In the 2004 Lok Sabha polls when some Muslims formed the Atal Fan Club in Lucknow to campaign for charismatic BJP veteran and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who contested from the state capital, the community reacted angrily to the move.
The 2002 Gujarat riots, after the Babri demolition of 1992, had taken place by then and minority community leaders branded those behind the move as traitors.
BJP governments were at the helm of affairs in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat when these incidents took place and then minority community took them as proof of the saffron brigade’s anti-Muslim attitude.
Read: Ready to apologise for 'mistake', BJP tells Muslims
Between then and recently, when BJP chief Rajnath Singh, who like Vajpayee is considered a moderate and hails from UP, which has a Muslim population of 18.5%, offered to apologise publicly for “past mistakes”, Muslims were uniformly anti-BJP.
Will Rajnath’s apology actually help the BJP electorally? The community’s reactions are mixed. “If anything, it may even anger hardcore Hindu voters. Moreover, why is Rajnath apologising on Modi’s behalf? It’s Modi who should offer to do that,” said Dr Aziz Ahmed, a prominent Gorakhpur-based physician.
Watch: We will seek forgiveness: Rajnath on 2002 Gujarat riots
N Jamal Ansari, director of the Centre of Studies on Muslim Politics, which comprises several serving and retired Aligarh Muslim University professors, said, “That Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, such a darling of the minorities so far, was unable to visit AMU following protests against the SP government’s handling of the Muzaffarnagar riots, indicates there is significant churning within the community.”
Athar Siddiqui, Lucknow-based Director of Centre for Objective Research and Development, said: “Rajnath’s apology is timely and worth welcoming. The BJP is a reality and Muslims need to accept it. The apology would definitely neutralise compulsive Muslim opposition to the BJP.”
Opinions such as Siddiqui’s are what the BJP and RSS hope to capitalise on. Driven by a desire to showcase an “inclusive agenda” in case of a post-poll scenario in which allies are to be added to the NDA fold, the BJP and RSS are putting contentious issues on the backburner.
Modi has stayed clear of any reference to temple issues, even talked of building toilets first and temples later, a remark that put him at odds with a section of the BJP. He followed it up with a blog posted in December saying he was “shaken to the core’ during the 2002 riots in his state. The RSS is also actively helping the BJP expand its appeal politically.
Read: ‘Modi wave’ may just push Modi out of UP
Through outfits like the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, which are backed by the RSS, top Sangh leaders like former RSS chief KC Sudarshan had even visited Muslim clerics in UP to convince them that the RSS-BJP weren’t against Muslims. That was a few years ago.
Now, the BJP under Rajnath Singh seems to have adopted the RSS line. Busy preparing a Vision Document for Muslims, the party plans to deploy its minority wings in UP and Bihar to reach out to the community with a promise of taraqqi (development), taalim (education) and tahaffuz (security). It also plans to project what a senior party leader described as “the Vajpayee days” at the Centre and “prosperity of Muslims in Modi-ruled Gujarat” to convince the community that they won’t be harmed.
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