The 'secular versus communal' debate's inanity is explicit in the fact that none among those trying their luck with the people are above sectarian politics.
Look at the number of Ms held aloft by claimants to the electorate’s ear: M for Muslims, Mutton export and Muzaffarnagar for influencing another M, the Mandate.
Sonia Gandhi’s appeal to Muslims to prevent the division of secular vote met with howls of protest from the BJP. It said the exhortation amounted to seeking support on the basis of religion.
But Narendra Modi did no different. He derided in one breath Sonia’s pitch for Muslim votes and the rise in mutton export under the UPA regime. The sectarian juxtaposition came in a pro-farmer garb. The argument: meat exports slaughter livestock-dependent village economies.
Let us accept that all politicians chase vote banks: religious, caste-based or vernacular. The objective is the same when secularists attack Modi and the latter delivers sharp rejoinders. On the one hand, Rahul Gandhi is heard accusing the saffron mascot of sowing the poison of communalism; on the other there’s the spectacle of the Muzaffarnagar riots accused being bear-hugged at a Modi rally. Pair the two and the picture is complete.
If Sonia coaxed Muslim clerics to prescribe poll-time choices to the faithful, Modi’s aide Amit Shah was a step ahead. He told Hindu leaders that elections were an opportunity for revenge on those who “protected and compensated” the killers of Jats in Muzaffarnagar.
The Gujarat CM’s development plank wears thin when he mocks vote bank politics. The terror threat from across the border, beheading of soldiers by Pakistani intruders, the biryani meals that never were for Ajmal Kasab, are allusions to a faith perceived as adversarial.
Modi’s AK (Kalashnikov) allegory to brand AK Antony, Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan as Pakistani agents was reminiscent of his near-fictional spin on Sir Creek during the 2012 Gujarat polls. Those elections coincided with Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik’s India visit, which had nothing to do with the Sir Creek dispute. But Modi made it seem as if the PM had gifted-wrapped for Malik to carry home the disputed water strip.
All this has one wondering whether on display now is the Gujarat model of 2014 or 2002? It is, in fact, a blend of both. Presenting hope but not without building fears. The causes of fear are in his opponents’ account; the reasons for hope entirely Modi’s.
Like secular appeals, his campaign is heavy on a sectarian touch. Or else why has the BJP fielded only one Muslim, Shahnawaz Hussain, on a Lok Sabha seat it’s sure of winning?
The aberration speaks volumes about the Muslim stake in Modi’s promise of development.