Merely a few weeks ago, a large contingent of Muslim leaders met Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his office. It was an unusual meeting, not the ones as we saw in the past, when some Sufi (read Barelwi) ulama with no fan-following, were seen rooting for the PM.
There were Muslim leaders who have been in Parliament representing different parties, newspaper editors, vice chancellors of two top Muslim universities in the country, besides some usual type of molvis.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi charmed his way through the hearts of his guests by talking everything that establishes instant rapport with his audience.
He praised Indian Muslims for resisting radicalization, which has affected several parts of the world and added that the credit for this must go to the long, shared heritage of our people. Modi further said that culture, traditions and social fabric of India will never allow the nefarious designs of the terrorists, or their sponsors, to succeed.
Prime Minister and his party have been praised by the Indian Muslims for talking with the Saudi government on increasing the Haj quota for Indian Muslims eager to go on annual Haj pilgrimage. Though some people claim that the quota has not been increased but restored to the previous level as expansion work of the Grand Mosque in Mecca has been completed, many give credit to Modi and Mukhrat Abbas Naqwi.
In the backdrop of the bonhomie that was on display between Muslim leaders, including his one-time harshest critic MJ Akbar who is a minister in his cabinet, along with Modi’s sabka saath sabka vikas slogan, people were expecting some real action on the ground. As UP elections are merely week away, people were expecting Prime Minister Modi to show that he walks the talk.
Keeping Muslims at arms’ length
Despite, his slogans, Prime Minister has disappointed his Muslim fans, who have embraced him expecting him to be true to his assurances. They were expecting Prime Minister and his party, the BJP to not just repeatedly make promises of inclusive development and growth but also taking all the communities along.
Muslims, it must be pointed here, have realized to their utter dismay, that it was not the case. The Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) has announced a list of more than three hundred assembly constituencies in UP thus far. The list, amazingly, doesn’t include the name of a single Muslim candidate from the entire state. And mind you, it is not a state where you don’t have Muslim population.
Muslims make around 20 percent of the population in the state. There are 68 assembly constituencies where Muslim population is 78-35 percent and 89 constituencies where Muslim population is 30 – 20 percent. Besides, there are many other constituencies where Muslim population is 10-20 percent. BJP shouldn’t have a problem in picking out deserving Muslim candidates in many of the above mentioned constituencies.
Returning to roots
UP voters were expecting the BJP to stick to now tried and tested development formula in the run up to UP assembly election 2017. The BJP had contested parliamentary elections of 2014 on the slogan for development for all (sabka saath, sabka vikas).
Apparently this was the slogan that attracted all communities, including the Muslims, to vote for the BJP. Now, more than two and half years after coming to power at the Center, the BJP is making a fatal error by resorting to the same sloganeering that has become dated and doesn’t attract anyone’s attention, least of all votes.
The 24-page election manifesto of BJP for UP assembly election gives prominent position to the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya. If BJP thinks that by dishing out the bogies of bygone era, it will be able to make any difference to its electoral chances, it is afflicted by self-doubt and fear of loss in assembly elections.
Not restraining rabble rousers
While the party has given tickets to four people accused for their role in Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013, rabble rousers are given a free hand by the BJP. The party’s MLA, Suresh Rana, claimed while addressing an election rally that curfew will be imposed in Kairana, Deoband and Moradabad (three cities with major Muslim population) if he is elected again. A few weeks ago, firebrand BJP MP from Unnao, Sakshi Majaraj, while addressing a rally in Meerut said “population has risen because of those who support the concept of four wives and 40 children. It is not acceptable”. While election commission is censuring those people, the BJP hasn’t done much to reign in such elements.
Triangular fight and BJP chances
The triangular fight in UP is the best hope for the BJP to get back to power in the state after the banbas of 15 years. The Samajwadi Party and the Congress alliance and the BSP, that has been putting all its eggs in one basket, make it look like a cakewalk for the BJP.
It is simply surprising that the BJP resorted to old-gimmicks, giving its rabble rousers another opportunity to seek votes in the name of division and religion. Is it fearing the impact of demonetization in cities and towns across the state where small-scale industries –the backbone of local economy –have been badly impacted by this ill-thought out move?
Many small scale industries across the state from Varanasi to Ghaziabad and Meerut to Ferozabad and Kannauj have been impacted by notebandi. A large number of them have been permanently shut down and thousands of people have been rendered unemployed. Is the ghost of notebandi forcing the BJP to resort to such tactics?
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Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based writer and commentator. He has written several books on Muslims and Islam in India including Understanding Muslim Leadership in India.