Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | Why Modi's reaching out to minorities, not just Hindus

BJP did get the Muslim vote in the 2022 UP Assembly elections, as pointed out by Hilal Ahmed in his analysis of the result

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his speech at the BJP’s national executive session in Hyderabad earlier this month, had exhorted party workers to reach out to the backward sections of the minorities, and not confine themselves to the Hindus, as he also asked them to take out “Sneha Yatra”, or friendship rallies. This seems to be a classic disclosure of the truth without intending to do so. Mr Modi has been hailed as the icon of Hinudtva during his chief ministerial tenure in Gujarat, and which was seen as his great strength to claim to be the PM candidate in 2013 in the run-up to the 2104 Lok Sabha elections.

He was seen as a hardliner Hindutva leader in the party, and no one dared to question his credentials on this score. He, therefore, broke the mould on July 3 as he spoke of the need to reach out to the backward sections among the minority communities. He was careful enough to avoid mentioning the words “Muslim” and “Christian”, but then there was no need to do so.

Mr Modi has consistently refused to utter the words “Christian” and “Muslim” in his speeches, whether at public rallies or in party forums.

When the occasion demanded, he did so in passing, when he said that he wanted to see the computer in one hand and the Quran in the other of young Muslims during the 2014 campaign, but that was an exception. And, of course, he did talk about giving land to “qabristan” during the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election campaign. The other gestures continued, such as when the chadar went to the dargah of Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer Sharif from the Prime Minister, and minorities affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi carried out the gesture. There was the rare occasion when he attended an international conference on Sufism in New Delhi during the early days of his first term. The most important thing was the continuance of scholarships and other funds to Muslims and other minorities that the ministry of minority affairs handled.

Mr Modi was very self-conscious that his attitude and gestures towards the Muslims and other religious minorities should not carry a whiff of Congress secularism. He seemed to imply that he and the BJP would deal with the religious minorities on their own terms, making it clear that they are doing so as Hindus and not as believers in secularism.

Most admirers and critics tend to overlook Mr Modi’s “sadbhavna mission” in September-October 2011, where he fasted in Ahmedabad and Jamnagar though he declined to wear a skull cap offered by a Muslim cleric. He said in Ahmedabad then that Gujarat was the first to send humanitarian aid to Kashmir, a reference to the earthquake that had killed hundreds of people.

But in principle, he avoided talking about the religious minorities, and he would not also mention the word Hindu. So, in the July 3 speech in Hyderabad, he broke his own protocol. He mentioned the words Hindu and minorities. The implications are much too clear. He revealed that the BJP is a Hindu party and that the party workers are asked to work for Hindus, and as part of social engineering, work for the backward and marginalised classes in Hindu society. Mr Modi told them that they do not have to confine themselves to Hindu backward and marginalised classes, and they should now look to the marginalised and the backward classes among the minorities as well.

The immediate context of the remark was the BJP’s victory in the recent byelections in Rampur and Azamgarh, two ostensible Muslim-dominant constituencies, in Uttar Pradesh. It is believed that Muslims in these two constituencies had voted for the BJP and facilitated its victory, so it was necessary to reciprocate the gesture by paying attention to the needs of the backward classes among the Muslims in these two constituencies.

It has been evident that the BJP did get the Muslim vote in the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, as pointed out by Hilal Ahmed in his analysis of the result. But Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s attitude and those of other BJP workers in the state has remained one of the mailed fist.

Is this a fallout of suspended party spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s offensive comments on Prophet Muhammad and his personal visit to Abu Dhabi and his meeting with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Mr Modi had stopped in Abu Dhabi on his way back from the G-7 summit in Germany to offer his condolences on the passing away of Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The UAE government also issued an official statement condemning Nupur Sharma’s statement and had emphasised the need for protecting human rights.

Mr Modi is making the necessary amends in his party’s stance because he had maintained a stony silence on the issue so far.

Does it mean that the BJP, a Hindu party, and he as the Hindu leader have done their duty towards the Hindus, and now it is time to reach out to the minorities? But that could spell the end of Mr Modi’s hold over the BJP and the support that the RSS had provided to him all these years, even as Lal Krishna Advani expressed his words of appreciation to Mohammed Ali Jinnah in Karachi in June 2005. Or is it the case that after eight years as Prime Minister, Mr Modi has mellowed and though he made it to the top because of his Hindutva, he is tired of the playing the role of the aggressor?

Many would say the reference to the minorities was a passing remark, one of his empty homilies, and one shouldn’t pay too much attention to it because the BJP remains as aggressive as ever, and its aggression is not directed just towards the Congress and its policy of appeasement of the minorities, but that there is no let-up in the party’s aggression towards Muslims and Christians in general. The party brass knows that its electoral victories are dependent on its anti-Muslim and anti-Christian stance, and even if Mr Modi has shifted his position, the party simply cannot.

Mr Modi’s critics would dismiss this reference to the minorities as one of his deceptive political tactics, and insist that he remains the Hindutva hardliner that he always was.

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