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Muslim Dilemma In Atal Times

By Zafar Agha

Times Of India
18 April, 2004

Election-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 in Election-2004.