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Why Muslims vote for the BJP #NOMOre_2014

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Irfan Engineer

The Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS) had carried out a survey during the Maharashtra Legislative Assemble held in 1995. The survey then showed that about 10% Muslims were going to for the BJP. Muslim voters then were angry with Congress for allowing demolition of the Babri Masjid under their watch. The Muslim votes shifted away from the Congress to the regional parties like the SP in UP and Lalu Prasad in Bihar. However, a small section was willing to vote even for BJP in absence of any other alternative to Congress. A Muslim voter from Western Maharashtra represented the mood of in the 1995 elections in these words “jis party ne Babri Masjid girte dekhi, ham usse girte dekhna chahte hain.” (we want to see that party falling, which saw the Babri Masjid being demolished under its watch). Personal security mattered more than the Babri Masjid to an ordinary Muslim. The demolition of Babri Masjid was followed by heinous communal riots in many towns. The Muslims who voted for the BJP did so more out of anger against the Congress rather than endorsing the BJP. In local body elections however, a tiny section of Muslims did vote for a good BJP-Shiv Sena candidate in local bodies. However, politically, Muslims shunned BJP understandably.

During the Maharashtra Assembly elections in 1995, Bal Thackeray would typically ask Muslims to leave the venue while he was addressing as they would not be able to tolerate his tirade. He would openly declare that he did not need Muslim votes. By demonizing the Muslims he wanted to mobilize and consolidate the “Hindu” votes across the castes. He called himself as “Hindu Hriday Samrat” (one who ruled the hearts of Hindus). Bal Thackeray was found guilty of corrupt electoral practices on 28th July 1999 for mobilizing votes in the name of religion and his right to vote was suspended for six years.

We visited the Bombay Hotel area in Ahmedabad in the year 2008. Bombay Hotel area is the waste dumping ground for the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. It is also the and place where the survivors of the 2002 pogroms have put their dwellings – literally on the Municipal waste. We had heard even then that a section of Muslims had voted for BJP in the 2007 Gujarat assembly elections. We conducted a quick unscientific study asking the survivors whether the fact was true and why. One survivor told us that he did not want to vote in that election. Casting their vote would be under duress of the BJP. He did not even have the choice of not voting. He was compelled by the BJP workers to accompany them to the booth for voting. He voted for the BJP under the watchful eyes of their workers and the booth officer. I didn’t know whether to believe him or not but he had absolutely nothing to gain by lying. The condition of the survivors was utterly helpless. They were staying on heaps of waste without sewage, electricity connections and were paying heavily to the mafias for a few posts of water pumped out of the bore. Municipality did not extend any services whatsoever. No school for children. All they had was security, at least temporarily. They were boycotted socially and economically by non-Muslims and not given work. They wove ropes and spent most of their meager earnings on doctors and few pots of water. The helplessness and desperation was reflected even in their votes casted in favour of the BJP.

“Ame toh jaruriya”:

When Shankarsinh Vaghela had revolted against Keshubhai Patel’s leadership in Gujarat and split from BJP and taken his supporters to Khajurao, the two factions were called khajurias andhajuriyas. One Sonubhai Chaudhary, a sincere activist fighting for adivasi rights in Dangs district had shocked all of us by joining the BJP. When I met Sonubhai, I asked him whether he was ahajuriya or a khajuriya (Patel loyalist or Vaghela loyalist). Sonubhai replied, reflecting the helplessness of the adivasis – “Saheb, ame nai hajuriya, nai khajuriya, ame toh jaruriya” (Sir, we are neither hajuriyas, nor khajuriyas, we are needy people). The situation of the survivors reminded me of that statement of Sonubhai. We have the luxury of taking so many things for granted. People who have been relegated to the status of almost beggars due to violence and state policies need state services, howsoever poor the services may be, and if nothing, they need security for survival. Needy people do not have the luxury of choice in voting. They vote with the hope that it will pacify the demon and the demon will keep off them.

