Dial M for...?
One would think by the jostling going on between political parties for the minority vote that India’s Muslim electorate is confused with too much choice in this general election. If it isn’t the usual suspects alone who are wooing them, there is the ‘unusual’ business of the BJP — traditionally seen as a party ideologically moored to anti-Muslim sentiments — joining the fray with gusto. A day after party president M. Venkaiah Naidu appealed to Muslims in Nagpur to give the BJP “an opportunity”, the prime minister reached out to the community at Kishanganj — the only Muslim-majority constituency outside Kashmir — lamenting the communal riots in Gujarat and stating that “Hindus and Muslims should not see each other with mistrust”. Coming from a party which moulded the notion of Hindutva into a political tool and, till the other day, maintained that if Muslims didn’t need the BJP, the BJP didn’t need Muslim votes either, this sudden change of heart seems too election-friendly to be true.
It could actually mean a change of tactics. Apart from fighting for numbers — at a time when thinnest of slices could make a difference between a comfortable victory and a not-so-comfortable one — the BJP winning over Muslims could send out a signal to those who demographically matter the most in Election 2004: the Hindus. The pro-mandir lobby of the party has got stuck in a trough for some time now, and it’s up to the BJP to convince liberal India — with its Hindu majority — that this is not a party with fangs, noted for its attacks against minorities.
At the end of the day, though, what matters is not so much the motive behind a gesture, but the gesture itself. If this recent turn of the BJP signals a new image in which Muslims are as welcome as any other section of the Indian electorate, it can only be for the best. The Muslim community cannot be treated as one vote block — as the Congress has learnt over the last few years, and as the Samajwadi Party, in an effort to capture that space, learnt this week the hard way when it went overboard with a campaign ad that ‘went too far’. For any political party to capture the central ground effectively, minority politics — as well as majority politics — must be stowed away in the attic. And if the BJP is serious about reaching out to the minorities, it will have to follow up its pre-election gesture-politik with some real post-poll actions.