Modi broke caste blocs, can he blur the communal divide?
Hindustan Times 05 Jun 2019
In the first major speech of his second term as prime minister, Narendra Modi’s message to the minorities was loud and clear: That his administration will not pander to religious whims but will not discriminate in the implementation of welfare schemes.
Even if there is no discrimination in the execution of flagship schemes, large sections of Muslims feel alienated under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Many from the minority community felt they were getting left out as the Hindu vote consolidated. Moreover, mob violence triggered an insecurity in them as reflected in the statement of a Muslim man: “I dread travelling by train or carrying kebabs-roti, even if made of mutton.”
But the message delivered in the speech at the BJP parliamentary board meeting last week – alongside the new slogan, “sab ka saath, sab ka vikaas and now sabka vishwas,’ -- has been welcomed by several prominent Muslim organisations, including the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, All India Mashaikh Board and All India Muslim Personal Law Board.
This – coupled with the focus on education and employment by younger people in the community – has raised the possibility that some sections are ready to move beyond the contentious issue of Ram temple-Babri Masjid in Ayodhya that has soured communal relations in the last three decades.
The demolition of the disputed structure in December 1992 by a frenzied mob had aggravated the community’s old anathema for the BJP as, in every election since 1990, they voted to defeat the party. But this also triggered counter polarisation among the Hindus.
After the unprecedented victory of the BJP in two successive general elections, 2014 and 2019, a section of Muslims have realised that they have lost their veto power.Now many of them are reconciling to the fact that the construction of Ram temple will begin soon. But they want a legal sanction or amicable settlement. It is possible that a message, if not an appeal, by the PM may beget support from many Muslims and pave the way for the construction of the Ram temple in social and communal harmony.
Similarly, Muslims know the days of ‘Iftars’ are over. There was a time when political parties that formed the secular bloc used to vie with each other in hosting lavish Iftar dinners across the country. This time, there have hardly been any such big gatherings.
Modi has made such appeals for an inclusive India in the past. In an emotional speech soon after his 2014 victory, he had said he wanted to see the Muslim youth with Quran in one hand and a laptop in another.
Opposition parties are currently grappling with the new Hindu assertiveness that demolished caste vote blocs, especially in the two crucial northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Will Modi now blur the communal divide?
As the most popular political leader in recent years, he can easily do that. After all, the BJP won the landslide victory primarily because of his popularity. As party president, Amit Shah ensured a conversion of his popularity into votes.
But to blur the communal divide, the Prime Minister will have to rein in the saffron brigade and change the political narrative from Hindu assertion to social inclusion and development. His one word can silence the motormouths in his party.
Modi’s speech talking about inclusivity may also hold bad news for opposition parties. The 2019 election disturbed their caste calculus, and now they fear losing a section of Muslims.
Many opposition parties grew in political strength on their slogan of secularism. For instance both the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh and Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar expanded on the plank of secularism when the Ram temple movement was at its height in the 1990s.
The decline of the Congress, coupled with Muslims’ determination to defeat the BJP, raised their political competitiveness in the electoral sphere. If the Prime Minister succeeds in blurring the communal divide, he will further hurt the opposition parties as he will dent their Muslim vote bank.
The lack of trust between the BJP and the Muslims can be addressed by adopting two methods: one is by engaging with them, and the other by giving them political participation. Many Muslims raised the issue of the BJP’s policy of giving very few or no tickets to Muslim candidates as a deterrent for their support to the saffron party.
If the PM succeeds in blurring the communal divide, it will boost the prospects of the BJP deriving a windfall of political dividends in 2024 and achieve the party’sambitious target of 333 Lok Sabha seats.
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