Narendra Modi’s conciliatory statement on Indian Muslims has stirred a debate among Uttar Pradesh’s 40 million Muslims, with community leaders agreeing that their lingering distrust of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could be removed if the prime minister walked the talk.
Modi praised the patriotism of Indian Muslims in an interview with CNN last week, saying they could live and die for their country.
The comments have been variously analysed. While some felt it was aimed at broadening his appeal among moderate Hindus and minorities after reverses in a string of by-polls so early on in his term as prime minister, the Congress said the remarks were made to please his American audience ahead of his US visit and did nothing to tamp down Hindu fundamentalists.
But, among the Muslims of Uttar Pradesh, Modi’s words have sparked deep interest over whether they reflected a fundamental shift in the way the prime minister perceived the community and signalled an effort to reach out to it.
A common gripe appeared to refer to Modi’s ability to articulate a moderate position with his party’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and numerous other radical Hindu fringe groups.
“It does seem that in his new job and beset with huge responsibilities Modi is certainly trying to attain acceptability of all sections -- a la Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP’s moderate face,” Prof Mohib-ul-Haque of the political science department of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) told HT.
“But for that to happen, he would have to defy the RSS as well as the fringe elements within the (Sangh) Parivar who have been pushing a divisive agenda,” he said, adding that if Modi followed up on his words it could help Muslims drop their “hostility” towards the BJP.
Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, a prominent Lucknow-based cleric, said though he had read comments questioning the timing of the statement, one could hardly disagree with the prime minister.
“Modiji has said that no Muslim would ever side with Al-Qaeda, a terrorist organisation. Now, why should anyone contest that? It’s a fact. Only a crazy person would choose otherwise,” said Sadiq.
But Modi’s unusual praise for the community also caught many Muslims unawares, highlighting the deep religious fault lines over a man many accuse of turning a blind eye to a communal massacre on his watch as chief minister of Gujarat in 2002.
For Shafiq Ahmad, a Noida-based engineer, Modi’s remarks were unexpected.
“It would take a while before the real import of the message sinks in,” Ahmad said.
“It does appear to be an image-makeover attempt. Nothing wrong with that but for it to succeed, Modi would really have to control rabble rousers in the Parivar who often tinker with communal issues for political gains.”
On its part, the RSS is looking to use Modi’s comments to build bridges with Muslims in Uttar Pradesh.
“We would be popularizing Modi’s statement among the minorities,” said Mairajdhwaj, an RSS pracharak associated with the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, a Hindu body floated to build consensus among the minorities on contentious issues like the Ram temple.
“I think as far as RSS is concerned it has always stood by nationalist Muslims and the PM’s statement simply underlines it.”
Many Muslims appeared to agree with that argument.
“It’s an emotionally satisfying statement, one that would help Muslims understand that BJP or Modi are not going to eat up the minorities,” said Iqbal Ahmad, a prominent surgeon in Haleema Hospital of minority dominated Mau district.
"Before the Lok Sabha polls, Congress continued to play up Modi's failure to stop the 2002 riots in Gujarat. But the Congress too is guilty of Babri demolition.
“In fact, maximum riots took place with Congress in power. With a little tact Modi can actually help Muslims start believing and trusting the BJP." --