Narendra Modi’s core team, which is part of his electoral ‘war room’, vetoed a proposal for the BJP to field Muslim candidates.
After Modi's Sadbhavana (Harmony) fast in September 2011, it was estimated that the BJP would give at least one ticket to a Muslim, to soften Modi’s image, but insiders told HT that it was considered “too risky a gamble, given that the symbolic gesture might have confused the majority, who see Modi as a saviour of the Hindus”.
On the record, BJP spokesperson Nirmala Setharaman said: “Sadbhavana was never meant as a quid pro quo. When there is a fight for every seat, winnability is important. We don’t believe in appeasement.”
Indeed, the view in the war room — endorsed by Modi — was that it was safer to stick to the core ideology of identity politics.
Also of concern was BJP rebel Keshubhai Patel and his Gujarat Parivartan Party, floated just ahead of the elections. Since Patel had also stayed away from Muslim candidates, the Modi camp was wary of losing some of its hard-core supporters to the GPP and so, in the end, jettisoned the plan to enrol a Muslim face.
On the face of it, Modi includes all religious groups when he talks of bettering the lives of ‘6 crore Gujaratis’ and discusses the BJP theme for Election 2012 — Ekmat (United) Gujarat — but soft Hindutva lies at the core of Modi’s speeches.
With the Congress being careful to not hand Modi an emotional issue, after the aggressive ‘Maut ka saudagar’ (Merchants of Death) stance taken by Sonia Gandhi in the 2007 elections, Modi could not resist a reference to ‘Ahmed miyan Patel’. The remark was a clear indicator that in this high-stakes battle from which he hopes to make a pitch for Delhi in 2014, the Hindu strongman tried to communalise the current election, keeping in mind the majority community that has largely stood by him in the last two elections. In fact on Friday, Modi cleverly referred to the ‘Maut ka saudagar’ comment — despite the Congress steering clear of any mention of the 2002 riots — saying at a rally that the state gave him a two-thirds majority in 2007, when he was called a merchant of death, and this time, when he has been called a cheat, the people of Gujarat would equally punish the Congress.
Modi crafted an image as the saviour of the Hindus after the 2002 riots and, says Vadodara-based rights activist JS Bandukwala, “I am not surprised that he has not found any Muslim candidate worthy of a ticket. The key to his appeal lies in the way he treated Muslims in 2002.”
The key reason why the war room decided against accommodating a Muslim candidate lies in the following comment made by one of its core members: “If this election has to be a springboard for 2014, it is important to keep Gujarat’s majority’s sentiments in mind. Every seat won will add to the final tally. There will be enough time for symbolic gestures later.” To the question of what that might be, the core member replied” There is some thinking of nominating a Muslim to the Rajya Sabha, when the time is right.”