A Muslim minister from party-ruled Rajasthan, a burqa-clad deputy mayor from Nagpur (which houses the RSS headquarters), a former Muslim judge of the Odisha high court and 100-odd clerics, intellectuals and politicians are busy drumming up Muslim support for BJP chief Rajnath Singh in Lucknow. The seat goes to polls on Wednesday.
As Singh’s road-show wove its way through the city’s packed streets on Monday, the last campaign day, even the itinerary betrayed a saffron plan to approach the minority community and convince its members that their interests would be safe under a BJP government.
BJP president Rajnath Singh with party leaders Lalji Tandon (extreme left), Nitin Gadkari and Shivraj Chouhan (right) at a road-show in Lucknow. (Deepak Gupta/HT Photo)
Lucknow was the political ‘karmabhoomi’ of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was known as the moderate face of the right-wing BJP. The city has nearly 18 lakh voters, of which 4.5 lakh are Muslims.
MJ Khan of the New Delhibased Indian Muslim Research Centre (IMRC) told HT that the BJP was trying to ensure that Singh got more Muslim votes in Lucknow than even Vajpayee. “Vajpayee used to get around 40,000 Muslim votes. The BJP think tank is attempting to at least double this figure for Singh,” he added.
For his part, Singh — whose approval ratings, like Vajpayee, are high in the minority community — has been making the right gestures.
He has offered to apologise for “any past mistake”, visited the clerics of both Shia and Sunni sects and even found reciprocation with their “you-remind-usof-Vajpayee” statements.
As Singh’s convoy rolled through the densely populated minority pockets in the old city, giving him company was Madhya Pradesh (MP) chief minister (CM) Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who has won an impressive third term with even the minorities voting for him.
Accompanying Singh’s predecessor Nitin Gadkari, who is contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Nagpur (where polling has already taken place), to Lucknow was Nagpur’s deputy mayor Zainul Afsha Khan and Rajasthan’s PWD minister Yunus Khan, making it obvious that the Parivar wanted to win over the minorities apart from the Lucknow seat.
“The BJP chief did a lot for minorities during his term as the Uttar Pradesh chief minister. What’s more is that we want to convince the Muslims that they should not be afraid of either Modiji or the BJP. In states where our party’s governments are in power, the minorities are prospering. We are here to tell the minorities just that,” Yunus said.
On Sunday, Singh had met Mufti Shamoon Qasmi, general secretary of the All India Imams Organisation, and Justice Kuddusi, a former judge of the Orissa High Court, both of whom later campaigned extensively in the Muslim-heavy localities.