The Congress is politically so weak in Gujarat, controlling a few municipalities. BJP won 47 of the 75 Municipalities. The ones that are controlled by the Congress are discriminated in allotment of funds by the State govt. Therefore even a tiny share in development is possible only the patronage of BJP. Even for basic things like ID documents, for a Gujarati Muslim has to depend on the patronage of the BJP.

Jaruriyas of a different class:

Modi then started nurturing the ambition of being a PM after managing to win third term as Gujarat CM. For this he needed to shift gear and an image makeover from a hardcore Hindutva leader (loh purush – person with iron will) to a leader who stands for development (vikas purush). Hindutva image was needed for winning elections in Gujarat but that would not be acceptable in the rest of the country. There was also a possibility of being charge sheeted for his role in Gujarat riots in the year 2002.

When the Supreme Court left it to the trial court to decide whether to frame charges against Narendra Modi in the 2002 communal riot cases, Modi claimed he already had clean chit from the Supreme Court. In order to further mislead the people about the so called “clean chit” he organized a series of “Sadbhavana Mission” for public consumption where he would sit on a day’s fast. The “Sadbhavana Mission” were farcical without acknowledging any wrong doing on anyone’s part and without expressing any remorse for the riots, let alone seeking forgiveness. The “Sadbhavana Mission” were instrumental in image makeover for his prime ministerial ambition. He invited some Muslim leaders for his “Sadbhavana Mission” in one of which he refused to wear the cap offered by a Maulvi. He won over a tiny section of Muslims – those in business – offering them some opportunities. Zafar Sareshwala became a face of this section. Sareshwala would defend and applaud Modi publicly whenever he was called upon to do so. The Bohra priestly establishment (sitting on a huge empire amassed through various means) too needed political patronage to save his empire. They encouraged their followers to attend all the rallies and functions of Modi with their traditional caps. Since this tiny section of businessmen now enjoying patronage of Modi loyalists, they opined that it was time to move ahead and forget the 2002 riots, and that Muslims were worst off during Congress regimes. That during Congress regime too similar riots occurred and that Modi had now changed. In a separate article, this writer has argued, though it is true that riots took place even during the Congress regimes, but the planners and executors of the riots and instigators and agent provocateurs, rumour spreaders, hate spreaders were Hindutva cadres and this has been established by several inquiry commissions. The elite of Muslim community cheering Modi are jaruriyas of a different class –needing political patronage in a state where normal political processes and political opposition has not been allowed to survive. The business class always tends to support the ruling party and the Bohras and Khojas, traditionally supported the ruling party. With BJP Government getting elected for four terms, they had to come around.

The BJP for Narendra Modi’s image makeover shook hands with the jaruriya Muslims and made headlines when BJP fielded Muslims candidates in 24 of the 27 wards in Salaya (Dist. Jamnagar) Municipal elections in February 2013, and all 24 won. A closer examination would however reveal that the 90% of the 33,000 strong population of the town is Muslim and it is the Muslims that helped BJP win the elections for the first time rather than the other way round. Salem Mohammad Baghaad, the leader who was instrumental for BJP’s victory said, he now expected funds for development of the town to flow in. Till a decade ago, the town was notorious for smuggling at its small time port. The anti-terror squad of Gujarat with its draconic reputation frequented the town could now be expected to keep away.

