Wooing the victim

"Muslims are flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood", says the new BJP president. Is saffron changing colour? Or, haven't we heard that before? 


The newly–elected BJP  president,Bangaru  Laxman’s Nagpur state- ment that Muslims are  “flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood” and his invitation to them to make his party their new home has sent political analysts and commentators guessing the possible reasons behind the BJP’s “change of heart”. In order of decreasing scepticism, the explanations being offered are as follows: 

One: The BJP president’s pro-Muslim posture was nothing more than a PR stunt on behalf of his mentor, Atal Behari Vajpayee, on the eve of the latter’s foreign jaunt — UN summit and the US. The Prime Minister, understandably, did not want to face “awkward questions” from the international press. 

Two: Laxman’s call, though addressed to Muslims is, in fact, aimed at the liberal Hindus to ensure they do not get alienated from the sangh parivar, because of the unsavoury words and deeds of the ‘hard–line’ VHP and Bajrang Dal. It also will help keep the BJP’s allies in the NDA in good humour.

Three: Through Laxman, ‘moderates’ in the BJP, led by Vajpayee, are building the party’s distance from the embarrassing members of the same parivar — the parent RSS and siblings, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal.
Four: Laxman is merely articulating the BJP’s political compulsion. The BJP cannot hope to rise above the plateau it has reached if Muslims, who constitute around 12 per cent of the national electorate (in major states like UP and West Bengal, it is closer to 20 per cent), remain alienated from the party. For once, Laxman and other BJP leaders are quite candid about the fact that its vote–bank politics they are talking about: “This is not an appeasement, this is an appeal; There are 12 crore Muslims who vote en bloc, so we cannot afford to ignore them”. 
Five: The BJP president’s statement reflects the broad vision of the BJP. The 1999 Lok Sabha election results have led to “an unhealthy situation of Muslims not having a stake in the power structure. Laxman’s initiative is an attempt to broaden the social base of the ruling coalition. A legitimate political exercise”. 

Political analysts and commentators may continue their debate on the real intentions behind the BJP’s latest exercise in wooing Muslims. But it is more than evident that few among India’s Muslims have taken Laxman’s invitation seriously. 

(Curiously, little attention has been paid to other statement made by Laxman, a Dalit, in Nagpur, about the city being the ideological epicentre of both Hegdewar, a high priest of Hindutva and the founder of the RSS, and Dr. BR Ambedkar, who led half a million Dalits to convert to Buddhism on October 10, 1956 at Nagpur, because in his analysis “there can be no social and political emancipation for the Dalit within the Hindu fold”. 
Laxman believes that the participation of Dalits in the Ramjanmabhoomi movement, in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and in the riots in Ahmedabad, Mumbai and elsewhere has helped forge an “all Hindu identity” and resolved the tension between Hindutva and Amedkarism forever. But the poor electoral support to the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections in 1999 suggests that the vast majority of India’s dalits do not share Laxman’s love for the sangh parivar. (See box, ‘The BJP’s new social bloc’ and the comment piece by Kancha Ilaiah in this issue).

The many reasons for the lack of Muslim enthusiasm to the BJP president’s call are reflected in the responses of several prominent Muslims who spoke to Communalism Combat. (See box). The gist of these responses could be reduced to the following proposition: 

Depending on their political convenience, BJP leaders say one thing and mean another, say different things on different occasions, or speak with forked–tongues. Others from the saffron brotherhood — VHP, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena, Hindu Munnani, and a host of outfits floated by the RSS — are more honest and consistent. They say what they do and their hostility towards Muslims and other religious minorities is equally evident from their word and deed. 
Not for nothing is the BJP an integral part of the sangh parivar, ideologically and organisationally speaking. Every time there is ‘action on the field’ — demolition of Babri Masjid, targeting of the life and property of minorities in engineered communal conflicts — the cadre of the BJP and those of the others are invariably on the same side. 

From bitter lived experience, Muslims have learnt the truth contained in the saying: A man is known by the company he keeps. When matching word with deed, their experience indicates that the saffron soldiers draw their inspiration not so much from the conciliatory, poll–eve statements of leaders like Laxman but from stalwarts of Hindutva such as the second sarsanghchalak of the RSS, Guru Golwalkar.

“The non–Hindu in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu religion or may stay in the country wholly subordinate to the Hindu nation claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizens rights,” Golwalkar wrote in his We or our Nationhood Defined in 1936. 
“Muslims are flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood”. In speaking thus at the BJP national council meeting in Nagpur in late August, Laxman was merely repeating what the then Jana Sangh leader, Deendayal Upadhyaya, had said in his presidential address to the Jana Sangh in Calicut, way back in 1967. 
But actual developments on the communal front in the next few years are best summed up in the findings of judicial commissions, appointed by different government’s to inquire into the causes of the communal riots that have plagued the country since the ‘60s:

  • Report of the Justice Jagmohan Reddy Commission on the Ahmedabad riots, 1969: “Here was not only a failure of intelligence and culpable failure to suppress the outbreak of violence, but (also) deliberate attempts to suppress the truth from the Commission, especially the active participation in the riots of some RSS and Jana Sangh leaders.”
  • Report of the Justice DP Madon Commission on the Bhiwandi, Jalgaon and Mahad riots of 1970: “The organisation responsible for bringing communal tension in Bhiwandi to a pitch is the Rashtriya Utsav Mandal. The majority of the leaders and workers of the Rashtriya Utsav Mandal belonged to the Jan Sangh (the BJP’s predecessor) or were pro–Jan Sangh and the rest, apart from a few exceptions, belonged to the Shiv Sena”. 
  • Report of the Justice Joseph Vithyathil Commission on the Tellicherry riots, 1971: “In Tellicherry the Hindus and Muslims were living as brothers for centuries. The ‘Mopla riots’ did not affect the cordial relationship that existed between the two communities in Tellicherry. It was only after the RSS and the Jana Sangh set up their units and began activities in Tellicherry that there came a change in the situation. Their anti–Muslim propaganda, its reaction on the Muslims who rallied round their communal organisation, the Muslim League which championed their cause, and the communal tension that followed prepared the background for the disturbances.
  • Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Communal Disturbances at Jamshedpur, April 1979: “The dispute on the route of the procession became sharp and agitated reactions from a group of persons calling themselves the Sanyukt Bajrang Bali Akhara Samiti who systematically distributed pamphlets to heighten communal feelings had organisational links with the RSS.” 

Closer to the present time, who can forget the bloody yatra (from Somnath to Ayodhya in 1990) that none less than the then BJP president and now the Union home minister, LK Advani, chose for his party’s rise to power? 
In seeking Muslim votes to lift the BJP above the plateau where it finds itself, Laxman may now be using different words, but he is saying nothing new. Since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and the countrywide riots that followed, in every election season, the BJP has come up with attempts to wash off its communal taint and woo Muslims. (See box). 

But the actual experience of the last few years is proof to the Muslims that the BJP’s promises and ‘guarantees’ of security amount to very little. 

Firstly, the fact that across the country, it is Christians who have been the more obvious targets of Hindutva in the last few years is of little consolation to Muslims. They see in these sustained assaults on yet another religious minority in India a deliberate Hindutva ploy to keep the saffron brigade fighting fit. Who is to know when these ‘kar sevaks’ will be asked to revert to the old battlefront and go for the ‘Babar ki aulad’? Or will it be ‘Jinnah ki aulad’ and ‘ISI agents’ next time? 

There have been enough indications in the last few years to make Muslims believe that their fear is not mere paranoia. Gujarat, a state where the BJP rules unchallenged and where no effective opposition is presently in sight, is proving to be an ideal ‘laboratory for Hindutva.’ For others, the state offers an insight of what India’s minorities can expect in Ram Rajya of the Hindutva variety. For Christians and for Muslims, too, Gujarat has increasingly turned into a nightmare state in the last few years. (See box).

Gujarat’s Muslims, however, are not the only ones who need to worry. For the RSS mouthpiece, Panchjanya, the war over Kargil last year was not a conflict between two countries, but a link in the 1,000–year–old clash between ‘barbaric’ Islam and ‘Hindu tolerance’. The Bajrang Dal chief went on to say that no peace is possible between Hindus and Muslims until the Quran is banned.

Since April this year, arms’ training is being given to activists of the Bajrang Dal and the VHP. The reason, according to the chief of UP’s VHP Purushottam: “anti–Hindu forces are very active in UP…The ISI has spread its tentacles in the state. To counter these forces, Bajrang Dal activists are being trained”. Outlook magazine reported that the Dal activists being trained at ‘Karsevakpuram’ near Ayodhya began their morning with the chant: “We will demolish all mosques.” 

No sooner had he returned from the BJP’s national council meet in Nagpur, where Laxman made all the right noises, that the BJP stalwart from UP, Kalraj Mishra, went rushing to Ayodhya. What else does this mean except that the BJP identifies with the VHP’s agenda of commencing building of the Ram mandir in Ayodhya soon and court orders be damned?

Muslims and Christians, who feel insecure in today’s India, would certainly welcome a friendly gesture from the BJP. But not if it looks like a tactic with an eye on votes. Or a strategy of running with the hare and hunting with the hound.

But if the hollowness of the BJP’s intention to woo Indian Muslims needs no further emphasis, Laxman’s comments on Hindu–Dalit mobilisation and unity with the caste Hindu need careful scrutiny because they do, in fact, reflect the competing pulls on the nationwide Dalit movement today. This could prove pivotal in future Dalit mobilisation.

Besides linking Hegdewar and Ambedkar, Bangarau Laxman went further on Dalit and caste Hindu alliance building. When asked by journalists to comment on the Ayodhya movement, Laxman praised the movement saying it was one in which “people from all walks of life participated and moreover a movement where all caste feelings receded.”

The fact that the sub–text of the campaign to build a temple in the name of Lord Ram at Ayodhya was the demolition of a 400–year–old mosque that was systematically portrayed as a symbol of Babar ki aulad (who are deserving of summary treatment) was left unexamined. 

The Ayodhya movement has made a hitherto unique achievement in terms of all–Hindu mobilisation. From many parts of the country, the movement managed Dalit participation in pogrom–like attacks on Indian Muslims. The very same, all–Hindu kamandal project is today being aggressively promoted not only in Gujarat — where Dalit women interviewed by Communalism Combat have testified to Dalit youth being attracted to Bajrang Dal shakhas for arms training on ‘salaries’ of Rs. 5–10,000 per month — but all over India. 

Archived from Communalism Combat, September 2000 Year 8  No. 62, Cover Story 1



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