Dilemma In Atal Times
By Zafar Agha
18 April, 2004
is surely a difficult election for Indian Muslims. They are confused
and bewildered, especially after the appeal from no less a person than
prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to vote for the BJP a party
that has never hidden its prejudice towards the minorities. On top of
this, Vajpayee's image-makers are recasting the BJP as another liberal
party. The new-look BJP brings out a vision document that deliberately
eschews the earlier hardline on issues like the Muslim personal law
and the special constitutional status granted to Jammu and Kashmir.
On the other hand, the NDA adopts the Ram temple construction in its
agenda. Not surprisingly, the minorities find it difficult to fathom
the real face of the party.
At the other end of the spectrum is the so-called secular camp. But,
frankly, they are hardly an option for Muslims. The Congress's attitude
towards Muslims has been and is still, "vote us but don't expect
anything from us". Party strategists will tout the 'no-option'
theory in the belief that whatever their grievances, Muslims ultimately
have no alternative except to vote the 'secular' Congress. The party
that actively pushed soft Hindutva in Gujarat to please the Hindu votebank
still suffers from the Hindu backlash syndrome and is unwilling even
to have Sonia Gandhi share a platform with Muslims. The regional parties
are hardly any different for Muslims. If Muslims vote for a Naidu, for
instance, in Andhra Pradesh or a Mayawati or Mulayam Singh in UP, they,
in effect, may be voting the BJP because there is no guarantee that
their parties may not prop up the BJP in Delhi. It is in this state
of confusion that Vajpayee has asked Muslims to "make a new beginning"
with the BJP.
It is a tempting
offer. Why shouldn't Muslims take the bait and try the BJP at least
once? After all, Muslims have little problem with Vajpayee himself.
Many would like to believe that he means what he says. And yet, for
most Muslims, the BJP remains anathema; it is a party that preaches
and propagates the supremacy of its own faith over the faiths and cultures
of others in this country. It is a party that is still committed to
the Ayodhya agenda of the Sangh Parivar. It is the same party that mobilised
crowds leading to the demolition of the Babri masjid in 1992. These
are all matters of serious concern for Indian Muslims.
Ironically, the prime minister extended his hand of friendship but failed
to clear the misgivings among Muslims about his party and his Parivar.
Muslims would like to know who will eventually control the BJP in a
situation like Gujarat: Will it be Vajpayee or the fanatic elements
from the Parivar that engineer riots? The community still has grave
doubts about the parivar, about the Singhals and Togadias. It was not
too long ago that Muslims were taunted as Babar ki santaan from their
platform. Parveen Togadia only very recently warned of several more
Gujarats. Muslims are used to communal riots. Even so they cannot easily
forget the Gujarat pogrom executed under Modi's supervision. Interestingly,
there was no word of caution against men like Modi in the prime minister's
direct address to Muslims in the Capital recently.
The prime minister had personally chided Modi at the peak of the Gujarat
riots, reminding him about his raj dharma. It is another matter that
Modi's backers in the Parivar gave him an entirely different lesson
on raj dharma, one that targets the minorities. Today, thanks to the
Supreme Court's landmark judgment, there is at long last a sense of
justice having been done, at least partially, in Gujarat. Under Modi's
raj dharma, though, different yardsticks were set, one for the Godhra
victims and another for the post-Godhra victims. Muslims would like
to know what stopped the BJP from dismissing the Modi government. The
BJP expects Muslims to put Gujarat behind and vote for the BJP. They
expect them to vote for the BJP without anyone caring to say sorry to
the women who were raped in Gujarat only because they were Muslims.
The BJP is trying
to entice Muslims by showing its liberal face at the time of elections.
But this may well be a tactic just to earn Muslims votes. With the temple
now on the NDA agenda, there is no guarantee that the Constitution will
not be later amended to implement the hardcore BJP agenda. Vajpayee
may be a gentleman and a liberal. But what about the Modis, the Togadias,
and the Swayamsewaks who call the shots on the ground? After all, Uma
Bharti and Vasundhara Raje have already exposed the hollowness of the
development agenda adopted in the assembly elections. Indeed, in both
Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, it is Hindutva that is the preferred raj
dharma. The prime minister has extended his hand of friendship to Muslims.
But the BJP still seems in two minds when it comes to embracing Muslims
with an open heart. Why else is it unwilling to shed its contentious
ideology of Hindutva that the prime minister wants to package as Bhartiyata?
One small gesture at the ideological level can convince the entire Muslim
community about the BJP's change of heart and may even make Muslims
vote for the BJP in a big way. Else, the Muslims may settle for the
'lesser evil' logic and vote for the Congress and regional players even