For a party that has struggled to reach out to Muslims and to present a woman-friendly face in UP,the BJP has made an appointment that seeks to achieve both objectives. Rumana Siddiqui has been made chief of the BJPs state minority wing,the first woman to head any of its state units other than the womens wing. The BJP has three wings besides the ones for minorities and women Kisan Morcha,SC/ST Morcha,Youth Morcha and no woman has ever headed any of its 31 cells in UP either.
One of the objectives of the appointment,party sources say,is to reach out to Muslim families through women.
Rumana,a homemaker married to a Lucknow businessman,is the only one in the family to join politics. My parents were against my decision but my in-laws and husband supported me, says Rumana,who has been with the BJP since 2004. She was secretary of the state minority wing about five years ago,and is also a member of the national executive of the minority wing.
The political science and English graduate from Delhi University admits that connecting with Muslims has been a challenge for the BJP. Being a woman,I can approach Muslim women in the kitchen where men cannot go, she says. I will convince Muslim women and their families to support the party in the Lok Sabha polls. She plans to form a team and prepare a blueprint for what the minority wing should do to attract Muslims.
The BJP has long lacked a Muslim face with wide acceptability in the community. Today,the only recognisable Muslim face from the party in UP is national vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and he does not match the appeal of SP,BSP and Congress leaders. The BJP once had the late Seema Rizvi and her father Aizaz Rizvi,both formers MLCs but neither successful in attracting Muslims to the party.
Besides,the BJP has been wary of going too far in testing its acceptability among Muslims. In the 2012 elections,it fielded only one Muslim candidate. Shakeel Alam Saifi,from Sahaswan in Badaun district,to test the inclination of Muslims. He lost. Before that,it was a decade ago in 2002 that the party had fielded Mohammad Gaffar Khan from Tilhar. And Naqvi had been fielded from Mau in 1991 and 1993.
Muslims,however,have been known to vote for some BJP leaders because of personal equations. Lucknow MP Lalji Tandon is an example.
The BJP respects Muslims,but the party has not been able to groom leaders among them in proportion with their population in UP, admits Vijay Bahadur Pathak,party spokesperson.
The new BJP list of 103 office-bearers has 41 women,higher than the 33 per cent assured in the party constitution. These include five secretaries,three vice-presidents and 26 members of the state executive committee. There is also a woman in the media cell: former Lucknow University student leader Anita Agarwal.
It is a positive step taken by the state president, says Kamlawati Singh,new president of the womens wing. In BJP-ruled states such as Gujarat and MP,the womens wing carries the partys messages to every family.
State BJP chief Laxmikant Bajpai says he has inducted more than 33 per cent women to approach every family in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls.