The Bharatiya Janata Party will do anything it needs to win elections, we are often told.
Yet, there is one thing the BJP does not do, particularly the BJP of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. It rarely ever gives tickets to Muslims. That costs it a few Muslim-dominated seats. If the BJP’s single-minded purpose was to win seats, it would happily give tickets to Muslims.
By giving some representation to Muslims in their ticket distribution, the BJP could, perhaps, have won state elections in Rajasthan, Delhi, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh. You can find Muslims who are all too willing to engage with the BJP at a time when the party has a monopoly over winning elections. Like most communities, Muslims don’t mind being on the right side of power.
It is the BJP that does not respond to Muslim aspirations, because there are things the BJP values more than winning elections, such as ideology. In its post-2014 phase, it has been clearer than ever that the BJP’s ideological purpose is to marginalise Muslims to the point of making them invisible. The Muslim must shut up and stay at home. The Muslim must not be MLA, MP, minister or leader. Muslims must not speak or be heard.
What was such a big deal about blocking traffic on a road or two over the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests that it caused riots in Delhi? Was the blocking of a road in east Delhi that nobody was really noticing that big a problem for commuters? That is how unacceptable the Muslim political voice is to the BJP.
The BJP doesn’t want Owaisi
It is facetious to say that the BJP wants Asaduddin Owaisi around in politics. The BJP doesn’t want the Muslim beard or cap. My understanding is that it doesn’t want a Muslim standing up in Parliament — because why should Muslims be present in Parliament of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ in the first place?
For the first time in the history of Bihar politics, the treasury benches do not have a single Muslim MLA. The BJP did not give a single ticket to a community that is nearly 17 per cent of Bihar’s population — every sixth citizen. It is the only party that seeks to actively exclude an entire community from the corridors of power. Do you think they enjoy the sight of five MLAs from the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) in the assembly?
The five seats won by the AIMIM have led to the usual hand-wringing about how Owaisi’s rise is just what the BJP wants. The BJP wants Muslims to vote for a Muslim party just as it wants Hindus to vote for a Hindu party. This is a misreading of the BJP’s agenda. The BJP-RSS have gone out of their way to make secular parties apologetic about seeking Muslim votes. This has been done to silence the voice of the Muslim community in Indian politics and public life. If Indian Muslims now get a voice through Owaisi and the AIMIM, no, that doesn’t serve the BJP’s purpose.
The BJP would rather that Muslims don’t have a vote at all— which is what might be eventually achieved by the ‘chronology’ laws of NPR-NRC-CAA, which could strip many Muslims of citizenship. One look at the attempts in Assam to repeat the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise again and again, flogging a dead horse until it comes alive, shows you how the BJP wants to reduce the number of Muslim voters from the electoral rolls. That’s how the absence of Muslim representation from not just the treasury benches but even the opposition benches might be achieved.
The BJP doesn’t need Owaisi
The BJP does not need Owaisi for polarisation because the BJP has anyway maxed the polarisation game. All that fake news against Muslims — like the Palghar lynching of sadhus immediately blamed on Muslims even though there was no communal angle whatsoever — doesn’t need Owaisi. If anything, Owaisi’s nuanced assertion of constitutional nationalism comes in the way of the BJP leaders and supporters’ efforts to portray the Muslim as the Hindu-hating, Pakistan-loving, cow-slaughtering devil.
The larger misreading here is that the Hindu voter votes only on account of religion. If religious identity was enough, Prime Minister Modi wouldn’t need to sell ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ or whatever the latest hollow slogan is. The sort of voter who would vote for the BJP because they are repulsed by Owaisi’s face will anyway vote for the BJP. Owaisi’s presence or absence isn’t going to affect the Hindutva-minded voter’s affinity for the BJP.
Who needs Owaisi?
If anyone needs Owaisi, it is the Indian Muslim. The Indian Muslims who are being deprived of a voice in public discourse because the ‘secular’ parties who claim to uphold their interests have also gone silent. In fact, they’re going beyond silence to active collaboration with Hindu fundamentalism, if you see the recent actions of Priyanka Gandhi, Kamal Nath, and Arvind Kejriwal.
At such a time, Owaisi is a force for good in Indian politics. He’s not going to become chief minister or prime minister and he knows it. What he will achieve is the creation of some competition for Muslim votes, which will force the ‘secular’ parties to acknowledge that, yes, India has Muslims and they must be treated with the same dignity by all political parties as any other voter.
The author is contributing editor to ThePrint. Views are personal.