Prime Minister sat among Muslims with long white robes, flowing beards with loud hymns of Quranic verses. The setting couldn’t be more contrasting with the image cultivated by the Prime Minister or by his supporters. Muslims as a community in India have been yearning to see these images more often, with Prime Minister and other officials attending their functions, taking the community as one of their own and patronising them as much as they do when it comes to other communities.
What the Prime Minister said
There is no denying that Prime Minister Modi is a great orator. When he gets going, and it is very often, no other political leader can match him. The same was the case when he went to commemorate Ashura along with the Bohra Muslim community in Indore. He stumped the community with his praise and the widespread work that the Bohras are doing in his backyards, Gujarat. The way he bowed his heads in front of Bohra community leader Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin and touched the gifts presented by Syedna with his forehead, won him many a new admirers from among the Muslim community.
While praising the Bohra community, Modi said, “You have set a benchmark of how to trade honestly. You have set an example with your behavior. The country’s backbone is people like you”.
If that was not enough, Modi praised Imam Husain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, eulogizing him for his piety and sacrifices. “Imam Hussain laid down his life for peace and justice…His teachings are important for today’s generations as well. I am happy Syedna saheb and the entire community are connected to this”, Modi said on the occasion. “The concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam gives a distinct identity to India, separate from the rest of the world. And the Bohra community is an example of it,” he further said.
Voices of dissent among Bohras
Bohras are a prosperous and close-knit community, interwoven around the community leader Syedna. Despite their numerical disadvantages, the Bohars have played large role in the wider community affairs, be it supporting the cause of Aligarh Muslim University or Jamia Millia Islamia or other such initiatives. Bohra community heads have repeatedly been appointed chancellors of the two universities.
Irfan Engineer, himself a Bohra activist and son of renowned scholar and dissenter Asghar Ali Engineer has attacked the Bohra leadership for inviting Prime Minister Modi in an Ashura celebration. “Muharram is period of grief for Muslims to remember martyrdom of Imam Hussain. Imam Hussain preferred to uphold the principles of Islam and refused to give oath of allegiance to a tyrant Caliph of Umayyad Dynasty – Yazid. Yazid commanded a powerful and well equipped army of over a thousand whereas Imam Hussein’s 72 followers included women and children, youngest of them was six month old Ali Asghar. To refuse oath of allegiance was tantamount to embracing death. For the Dawoodi Bohra Pontiff to invite the Prime Minister who headed the Gujarat Government in the year 2002 when Muslims including members of the Dawoodi Bohra community were massacred is against the spirit of Muharram and martyrdom of Imam Hussain. As the then Chief Minister he provided justification to the anti-Muslim pogrom.”, writes Irfan Engineer.
Prime Minister Modi has occasionally been involved in Muslim outreach program where he targets certain classes of Muslim community. He and the BJP have been trying to lure the Shia Muslims in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere. Muslim women have been part of his special Muslim outreach programs over the last few years. Prime Minister has tried to project Muslim women as neglected within the community. There is a perception within the community that the BJP and Prime Minister want to lure the Muslim women to vote for the BJP.
The high pitched announcements on triple talaq and nikah Halala are a well-thought out strategy to reach out to Muslim women, influence them psychologically and win their crucial votes in elections. This, according to the BJP strategists is expected to divide the Muslims, further diluting the importance of their votes.
Merely last month, in a sarcastic attack against the Congress, Modi had said, “I want to ask the namdaar of the Congress party — Congress is a party of Muslims, apko theek lage, apko mubarak — but tell us, is this party of Muslims only for men or does it have space for women? Does it have any space for dignity, honour and rights of Muslim women”. The Prime Minister went on to add that the stand of the Opposition parties on the issue of Triple Talaq had exposed them. “These parties together, they are putting the lives of Muslim women in more difficulty”. He, on the same occasion said he would provide Muslim women “mukti” from Triple Talaq and nikah halala.
Muslim outreach amid lynching incidents
Prime Minister’s Muslim outreach that seem to have some initial impact in different elections, particularly in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan assembly elections, has come to at an abrupt end amid increasing lynching cases. The mob lynching incidents, initially in the garb of cow slaughter and later on other fictitious grounds have skyrocketed, making a mockery of his claims. In last assembly election in Maharashtra, BJP is said to have got 14 percent Muslim votes thanks to support from Marathi Muslims in different parts of the state. Now the same Maratha Muslim group, Maratha Muslim Sangh, has refused to extend support to the BJP for the next general elections.
A report by India Spend, a data-driven new source says that “Muslims were the target of 51% of violence centred on bovine issues over nearly eight years (2010 to 2017) – and they comprised 84% of 25 Indians killed in 60 incidents. As many as 97% of these attacks were reported after Narendra Modi’s government came to power in May 2014.” Lynching of Muslims on other pretexts is much higher.
Many Muslims including this author, who were very optimistic about Modi’s Muslim outreach, were hopeful that Prime Minister will rebuke the saffron warriors on the issue of mob lynching. But he steadily kept quite, shattering many hopes. It is needless to say that this further emboldened the cow vigilantes whose number has risen exponentially.
Has Modi’s outreach flopped
Gujarati businessman Zafar Sareshwala, who deals in luxury cars and bikes and was Modi’s point-man in Muslim outreach is a disgruntled man. In an extensive chat with this author over a cup of coffee in a five star hotel in Delhi a couple of years ago, he was all praise for Modi, repeatedly emphasizing that the Prime Minister was serious when it came to solving Muslim issues. The same man, who was appointed the chancellor of Hyderabad based Maulana Azad National Urdu University, seems disgruntled and crestfallen. While talking to the Wire, Sareshwala said, Modi used me when he needed, now many people who were demonizing him before had come close to him”.
In the meantime, while talking about the Muslim outreach and his sharing the dais with Syedna, Abdul Majeed Memon a leading lawyer and NCP leader said, “Modi ji, Bohra samaj ke pass gaye iss vichaar se ki shayad musalmano ko rijhha liya jaayega, lekin na woh idhar ke rahenge na hi udhar ke, dhobi ke kutte wali baat ho jati hai
“ (Modi reached out to the Bohra community in hopes that he will appease the Muslims. But he will be left with no support). He went o to add, “As soon as Narendra Modi tries to involve other sections of the society by stepping away from his ideology, he faces opposition from organisations like VHP”.
Obviously the outreach has remained merely words and it failed to translate into action. Some action, even half hearted, would have mollified some Muslims towards the BJP and Prime Minister Modi. With Sareshwala gone, it is all but a lost cause now.
More columns by Syed Ubaidur Rahman:
Mob lynching in India - The menace is growing
Why Jinnah's portrait should be removed from Aligarh Muslim University
Muslim Law Board caught in a time warp
Minorities' persecution and blasphemy laws in Pakistan
Narendra Modi Muslim outreach: Will Muslims bite the bait?Army Chief's remark on Assam political party unjustifiable
Will Congress return to power in Karnataka?
Muslim Law Board shocked by top cleric's views on Babri
Narendra Modi: Why Muslims are losing hope
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Will Indian Muslims take a break from too much focus on electoral politics?