There is a stark difference between what PM Modi’s approach used to be, and what seems to be the BJP’s current approach.
I have been very closely associated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for nearly 13 years now. However, my association was always limited to PM Narendra Modi and was never with the BJP – in fact, I have never even visited the party’s office in Gujarat or in Delhi.
But I got acquainted with the top BJP leadership when they graced my organisation’s event ‘Taleem-o- Tarbiyat’ as chief guests. These included Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and Piyush Goyal and many more. Many BJP-ruled states have agreed to give land to Maulana Azad National Urdu University for building campus – which will ultimately benefit Muslims.
My experience over the years has assured me that PM Narendra Modi is neither communal nor anti-Muslim; and I will continue to believe this, unapologetically. I also maintain that in the past 4.5 years, the BJP hasn’t done anything overtly and covertly anti-Muslim. Any good or bad decision of this government has done equal damage or good to all the communities, rather indiscriminately. And the introduction of the triple talaq bill – which happened to be a much more watered down version of what was initially being proposed – is also commendable.
That said, there are some things that disturb me. The unbridled fringe elements of the BJP are going completely unchecked today. The fringe voices who have taken centre stage were not nearly as emboldened in 2014 as they are today. Leaders like Giriraj Singh, Sadhvi Pragya, Uma Bharti, Sakshi Maharaj were not as vociferous in their vicious speeches as they are today. It is these unfettered motormouths who will drown the ship of the BJP, unless they are reined in by PM Narendra Modi immediately.
The lost plot
Last year, I even told a very senior BJP leader that I struggle to understand the BJP’s business model. If the BJP government was anything like an astute businessman, the party’s strategy would have been remarkably different. Things like religion never feature in a baniya businessman’s approach because he or she knows that money has no colour. Similarly, vote has no colour either.
When I lived in Britain, stores like Walmart and Tesco didn’t keep Halal meat earlier; but over time, they realised that the Muslim community, however small in number, is also a target audience. Thus, they expanded their reach and started keeping Halal meat. That is why I say business knows no religion.
But today, the BJP is ignoring the Muslims who make up nearly 15 per cent of India’s population. This will only disadvantage the BJP. There is a stark difference between what PM Modi’s approach used to be, and what seems to be the BJP’s current approach. And I think it would be fair to say that the BJP has lost the plot now. It has lost the narrative.
PM Modi needs to take charge of the situation. Otherwise the positive narrative built in the run-up to the 2014 elections and during the previous 12 years of Gujarat governance, where Muslims were equal beneficiaries of his policies, will rapidly slip out of his hands. He needs to realise that this isn’t what the people voted for in 2014.
Rahul Gandhi’s reclamation of his Hinduism has also done great damage to the BJP’s politics. Through his frequent temple visits, he has successfully managed to defeat the perception that the Congress is a Muslim-appeasing party. This clubbed with the hateful rhetoric of some of the BJP members can prove to be deadly for the BJP.
The minority silence
The Muslim community has, rather commendably, stopped reacting to all the provocations that are thrown its way. We must understand that the words of certain politicians can be very hurtful, but they are only uttered in order to provoke the Muslim community so that they react. When they don’t react, the BJP politicians cannot further this kind of politics.
Muslims are a completely neutral entity today. Some years ago, many Muslims would back any candidate who had the potential to beat the BJP. But In 2014, Muslims had no incentive to either beat Modi, or to support the Congress. In fact, the BJP wouldn’t have been able to secure 282 seats in the elections if they didn’t have any support from the Muslims. Many Muslims said they have given everybody a chance, why not give one to Narendra Modi too.
Today, it is not PM Modi or his government that is pushing Muslims away. It is these motormouths and their remarks that are responsible.
The Bulandshahr ijetma saw a number of provocations and disturbances – but not a single Muslim even complained to the police. This is laudable. Ever since the Muslim community ceased to react to their words, the fringe elements of the BJP have lost their game.
My message to the Muslim community is this: “Don’t react. If they say they want to build Ram temple at Ayodhya, let them do it. ‘We should say, you want to build it, go ahead. But don’t fire from our shoulders. Don’t draw us into your vortex of Ram Mandir politics or Uniform Civil Code or Triple Talaq.’ We, as a community, must come out of the agitational mode.”
There is legal recourse available in this country, we are not living in a banana republic. A country cannot be run on ordinances. Even ordinances will have to face legal scrutiny. We have one of the finest judiciary in the country. For every threat we face, there is legal recourse.
And Muslims must remain focused on education, health and entrepreneurship. These are the parameters on which we should judge any government, including the BJP.
(As told to journalist Fatima Aslam Khan.)
Zafar Sareshwala is the former chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University.