to make some handpicked Muslims sign a surrendernama for the Babari Masjid site and then give signal to the Sangh Parivar for building the Mandir in Ayodhya.

But 50 years later, the Muslim community knows the difference between flawed Democracy and Fascism, between flawed Secularism and Communalism and will say NO, a loud NO to the Spider!

 

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