The provocative statements made by some of the BJP’s top leaders will end once the elections are over. Saba Zafar is sure of it. One of the BJP’s only two Muslim candidates in Bihar — the other is Abdul Rehman from Pipla Chowk — Zafar says that even Muslims understand that those statements are only “politics”.
Zafar, the sitting MLA from Muslim-majority Amour, does face a lot of questions from Muslim voters in his seat, a segment of Kishanganj Lok Sabha constituency and part of Purnea district. Last week, for instance, BJP president Amit Shah had predicted firecrackers in Pakistan should the BJP lose in Bihar. Zafar believes the BJP leadership has to work to win Muslim’s trust.
Zafar, whose father once represented the seat as a Samajwadi Party MLA, used to contest independently after his father’s death. Before the 2010 elections, he joined the BJP at the invitation of two-time Kishanganj MP Shahnawaz Hussain and went on to defeat the Congress’s Abdul Jalil Mastan, who is his main opponent again.
Zafar belongs to the Kulhaiya caste while Mastan is of the majority Surjapuri caste, two communities sharply divided. Zafar owes his previous victory to a consolidation of the Hindu and the Kulhaiya votes, an equation he is banking on to repeat itself. The hitch is that Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM, too, has fielded a Kulhaiya Muslim.
“People like us are striving to get Muslims to start believing in the BJP,” Zafar told The Indian Express, ahead of a public meeting that Shahnawaz and Union minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy would address in his support. “And if our top leaders cooperate, Muslims will flock towards the BJP. Because the people have seen the Congress, which has stripped the country naked.”
He brought up the cow slaughter controversy without being prompted. Who enacted the laws against cow slaughter, he asked, then replied it was the Congress that did so in the 1950s. “The law that is used to attack Muslims was enacted by the Congress. Why blame the BJP? The BJP only wants to implement it,” he said.
When BJP leaders make controversial statements, don’t fellow Muslims question him? “Of course they ask. Puchte hain yeh kyun aapke party ka neta bolte hain,” he admitted. “I tell them we should not get carried away emotionally. The leaders are expressing their feelings. We are where we are. Muslims try never to take a wrong step and will never do so. Otherwise there would have been riots. They know they are doing politics, let them do politics. Main kehta hoon bhayya, election ke zamaane hain. Election khatam hoga toh sab kuch khatam hoga.”
Asked about the Dadri lynching, he said such incidents have happened in the past too and cited the Bhagalpur riots as an example. “Bhagalpur did not happen in our time. Do you think the people have forgotten that? Who were those people, whose people were they? Those involved in the riots were not my people. Those involved were those who are shouting now. They were their people.” He said there has not been a single riot in the last one-and-a-half years.
Zafar said people like him who have joined the BJP will take up Muslim sentiments with the party.
Minutes later, Shahnawaz and Rudy addressed a large gathering. Rudy tried to dispel apprehensions among Muslims by citing his “thick friendship” with Shahnawaz and saying he had come to the meeting at his invitation. “We are not a divisive party; we are a unifier. It is Nitish and Lalu who are dividing the people. Lalu in the name of forwards-and-backwards and Nitish in the name of Dalits-and-Mahadalits, backwards-and-extremely backwards.”