The BJP the other day dismissed as “secular tourism” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi’s visit to riot-hit Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh. But the way it is enlisting Muslim men in skull caps and women in burqas for Narendra Modi’s rallies is “secular tokenism” perpetuating stereotypes the minority community can do without.
“This isn’t PR. Its emotional relationship (ER) with Modi,” insisted an official of the BJP’s minority wing, which organised a prayer meeting at a Mumbai dargah on the Gujarat CM’s September 17 birthday. “We don’t want to appease Muslims. We want a relationship with them like with members of all other religions,” he said.
A good thought indeed. But does the BJP have a dress code for forward caste Hindus who flock its meetings? Are Brahmins encouraged to sport vermillion or sandalwood tilaks; do Rajputs turn up carrying swords?
Not really. Then why are Muslims being cajoled to don headgears that at best are a tradition, not an obligatory prescription for adherents of the faith? The effort clearly is to use Muslims as mere exhibits. The reasoning was no different when Shahnawaz Hussain, the BJP’s sole Muslim member in the 14th Lok Sabha, was allotted a seat behind AB Vajpayee for high visibility in live telecasts of House proceedings.
How’s this any different from secular parties’ minority “vote bank” politics the BJP derides without qualms about flaunting its non-pluralistic Hindu nationalism. Such window dressing wouldn’t work if Modi wants a credible image makeover.
Belated though, an apology for the 2002 riots might not immediately earn the BJP’s PM aspirant the trust of Muslims. In the outside chance of the regret happening, it’ll be an overture of huge socio-political significance, mark as it would a triumph of Indian pluralism.
For all one knows, it might set the stage for a liberal rethink he needs for greater political acceptability. After all, the biggest challenge to the Modi in Delhi is from the Modi in Gujarat.
Divisive tactics can at times pay short-term electoral dividends. History, nevertheless, shows that winning elections on an exclusivist agenda is a way different from governing a country as complex and pluralistic as India.
To bracket Modi with Jinnah will be grossly unfair. But the latter’s August 11, 1947, speech in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan underscored the importance of inclusive politics: “You are free, you are free to go to your temples; you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship…You may belong to any religion or caste or creed (but) that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”
Years later, the author of Jinnah of Pakistan, Stanley Wolpert, attributed the speech to the realisation that a nation state achieved on the philosophy. of hate cannot be run on the philosophy of hate.