Seeing National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s pictures at the Tablighi Jamaat Markaz meeting, a question comes to mind: Can someone tell Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi that it’s his job to represent India’s minorities in the BJP-led government instead of representing the BJP before the minorities? If an award was being given for the most incompetent cabinet minister in the Narendra Modi government, no one would come close to India’s minister for minority affairs.
Except for a name that shows he’s from a minority community, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi brings nothing to inspire confidence that he is concerned about the minorities or their ‘affairs’. If you thought the President of India was a rubber stamp and a ‘symbolic’ office of power, you should look at Naqvi, who can be best described as a “majority appeaser.”
Not minorities’ but BJP’s minister
Tablighi Jamaat leader Maulana Saad had to be convinced by NSA Ajit Doval to vacate the Markaz and have everyone tested for Covid-19. It only shows that Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi holds no influence or respect within his own community. This is in stark contrast to leaders like Manjinder Singh Sirsa. The Akali Dal leader was not only upfront in securing help for the 200-odd people stuck in Delhi’s Majnu Ka Tila gurdwara for four days but was also unapologetic in representing the Sikh community when he asked people not to worry because the situation was under control.
What did India’s minorities affairs minister Naqvi do in a similar situation? He lashed out at the Tablighi Jamaat members, who too were stuck for several days at Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz, for committing what he called a “Talibani crime”. The Markaz organisers were definitely guilty of criminal negligence, just the way Kanika Kapoor was. But to call their ignorance a “Talibani crime” puts a stereotypical image into people’s mind — of a Taliban leader wearing kurta-pyjama and a jacket loaded with bombs, holding a Kalashnikov.
The image Naqvi created is very dangerous and one that would stay in the minds of those who are constantly bombarded with anti-Muslim, hateful content by India’s TV news channels and on social media. This is an act of stoking communal disharmony by a minister who is meant to be the guardian of minority affairs.
Missing Muslim leadership in BJP
The BJP is most criticised for its biased treatment of India’s minorities, mainly because the bedrock of its ideology is Hindutva. So when the party opposes this accusation and claims to be against what it calls “appeasement of minorities”, Muslims like me try to take a stock of how its Muslim leaders fare. And what do we find? A Modi-pleasing group, which is so dormant it would put a doormat to shame.
The representation of Muslims in the BJP is close to non-existent. Surely, the Muslim community of India must be doing something really wrong to not win over the BJP after all these years.
About two years ago, a student named Hanan Hamid in Kerala was hailed for selling fish to support her education. Later, she was cyber bullied with many calling her a fraud. Naqvi, who is often heard parroting data on “Muslim women” receiving Modi’s help to start businesses or complete their education, played the invisible man here. Who came to Hannan’s rescue? The BJP’s lone Christian minister, Alphons Kannanthanam.
More harmful than helpful
So what makes Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi the BJP’s favourite candidate for the Ministry of Minority Affairs? It’s Naqvi’s ability to do what a Giriraj Singh or a Kapil Mishra does — but with a smirk on his face and Allah on his lips. He criticises Muslims unabashedly, and rarely speaks up for them. He doesn’t stand up for their causes, and whitewashes crimes of mob lynching shot on camera by the perpetrators with a brazen retort, “it didn’t happen”. And he does it in Parliament.
During the Shaheen Bagh protest, when brave women sat against the CAA-NPR-NRC for nearly 100 days, Naqvi did the needful by visiting them. The women only asked the minister who claims to represent them to assure that there would be no National Register of Citizens (NRC), which would have convinced them that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) will not be used against Indian Muslims. But Naqvi couldn’t even do that. He instead did a patronising act by telling the women that while they understand their right to protest, they don’t understand their duties as Indians. Of course, all Muslims stood with bated breaths to note down those duties but he didn’t say what those were. One can only assume it must be to toe the Modi government’s line.
But that patronising show of ‘solidarity’ ended as fast as it had come. Naqvi quickly accused the Shaheen Bagh protesters of kidnapping a road (“sadak ka apharan”) and suggested other venues like Ram Lila Maidan and Jantar Mantar.
Then there were the Delhi riots. Naqvi was of the opinion that the riots were “a result of confusion created by opposition parties about the central government’s policies”. When asked about Kapil Mishra’s hate speech, he said he didn’t want to “take names”. How peaceful of him. But he was very prompt to give his opinion on Rahul Gandhi trying to visit riot-hit areas, saying his party was “Provoking Political Tourism”. Naqvi himself didn’t visit any of the riot-hit areas, perhaps because he didn’t want to come across as ‘insensitive’.
Is it Naqvi or BJP?
Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has truly nailed the job of being the minority affairs minister under the BJP — list out the failings of the Muslim community for his party as and when the occasion demands, and stay blind to people’s suffering or genuine calls for help. He enjoys no credibility among India’s Muslim community.
So is the BJP simply inept at choosing someone competent to represent Muslims and other minorities at a time when everything, even a public health crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, boils down to their religion?
Why couldn’t the BJP government consider Zafar Sareshwala, a close aide of Modi, especially during the 2014 Lok Sabha election, for the job of minority affairs minister Sareshwala, the former vice-chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University, is not only close to most of the Muslim clergy but was also pivotal in roping in a Muslim superstar to campaign for Modi. Or how about Dr Syed Zafar Islam? Zafar Islam is by far one of the finest spokespersons of the BJP who takes the help of logic more than bigotry, unlike others in the party? Or for that matter someone like Hardeep Singh Puri? The BJP could even pick someone from the Anglo-Indian community considering it has now removed provisions for their nomination to the Lok Sabha and some state assemblies.
If only the BJP could bring a credible person to head the ministry that handles issues related to India’s minorities, the communities could actually start having a conversation with the party. Until then, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi will continue to remain the majority appeasing and minority bashing minister who will keep India’s minorities doubtful of the BJP’s intentions.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.