Modi’s message: Will it work?
Shift in Muslim vote inevitable
By GVL Narasimha Rao
Narendra Modi’s Sadbhavana Mission is an attempt by the Gujarat Chief Minister to make Muslims equal partners in the process of development rather than treat them differently as vote banks. The message from the three-day fast by Narendra Modi is loud and clear. Muslims are an integral part of the state’s populace and they would neither be singled out for special treatment nor discriminated against.
The results of such non-discriminating governance paradigm are already showing. The human development and economic well being indicators show that Muslims in Gujarat are a much better lot than their counterparts elsewhere in the country, notably in states ruled by pseudo-secular parties.
Hitherto, Muslims were taken in by the bogus promises of the Congress and other pseudo-secular parties. The Congress party and other ‘secular’ parties have always benefited immensely by demonising the BJP and its leaders among Muslims and developing the Muslim community as a vote bank. What they got in return was a raw deal from parties that secured their support. The condition of Muslims is the worst in states like West Bengal where the Muslims overwhelmingly supported the Left regime for decades.
With his Sadbahavana Mission, Narendra Modi has begun a process of reconciliation with the minority community not by appeasement but by creating awareness and arousing aspirations for better development. Muslims are responding to Narendra Modi’s call because he is speaking with conviction and from a position of strength.
Nationwide, Narendra Modi is perceived to be an icon of development, a role model for efficient governance and a symbol of honest governance – virtues that are extremely rare to find in politics today. For the same reasons, Narendra Modi has been rated as the best Chief Minister in the country by India Today’s “Mood of the Nation” surveys year after year.
Muslims are also experiencing the same level of development as those belonging to other religions. In the last year’s local body polls in Gujarat, more than 120 corporators elected on BJP ticket were from the Muslim community. The tremendous response from the Muslim community to the Sadbhavana fast has rattled the Congress party so much that it has begun to organise campaigns in all districts of Gujarat to woo the minority voters.
If Narendra Modi’s efforts pay off in next year’s assembly elections in Gujarat, he may be able to replicate elsewhere in the country. In that event, proving its critics wrong, the BJP may be in a position to dent the Muslim vote bank outside Gujarat as well.
Had Muslims been vehemently opposed to Narendra Modi in Gujarat and unwilling to support his non-appeasement policy, the Congress party would have never felt threatened and organised campaigns to woo minorities. That Muslims would heavily oppose Narendra Modi in elections, if he is given a national role is the most aggressively circulated myth by the opposition parties in the country.
The reality is that the Muslims have always voted vehemently against the BJP in national elections in 1996, 1998 and 1999 even when a moderate Atal Behari Vajpayee was projected as Prime Minister. Yet, the BJP emerged as the single largest party in all these elections and grew from strength to strength despite stiff resistance from the Muslims. What I am saying here about the Muslim consolidation against the BJP is based on evidence and not a hypothetical analysis.
The same BJP which was not favoured by the Muslims attracted allies in 1998 and 1999 parliamentary elections despite the Muslim community’s fears and opposition to its ascension to power at the Centre. Admittedly, the allies needed the BJP because it had a popular leader in Vajpayee who could sway general masses. Muslims were also not opposed to Vajpayee as a leader and respected him, but they never supported the BJP in any significant measure in any election held under Vajpayee’s leadership.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had once told a media acquaintance in a personal conversation, ”Who wants the BJP to get the Muslim votes for us? We want the BJP to win Hindu votes for us.” For potential allies of the BJP, electoral success is all that matters and it does not matter whether the votes come from Hindus or Muslims.
The BJP’s success in expanding the NDA would depend on the appeal and popularity of the BJP and its leadership. No party does anybody a favour in politics. Therefore, the BJP need not bend over backwards to appease any potential allies. Parties join the alliances for their own political success. Potential allies would like to deal with a party and a leader with stature, nationwide appeal, authority and an ability to strike deals.
With the BJP on a bounce, a number of parties are likely to sign up with the NDA. The most likely allies would include the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Chautala led INLD, Ajit Singh led RLD, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) etc. Alliances with regional parties like Telugu Desam Party, YSR Congress and Trinamul Congress also cannot be ruled out.
The future augurs well for the BJP and its return to power is being widely speculated. The BJP neither needs to dilute its ideology nor be apologetic about its non-appeasement policy for Muslims. The BJP is a national party with much strength and should not follow the minority agenda set by some regional allies for their own selfish considerations. Parties are known for their core beliefs and principles and they should never be compromised at the altar of short term political success.