Who will the Muslims vote for? From past experience, we know two things. First, the Muslim votebank is not monolithic, as they don't vote en bloc. Second, when it's election time, all our political parties shamelessly woo them. The Congress did this for five decades and over a period of time lost the support of the Muslims and earned the wrath of the Hindus. Riding on this wave of anger, the BJP damned the Congress for its "appeasement policy" toward the minorities. And yet, today the BJP is guilty of the exact same sin it accused its rival of all these years. Given its earlier vilification of "pseudo-secularism", the BJP's naked appeasement of Muslims in the run-up to this election is galling and hypocritical. If the BJP propaganda is to be believed, the Congress "appeased" Muslims in the past, while the BJP is only "reaching out" to them. What the Congress did in the past was political sin, but what the BJP is doing now is political virtue. The Congress was being cynical, but the BJP is being statesmanlike. Semantics cannot bury the truth and the truth is that the BJP is following in the footsteps of the Congress in pursuing unprincipled, opportunistic politics. Neither is interested in Muslims. Both are hungry for their votes.
The BJP has roped in filmstars, cricketers, beauty contest winners and assorted other celebrities to push its case. Now Muslim politicians, journalists and intellectuals are also clambering onto the BJP bandwagon. In most cases, opportunism rather than conviction appears to have spurred the defection. These power-mongers calculate that they could become Muslim poster boys in the winning BJP armada. It suits both. The poster boys get power and patronage, pelf and posts, while the BJP can bandy them to project a much-needed liberal image. This born-again group vilifies the Congress and glorifies the BJP, when in reality there is very little to differentiate between the two either on their political or economic agenda.
So, led by L.K. Advani and supported by an army of spin doctors and turncoats, the BJP has changed its course from wrath yatra to the rut yatra of "appeasement" that our Muslims are all too familiar with. So, will the Muslims in turn appease the BJP and vote for them, if only to buy peace? The BJP could well be in for a shock. Its downright naive to assume that the Muslims of India will buy BJP propaganda. The fatal flaw of our political parties and leaders is that they believe their own propaganda, whereas time and again, our voters have shown how propaganda doesn't fool them. Indians live on the cutting edge of reality and they know what hurts them because they experience it all the time unlike our politicians who live in their ivory towers or experts who live in their cocoons.
The trouble with the BJP mindset is it does not understand the Muslim psyche. Advani, who claims the key to harmonious relations with Muslims lies in good relations with Pakistan, exemplifies this. Does this mean that if Pakistan intensifies cross-border terrorism, the BJP's relations with Indian Muslims will sour? Does this mean that under the BJP dispensation, the plight of Indian Muslims will always depend on the whims of Musharraf? Advani's analysis is a distortion that stems from viewing Muslims through the BJP prism of prejudice and misunderstanding. The BJP has always suspected the loyalties of Indian Muslims, believing their own propaganda that they celebrate August 14 or Pakistani victory in cricket matches. Indian Muslims are loyal to their religion. But they don't care two hoots for Pakistan or Musharraf. As a sobbing Muslim villager in Kosi in Uttar Pradesh told me, "How can the BJP suspect my patriotism? India is my motherland. The dust of my ancestors lies here."
To win Muslim support, there has to be a fundamental change in the BJP's attitude. Words are cheap and propaganda cheaper. Muslims are unlikely to be swayed by the torrent of smooth talk from the BJP bandwagon. What they want is action. It's not only the Muslims of Gujarat who want action; it's the entire Muslim community of the nation. And they are unlikely to support the BJP unless meaningful action is taken in Gujarat to assure justice for the victims. All the bulwarks of Indian democracy—the Supreme Court, the nhrc, media and citizen groups—have exposed how Narendra Modi's administration violated the Constitution and the spirit of justice. Even after the Supreme Court indicted the Modi administration as "modern-day Neros", there was no action from the BJP camp. If the party high command had asked Modi to step down following the Supreme Court indictment, Muslims would have been willing to believe that the BJP is trying to make a new start. But forget action, there wasn't even remorse. There was neither an apology nor even a mild rebuke for Modi's unpardonable subversion of justice that compelled the Supreme Court to order the reinvestigation and retrial of the scandalous Best Bakery case in Maharashtra. In such circumstances, to assume the BJP's wooing or their freshly minted "liberal" credentials sways Muslims is to insult the latter's intelligence.
If the Supreme Court were contesting this election, Muslims would break all convention and vote en bloc for it. That represents the finest aspect of Indian democracy: that not all doors of justice are slammed shut for the weak, the helpless and the minorities of every spectrum. But when it comes to less fine aspects of Indian democracy—such as our political parties—Muslims have to choose. They may vote for the Congress, the Samajwadi Party or the dmk, but they are unlikely to vote for the BJP. Not as long as Modi stays its mascot. Apart from 'India Shining' being unmarketable in villages, Muslim rejection would explain opinion polls predicting the BJP alliance's reducing victory margins.
(The author can be reached at email@example.com.)
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