It is no secret that Uttar Pradesh is the crucible of Indian politics. He or she who wins UP is most likely to win the Centre. With every indication that the prize will go to the BJP this time, it is in this state that the party’s new, inclusive mantra will be tested. And so far, it has been found wanting.
The state, home to a sizeable number of Muslims who have been ruthlessly used as vote-banks, ought to have found representation for them in the candidate list of the saffron party. It has not. In fact, of the 75 candidates that the BJP has announced, there is not a single Muslim. It is valid that a party does not choose its candidates on religious lines, it has to take into account several other factors.
But this is an election in which the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, is trying to convince the electorate that he is as ‘inclusive’ as the next aspirant. It is difficult to believe that of the 18% population of Muslims in the state, not one person has so far been found worthy of a ticket.
Mr Modi has rightly maintained a safe distance from hardline Hindutva. He has not even mentioned the Ram temple or minority appeasement in any of his speeches. But, the party’s claim to inclusive politics would have carried more weight had it been a bit more representational.
To his credit, Mr Modi has made efforts to reach out to the Muslims and allay their fears. Party president Rajnath Singh’s “try us once…” comment was widely perceived as an effort to bring the minority community closer to the BJP and thereby boost its chances in the elections.
The party was quick to clarify that Mr Singh’s comment was not an apology for the 2002 riots in Gujarat, but an assurance that it will not shy away from apologising for any future mistakes.
The BJP is counting on the upper caste votes and is building on the support of the OBCs. Back-of-the-envelope estimates suggest around 40 seats for the party in the state. In the state’s crowded electoral pool this is a commanding figure. But the party will have to put its money where its mouth is.
This also gives other parties, especially the Congress, which has fielded 11 Muslims from the state, a stick to beat the BJP with. The skewed candidate list is perhaps one flaw in an otherwise well-oiled political strategy unleashed by the BJP.