We met a BJP Muslim Corporator of Bhuj (Kutch Dist.). He was well off living in a bungalow, heading a few education institutions and owning a real estate business. Being in real estate and redevelopment business, he could not expect to move an inch further without state patronage. For lack of space we are not going in details but suffice to say that for small benefits he would be required not to speak up against the marginalization of Muslims and demonizing them as terrorists and cow slaughterers for which Muslims are regularly detained and harassed. He would also have to campaign for Modi. We also met one of the three corporators of Anjar town (Kutch). This corporator represented himself as well wisher of the community and claimed to be in the BJP for the good of the community. He further claimed that he would go to any extend to defend the community’s interests. 20% of Anjar’s population is Muslim with three Muslim Corporators and all the three belong to the BJP. The other two were his protégés. He was a local toughie and could not afford to antagonize the ruling party. But he claimed that he had to resort to strong arm tactics in the interest of the community. The citizens from Anjar told us that all Muslim areas in Anjar – Sheikh Timba, Devadiya Naka and Ekta Nagar were backward and with poor services like water, electric poles, roads and sewerage. The corporator however told us that he got about Rs. 30 millions sanctioned from the corporation for installing electric poles and improving sewerage facilities. In turn, however, the corporator would have to ensure that the Muslims voted for the BJP. Ensuring about 12000 votes for sanctioning fund of Rs. 30 million! That seemed to be the quid pro quo.

Muslim corporators but not Muslim MLA:

BJP refused to give ticket to a single Muslim during the 2012 assembly elections in Gujarat. Image makeover for Modi and the Sadbhavana Mission did not offer anything beyond a few coporator seats to Muslims. The BJP’s victory in Gujarat in 2012 ensured that the Muslim representation came down from 5 in 2007 to 2 in 2012. Muslims form about 10% of Gujarat’s population and proportionately there should have been at least 18 MLAs in the house of 182 members.

In the three states where elections were held recently – Rajasthan, MP and Delhi, only six Muslims of the more than 500 legislators were given tickets by the BJP. There were 17 sitting Muslim MLAs in the pre-poll assemblies and about 50 Muslim dominated constituencies. Even the top office bearers of the BJP Minority Morcha candidates were denied tickets. Arif Aqueel was the lone BJP Muslim MLA elected MP from Bhopal. In an Assembly of 200 in Rajasthan 4 candidates fielded by BJP were Muslims and two of them got elected. Rajasthan has 8.5 Muslim population and 17 of its MLAs should be from Muslim community. One Muslim candidate was fielded from Delhi having membership of 70 in the house and 12% Muslim population. BJP fields Muslims only in those constituencies where Muslims are in absolute majority and there are very little chances of winning the seat with a non-Muslim candidate.

Muslims are not encouraged where policies and laws are going to be framed and where distribution of national resources is going to be decided. Cultural homogeneity project of Hindutva has no space for divergent voices. There, only the RSS and the staunch ideologues of the Hindu Nationalists have space as they alone can ensure that national resources are distributed only among the natural base of the Hindu Nationalist – North Indian upper caste males and the corporate sector.

The national leaders from the Muslim community in the BJP ranks are merely show pieces to mobilize the Muslims to vote for the BJP or at least confuse them so that they do not vote collectively against the BJP. They are in BJP either as a staunch reaction to Muslim fundamentalism as for example Sikander Bakht, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi was. Arif Mohammed Khan can be in the same category. However, strengthening of BJP does not weaken Muslim fundamentalism, it strengthens fundamentalism within the Muslim community as the community, in reaction to series of communal riots gravitates around the fundamentalist leadership of the community with the hope of ensuring unity to meet the onslaught collectively. Fundamentalism in Muslims in Gujarat has strengthened. A tiny section of Muslims are in BJP because Congress or some other party denied them ticket or post or high office they were hoping for. Najma Heptullah was eyeing for the post of Vice-President of India. When Congress did not show any inclination, she embraced BJP. Shahnawaz Hussain climbed up the ladder very fast being one of the few Muslim faces when the BJP led NDA Government was formed in 1999.

These Muslim leaders are never heard protesting when security of Muslims is in danger or when Babri Masjid is being demolished or on any other cultural issues. They do not even succeed in pushing the BJP towards more inclusionist policy. Their task is to represent the BJP’s exclusionist politics of “India first” to the community and keep demanding that the community be happy with its second class citizenship that Hindutva wants to relegate it to and preparing the Muslims be “nationalists” (in another words, Hindus with lower caste status accepting the privileges of born “nationalists”)

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