Friday, December 3, 2010

Is there a shift in BJP-Muslim community relationship?

Last 3 months, there were a few elections which took place. While one was the Bihar elections which was prominent and known to all. The other was the civic elections and elections to local bodies in Gujarat. Though both these elections differed in issues, players and even agendas, some notable commonalities were:

Both the states voted overwhelmingly in favour of the ruling party and decimated the opposition
Both the states voted on the plank of development
For the first time in its history, the percentage of Muslim vote for BJP rose above 15pc.

While the first two points have been debated many a times specially with regards to Gujarat, one has to take the thrid point very seriously since this has national resonance. What has changed that Muslims and even other minorities have voted in large numbers for the man so far villified by the media and others as a "merchant of death" and "enemy of the minority".

Muslims in Gujarat have clearly demonstrated that they do not agree with what the media and other activists say about BJP in general and Modi in particular. After years of systematic villification and demonising campaign, Muslim community and BJP showed clear signs of reconcilliation and the results were for all to see.

To start with BJP won the Kathlal bye-election. Interestingly BJP had never won this assembly and Congress had lost it only twice (and both times to a third party). This assembly segment has a large number of Muslim voters and these votes decide the winner and the loser. The margin by which BJP won the seat clearly showed that Muslims voted wholeheartedly for the BJP candidate. Then in the civic body elections, BJP swept all the 6 main city civic bodies. Out of these 6 atleast 3 (Ahmedabad, Vadodra, Surat) had sizeable Muslim population. Not only did BJP sweep across the non-Muslim dominated seats, but also swept the seats in Muslim dominated areas. The victory of Muslim candidates on BJP tickets proved that there is a churning happening both at the voter and the local leadership level. The third and final proof of the change occured during the elections to zilla parishads, nagar palikas and the panchayats. The events in Godhra gave a clear signal that no more can Muslims be used a vote bank by just raising fears of BJP. 17 Muslim councillors who were elected, ensured that a BJP Mayor was elected. Apart from this, there were a number of minority candidates (both Muslim and Christians) who contested as BJP candidates were elected. That was the reason BJP swept the local polls including in minority dominated areas.

So what has changed since those distrubing days of March 2002. The biggest change is that Muslims have stopped believing the fictional works of media and other activisits be it social or political. They are seeing the development of the state. Earlier their leaders used to just lament about lack of development in Muslim areas e.g. in Juhapura or Kalupur in Ahmedabad. Narendra Modi has changed that. He has taken development right to the doorstep of the common man, be it Hindu or Muslim. This has affected the Muslim phyche the most and in a very positive manner. While cynics and critics never give him credit, one has to see and believe how the growth in Gujarat is inclusive and does not discriminate on basis of religion, caste or creed. A welcome change for the masses specially the minorities from the days of just appeasement and no development practised by the Congress. Skeptics still are not ready to accept this reconcilliation. But they don't get the fact that such a sweeping victory is possible only if all sections of the society vote for you.

Just around the same time, Bihar elections also proved the same. BJP won most of the Muslim dominated seats in there. While people give credit to Nitish Kumar for this, they tend overlook the contribution of BJP state unit specially the Deputy CM and Finance Minister Sushil Kumar Modi. As FM, Sushil Kumar Modi ensured that the development work is spread across various regions and cuts across the traditional caste and religion lines. And the result is for everyone to see.

The silent performer that he is, BJP President Nitin Gadkari deserves a lot of credit for this change. His diktat that HC Verdict on Ayodhya be taken calmly without any extremes ensured that the chest beating loonies in the party did not do anything that could make the Muslim community feel insecure about. The calm and mature reaction to the verdict ensured that. To many who are not completely aware of Nitin Gadkari's track record, he as Party President of Maharashtra had worked hard to expose the government on Waqf property scam. He was in forefront of the opposition to the shameless loot of Waqf properties by the Congress-NCP government. At a time like Ayodhya verdict India and specially BJP needed a man who could ensure that tempers or excitement do not go out of control and Nitin Gadkari ensured that.

Now what do these election results mean to national politics in general and BJP in particular? In general, this will ensure that no party can take Muslim votes for granted and continue to appease it while keeping them away from development benefits. This will also ensure a dirty fight amongst the 'secular' parties to stake claim to Muslim votes and that could result in some of them playing right into the hands of the radicals. For the BJP, this is a clear statement that development politics pays handsome reward if it is inclusive. It brings BJP closer to the minorities. In the past while BJP would just discount the votes of minorities, now it knows it can get a good part of it. And this will ensure that radical right loonies are kept on tight leash and not allowed to vitiate the relationship between the two community. Last but not the least, if this process of reconcilliation continues the way it is, there would be a time soon that BJP will no longer be a political untouchable and will be able to dream of coming to power on their own.

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