There are two ways of looking at Rajnath Singh’s call on Shia clerics in Uttar Pradesh and Sonia Gandhi’s poll-time engagement with the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid. One can slam the moves as being guided by sectarian impulses. But that would be a straitjacket inference, divorced from democratic imperatives lost on those taking a high moral ground on the issue.
Expedient, tactical or for the sake of form, such outreaches aren’t without value in a communally surcharged political climate. They give the estranged social group a sense of belonging, of being wanted amid a welter of suspicion and resultant antipathy.
Rajnath sought political support from the religious leaders as a candidate from Lucknow —not as much as the BJP president. The interaction lent his campaign an inclusive dimension found missing in saffron candidatures for the Lok Sabha. Among the handful of seats where the party has put up Muslim nominees, only Shahnawaz Hussain’s Bhagalpur is considered winnable.
If returned to Parliament from Lucknow, where Shia voters are a factor, the BJP chief would have reasons to claim an inclusive mandate. But it’s no credit to him. Such is the beauty of our joint electoral system, where all communities vote without segregation, that it reforms or restrains even the worst offenders.
As one brand of fundamentalism feeds on the other, the joint electorate regime is the best safeguard against the rise of religio-political entities of pan-Indian significance. Attribute it to appeasement or the majesty of Indian democracy, religious minorities tend to repose trust in majority community leaders in our non-denominational secular state.
That perhaps explains Maulana Kalbe Jawad’s rejection of Modi while praising Rajnath as a latter-day AB Vajpayee: “We’re scared of Modi. But Rajnath has Vajpayee’s acceptability.” Jawad’s remarks deciphered as much the meeting Sonia had with the Imam, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, who exhorted Muslims to support the Congress to defeat ‘communal forces’. That she outsourced such motivation was an self-incriminating acceptance of a leadership drought in the party once led by such heavyweights as Badruddin Tyabji, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Maulana Azad and Dr Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, to name a few.
The selection of the controversial cleric to interface with the community can be another point of dispute. It underscores the need for enlightened in-house opinion makers in mainline parties such as the Congress. But the broader message shouldn’t be lost in the overly sanctimonious, if not Utopian, ‘means to the end’ debate.
The objective is to give the minorities equity in the democratic process. The offer is sweeter when it comes from majority stakeholders.