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

Vajpayee's Muslim mukhota
By Rizvi Syed Haider Abbas

Lucknow:The nation went to polls, with slick ‘India-Shining’ and ‘Feel-Good’ slogans coined by the BJP, to bolster it’s prospects but these proved unhelpful. Between December 2003 and January 2004 alone, ‘India- Shining’ was advertised 9,472 times – only slightly less frequently than the All Out mosquito repellent ad (10,392 times). There were 392 insertions in over 450 newspapers.

BJP’s, open mascot, AB Vajpayee, showed up himself 54 times in the 48–page Vision Document 2004 released by his party. He has been glorified to the status of a demigod and a behold-as-I-make-all-things-new kind of a magician. ‘Such sycophancy around an individual is only slightly less crude than the personality around Hitler – who too gave Germany the autobahn (High Speed motor way) – and Mussolini, or Stalin and Kim-II Sung. The BJP’s publicity material has the same fawning adoring attitude to Vajpayee as Nazi sympathiser Leni Riefenstanls films on Hitler,’ wrote Praful Bidwai.

The miracle-man of BJP is marred by many hiccups (age-related problems) about whom Alex Perry, Time Magazine correspondent (June 17, 2002) wrote, ‘The frail bachelor seems shaky and lost, less an aging sage than an ordinary old man. He forgets names, even of long-time colleague and current Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh… after a meeting with a western foreign minister, his appearance was described by one attending diplomat as "half dead". 

The second slogan was an assurance to give a riot-free India – a myth already blown to shambles. BJP’s main claim is that after its coming to power there has been a check on the occurrence of communal riots in the country. But the data speak otherwise. According to official figures in newspaper reports available, as a whole, 207 persons were killed and 2,065 injured in 600 communal incidents in 1998 alone. 43 persons were killed and 2487 injured in 52 incidents in 1999, 91 killed and 165 injured in 24 incidents in 2000, 56 killed and 158 injured in 27 incidents in 2001 and 1,173 killed and 2,272 injured in 28 incidents, including the pogrom of Gujrat following Godhra in 2002. Thus, from 1998 to 2002 the total number of those killed and injured in 731 major communal riots in different parts of the country come to 1,570 and 4,908 respectively in five out of six years of the BJP-led NDA regime (PhD thesis by Harish Chandra Sharma, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. PR Rajgopal, pp 10–12). 

The riots of Gujrat have one more aspect: "In Gujrat and Mumbai it [POTA] was used almost exclusively against Muslims. In Gujrat after the 2002 state-assisted pogrom in which an estimated 2000 Muslims were killed and 150,000 driven from their homes, 287 peoples have been accused under POTA. Of these, 286 are Muslims and one is a Sikh!" said Arundhati Roy while delivering Iqbal Ghani Khan memorial lecture in Aligarh Muslim University on April 6, 2004.

Ram Jethmalani contested against AB Vajpayee, his one time friend turned bete noir over disagreement on Gujrat riots. Jethmalani camped in Lucknow throwing a barrage of ace volleys on Vajpayee every day. He called Vajpayee an ‘informer’ of British and took Lucknowites into the (in)famous Batteshwar case of 1942 where AB Vajpayee betrayed his colleagues during the 1942 freedom struggle by disclosing their names to the police and apologising his way out of jail. His brother Prem Behari Lal Vajpayee wrote in Sandesh, the official publication of Madhya Pradesh (May 12, 1973), admitting that he and AB Vajpayee were arrested and on the intervention of Sir Girja Shankar Vajpayee, member of Viceroy’s council, both of them were released.

"When Muslims were being slaughtered in the inferno of Gujarat, the octopus-like RSS passed a resolution in Bangalore, on March 16, 2002, saying that let Muslim understand their real safety lies in the goodwill of majority (Hindus). Exactly, after 18 days (April 4, 2002) AB Vajpayee enacted a spill-over of emotions and advised the Milosevic of Gujrat, Narendra Modi, to follow Rajdharma (impartiality of the ruler) on his visit to the riot-torn Gujrat. Vajpayee lamented as to how he would face people abroad after the massacre of Muslims. Then, exactly seven days later (April 12, 2002) in Panaji, Goa, Vajpayee made a somersault and said that ‘These days militancy in the name of Islam leaves no room for tolerance. Wherever Muslims live they tend not to live in co-existence…’ "Vajpayee has shown such indifference towards Muslim genocide that now crocodiles will have Vajpayee tears, even a chameleon will feel humiliated," said Jethmalani with Swami Agnivesh sitting by his side.

But, some Muslims too have shown liking for AB Vajpayee this time as the so-called "Shahi Imam" Ahmad Bukhari appealed to vote for BJP and "AB Himayat Committee" consisting of Maulana Waheeduddin Khan and former AMU VC Mahmodur Rahman, canvassed for BJP. (Himayat Committee bus was stoned by Muslims in West Bengal).

"The nation remembers the same Vajpayee who on Feb 17, 2002 in Varanasi during the assembly elections, had boasted that ‘BJP can win without Muslim votes’ and adopted the politics of the other and is now befooling the nation by begging for Muslim votes," said Jethmalani. "This devil in the name of Vajpayee is to fall to let all his team tumbling down and we are to see that Atal this time is sent to pavilion," he added.

"Shahi Imam is the single-biggest causality of these elections, although, his advocacy for BJP came as no surprise because he has been hobnobbing with BJP since 1999, then appealing to vote against both Congress and BJP and now signing-in for BJP alone," said S.Qasim I. Rasul, member of the Jamat-e-Islami Hind executive, in a meeting held in support of Jethmalani in Lucknow..

AB Vajpayee with a Muslim masthead is certainly new, but even as PM he had once discarded Muslim votes during UP assembly elections. When he could risk spurning Muslim votes which make a sizeable presence in UP, why he flirted with promises for Muslims whose percentage is not as high at the national level as in UP? Perhaps the strategy is to blunt the Muslim revulsion and divide Muslim votes if not win them over.

Muslims were offered sops indiscriminately during these elections, whereas, in reality, they are in the morass of dispossession in the power structure.

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