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Electoral coup against a community in UP

Hasan Suroor
[ March 23, 2017 ]

It's official then. Any lingering confusion about the direction of Modi's vision for a new India should be cleared up finally with the coronation of Yogi Adityanath as UP’s Chief Minister after a deeply divisive and exclusionist campaign fronted by the Prime Minister himself. It has been reported that Adityanath was the source of his notorious “Kabristan/Shamshan ghat” line.

Recently, a senior journalist asked on Facebook: “How would we know that Hindu Rashtra has arrived?” He has got the answer now. It's no coincidence that posters have reportedly appeared in a village near Bareilly telling Muslims to “leave immediately” and warning of “dire consequences” if they didn't by the year-end. “What Trump is doing in America, we will do in this village because the BJP is now in power,” they warned. The posters bore the name of a group calling itself, “Hindus of the village”, with alleged links to a BJP MP. To dismiss it as a stray incident is to miss the point of the BJP's calculated strategy to step up its “Hindu India” campaign ahead of the 2019 elections. But before I go further, I'm reminded of a meeting I had with a senior RSS leader in London shortly after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister. He had sought me out through a local BJP official for a “quick chat”. I was intrigued why an RSS leader wanted to meet me. When we met at a rather posh hotel where he was staying, he said he was working towards opening a “dialogue” with the Muslim community, and needed help and advice from liberal Muslims. He planned to bring together “Muslim intellectuals” for a brainstorming at a conference in Goa; he wanted me to attend, all expenses paid. Despite my scepticism, I was happy that, at least, the Sangh Parivar was talking about reaching out to Muslims. Two and a half years on, perish the thought of a dialogue whatever little communication there was between the two sides has also broken down. India has never been so communally polarised as it is today. The UP elections, in which the BJP neither fielded any Muslim candidate nor sought out their votes, marked a new low in Parivar-Muslim relations with the BJP signalling to Muslims that it doesn't need them. Its new Hindu-centred formula-a clever mix of upper and backward caste appeal — was a whopping success, rendering the Muslim vote redundant. A spectacular electoral coup against the state's Muslim community! For the first time, the BJP didn't even pretend to be interested in Muslim participation. The scale of exclusion was staggering and unprecedented, given that at 19 per cent of the state's population there are more Muslims in UP than in many Muslim-majority countries. "It is difficult to think of political parties in civilized societies that deliberately reject a group who form a fifth of the electorate," wrote columnist Aakar Patel. The BJP is unapologetic and has justified not giving the ticket to Muslims on the ground that it didn't find any potentially “winnable” Muslim candidate for any of the 403 seats; and it didn't seek their vote because it knew they wouldn’t vote for it. So, what was the point? Neither explanation quite washes. The claim that Muslims don't vote for the BJP is contradicted by facts. The predominantly Muslim constituency of Deoband (Muslims account for 65 percent of its population) elected BJP candidate Brijesh Singh, rejecting his BSP's Muslim rival, Majid Ali. Singh acknowledged that he would not have won by nearly 30, 000 votes if Muslims had not voted for him. He attributed it to the fact that Muslim women were “happy with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's initiative against triple talaq”. That, however, did little to soften his Hindutva agenda: he promptly called for Deoband to be renamed “Dev Vrand” because “the town is famous for its connection to the Mahabharata age, and not because of Islamic seminary Darul Uloom”! As for “winnability”, there's no doubt, it's an important criterion in candidate selection, but more important for a party which swears by inclusion (“sab ka saath, sab ka vikas” ) is to ensure that all groups in a society are fairly represented. What kind of “sab ka saath” are we talking about when a 40-million strong community is so completely and contemptuously excluded? So much so that they don’t even deserve the elementary courtesy of being asked to vote for it.
Muslims are constantly exhorted to join the “national mainstream”, most loudly by the BJP. But it takes two to tango, and the BJP has found more seductive choices in its own Hindu backyard. The blunt message Muslims are hearing is that they can stay home; there is no place for them in Amit Shah's and Modi’s grand vision for India. There’s concern that the BJP’s success in UP might encourage it to replicate the UP model in other parts of the country. And not just the BJP. Other political parties too are likely to become “wary of appealing to the Muslim vote since that could trigger a reverse mobilisation of Hindus,” as political scientist Abdul Shaban wrote. Muslim disenfranchisement could thus become the new “normal” in “new India”. BJP denies discrimination. But, in a democracy, can there be anything more discriminatory than denying meaningful participation to an entire community because, as one BJP leader put it, “they don't agree with our policies”. If something like this were to happen in America or Britain with people of Indian origin being subjected to such discrimination, it would be rightly condemned as racism. On Planet BJP, though, it is, of course, all the fault of Muslims themselves: they don't deserve the ticket because they are unwinnable; their support is not sought because they are such an unreasonable lot they would not be persuaded to vote the BJP. Anyone heard of Islamophobia? It is a dangerous strategy that will boost Muslim fundamentalists, reinforce the community's sense of grievance, and drive them into the arms of extremists. It is also likely to alienate moderate Muslims. One wonders whether the BJP has seriously taken into account the risks involved in further marginalising a community that is already alienated and prone to radicalisation. Social media is buzzing with speculation about the future of Muslims under Modi, and, ironically, the worst fears are being aired --not by Muslims--but liberal Hindus. The Bareilly village incident is seen as a warning. Meanwhile, the last time I saw my RSS contact (now a high-profile BJP general secretary), he was on television defending the BJP against the Congress charge of horse-trading in Manipur and Goa to form governments there. A dialogue with Muslims? What's that?
(---------Courtesy…… The views expressed by the author are his own but not of “Kashmir Horizon”)