Unlikely challenger

The BJP makes a tactical pitch to minorities. It could force the Congress to defend its record

Published: June 27, 2013 5:09 am

The BJP makes a tactical pitch to minorities. It could force the Congress to defend its record

An election is coming,and the Narendra Modi-led BJP has displayed a new intent to address itself to Muslims. For the first time,the party is preparing a “vision document for empowerment of minorities”. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi,Shahnawaz Hussain and other leaders will consult clerics and scholars,ostensibly to identify ways for minorities to make social,economic and political progress. There will be no “appeasement”,they have claimed,only “empowerment”. While it may only be an attempt to soothe fears stoked by Modi’s ascendance,an effort to reassure allies and voters,this is still a welcome move. For all the hypocrisies and limitations inherent in the exercise,it promises to put the BJP’s commitments in cold print.

It could even open up a more substantive discussion of what Muslims are owed as citizens. For far too long,parties have closed off all debate with opaque labels drained of meaning — “secular”,“pseudo-secular” and “communal”. The BJP’s plans to show up “self-professed secular parties” in a concerted way,by pointing to the gap between their manifestos and their actions,could arguably have the benefit of compelling the Congress and others to examine their own record. These parties,secure in their hold over the Muslim vote,have often disregarded their lived experience. This unlikely challenge from the BJP could jolt the Congress out of some of its complacencies,provide an occasion to introspect on how it addresses the various social and economic aspirations of Muslims,and their real deprivations as outlined by the Sachar committee. Muslims confront inequality,bias and suspicion even in Congress dispensations. Under the amended UAPA,for instance,the investigative and legal systems have often applied flimsy assumptions to probe terror cases. For those wrongfully targeted and their families,whether in Hyderabad,Malegaon,Pune or Delhi,the Congress governments’ protestations of strict secularism are not likely to matter.

For all the failings of the Congress,SP and others,however,the BJP will find it very difficult to draw in large numbers of disaffected minorities. But one thing is clear: whatever else it does,the rise of Modi is coaxing parties to make a public case for their own records on various issues. That cannot but be a good thing.

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