The BJP’s successful methods of winning the elections have often been its ability to achieve anti-Muslim polarisation. No one argues here that these time-tested formula have been abandoned, yet the saffron party has undertaken several steps to attract the minority community. Ahead of the General Elections 2024, the BJP has sped up its efforts to woo Muslim voters.
The major reason for this is the compulsion of Indian democracy. The BJP and its parental body the RSS understand the concrete reality that the Muslim community is not only “a minority” but also the second-largest community in the country. The Muslim population in India is estimated at 20 crores, three times more than the British population that ruled over the world for centuries.
The BJP and the RSS are pragmatic organisations. They do not mind taking a few steps back from their ideology if it suits their interests. While they do want to keep their hardcore supporters pleased with their anti-Muslim agendas, at the same time they have launched vigorous campaigns to make inroads among the Muslim voters.
However, the saffron outfits are fully aware of the fact that making inroads into Muslims is not easy. The reason is simple: how could the politics of anti-Muslim polarisation sit together with the campaigns to win the sympathy of Muslim voters? How could the acts of insulting a marginalised community and rubbing salt into their wounds go along with a kind gesture of reaching out to the community? The BJP and the RSS are not ignorant of these structural contradictions.
That is why the saffron outfits are using multiple strategies. They are sometimes contradictory to Hindutva ideology, yet the saffron forces are ready to make a compromise. Projecting Atal Bihar Vajpayee as the “liberal” face of the hardcore RSS and his Muslim outreach programme are an example of this.
Traditionally, Muslims have supported secular and social justice parties and voted against communal forces. But the saffron outfits are not disheartened by these historical realities. The BJP and the RSS have received feedback that they are losing ground. The saffron parties are desperate to compensate for the loss by bringing Muslims to their fold.
Note that wooing Muslims is not the only way the BJP is trying to recover lost ground. But certainly, it is one of the important strategies. The saffron outfits are desperate not to lose power at any cost.
Electoral democracy is a game of numbers. The Muslim voters influence dozens of parliamentary constituencies. In many areas, their population is over 20 per cent. As the electoral competition is getting tough, every vote counts. The think tank(s) within the BJP and the RSS, therefore, have decided to manage Muslim voters effectively.
The RSS and the BJP’s primary target is to win Muslim support. But they know very well that the community is unlikely to give support overwhelmingly because of their ideology. Thus, the saffron forces are trying to at least bring to their folds a small section of the Muslim elite. The upward sections of the Muslim community have often been hungry for power and position. For them, fulfilling their self-interest is more important than the community’s interests. They have always been quick to adapt to the changing situation.
A good number of businessmen, religious leaders, journalists and university professors have already become the BJP and RSS supporters. Sometimes they support the saffron outfits openly and sometimes covertly. As a result, colleges, universities and cultural bodies where Muslims are in good numbers, are fast turning into the saffron hang-out.
But the BJP and the RSS are careful not to give space to the genuine leaders of the Muslim community. The saffron organisations are trying to further marginalise the community by upgrading the status of a small section of spineless elites.
The BJP and the RSS are aware of the fact that the alienation of Muslims has become so unsurmountable that the incorporation of a section of saffron-donning Muslim elites cannot address it. As a next level of strategy, the saffron forces are busy creating confusion among Muslims. Attempts are being made to spread the propaganda that secular parties should alone be blamed for the backwardness of the Muslim community.
By solely blaming the secular parties, the saffron parties are trying to divide Muslim votes and make them less effective. Earlier, the BJP supported dummy Muslim candidates during the elections to further facilitate the division of Muslim votes and such a strategy would continue.
The propaganda machine of the RSS and the BJP have become more active. Half-truths and lies are being spread among Muslims. The target is either to get their support for the saffron party or ensure that they become more alienated from secular parties.
The Pasmanda debate has been appropriated by the Hindutva forces. It is being used to widen fissures among Muslims on caste and gender lines. While the BJP and the RSS are trying to unite Hindus on religious lines, they are dividing Muslims on the Pasmanda and Ashraf fault lines. Social hierarchy indeed exists among Hindus as well as Muslims, Hindutva propaganda is only interested in taking up the issue of social hierarchy among Muslims. That is why the BJP and the RSS politicised the triple talaq issue but they do not touch the question of the subordination of Hindu women.
By doing so, the real interest of the saffron outfits is not to wage a struggle for equality among the minority community but to discredit the genuine community leadership and demonise secular parties.
Secular parties have indeed failed to do justice to the Muslim community when they were in power. But Hindutva propaganda is hiding the bitter truth that the condition of the Muslim community has quickly worsened under the BJP rules. In the last nine and a half years, the Muslim community has felt more alienated and insecure than they felt ever in the recent past.
Despite its claims, the BJP has not launched any concrete scheme for Muslims nor has it given many tickets to Muslims in assembly and parliamentary elections. The Hindutva turn in Indian politics has made the utterance of the Muslim issue a political sin. Even the secular parties are increasingly playing the soft Hindutva card.
Indeed, the BJP and the RSS are less interested in showing proper pictures to the Muslim community, rather they are solely blaming the secular parties for the backwardness of Muslims to get their votes. Such negative trends should be taken note of by the secular forces if they are serious about defeating communalism and upholding democracy.
(Dr Abhay Kumar, the author, is an independent journalist. He has taught political science at NCWEB Centres of Delhi University. Email: email@example.com)