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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Modi and Muslims

India’s democracy is a demanding teacher and,as all good teachers are,very fair and unfailingly helpful.

Written by Sudheendra Kulkarni |
August 5, 2012 2:50:17 am

India’s democracy is a demanding teacher and,as all good teachers are,very fair and unfailingly helpful. Its lessons are meant for both people and politicians. Those who learn are rewarded. Those who don’t,suffer.

One of the lessons that democracy teaches,with the persistence of a devoted teacher,is the virtue of dialogue. Especially,dialogue between adversaries for the sake of the larger good of the nation.

To me,the most heartening development of the fortnight gone by is the interview that Narendra Modi gave to Shahid Siddiqui,editor of Nai Duniya and,until his sudden expulsion from the Samajwadi Party last week,its vocal spokesman. Modi,it’ll be crystal clear to anyone who reads the interview,doesn’t view Indian Muslims as his “adversaries”. However,a large section of Muslims certainly view him as their adversary—indeed,as their enemy. Therefore,as a patriotic Indian,and also as a pragmatic political leader,Modi welcomed the opportunity to have a dialogue with Muslims through the medium of an influential Urdu weekly. Here we mustn’t forget that the interview signified not only Modi’s attempt to reach out to Muslims,but also Muslims’ own desire,in a hesitant sign of reconciliation,to reach out to Modi. As Siddiqui himself has explained,the idea of interviewing the Gujarat chief minister had its genesis in the suggestion made to him by some prominent Mumbai-based Muslims. Neither Siddiqui nor those who made this suggestion are sympathisers of Modi or the BJP. Indeed,they belong to the “secular” camp that treats both Modi and his party as “untouchables”. Therefore,had the idea of the interview originated from Modi himself,the “secular” camp,which wants no dialogue whatsoever between him and Muslims,would have quickly dismissed it as his vain image-makeover exercise. Recall how it had trashed his Sadbhavana programme,which aimed at promoting Hindu-Muslim goodwill in Gujarat,earlier this year.

But such is the power of honesty,clarity,candour,courage and transparency behind Modi’s answers to Siddiqui’s searching questions,that the interview has succeeded in making both Muslims and also his many Hindu critics think about him with an open and unprejudiced mind. They may not agree with all his answers,but there is little doubt that Modi has breached the psychological wall of non-communication that the “secular” camp had deliberately erected between him and Indian Muslims. And this explains why the interview alarmed the Samajwadi Party so much that it claimed,most ludicrously,that “Siddiqui was never our man”! Had the BJP meted out a similar treatment to one of its journalist-spokesmen,the “secular” brigade would have raised howls of condemnation and protest. In Siddiqui’s case,it has resorted to hypocritical silence.

A single interview cannot,of course,bring about a major transformation in the Indian Muslims’ attitude towards Modi. However,it has heralded the process of a mutual “reaching out”,which,if sustained (by Modi and the BJP),can significantly change the political climate in the country ahead of the next parliamentary elections. The BJP,as I have argued repeatedly in this column,can never become a viable alternative to the Congress without the support of a substantial section of Indian Muslims. No BJP-led government at the Centre can be stable,let alone become an agent of socio-economic transformation,without Muslims’ support. In today’s era of coalition politics,a good barometer of Muslim support to a BJP-led government is the breadth of support that the BJP can get from non-Congress and non-communist parties. Thus,a sizeable increase in its own seats,and a large enough expansion of the National Democratic Alliance,have become the two pillars of the BJP’s strategy of leading the NDA to a strong victory in the next Lok Sabha polls. Muslim support,as much as Hindu support,is crucial for securing both these pillars. Only a fool or a fanatic can deny this unalterable ground reality,and Modi is neither. He is an intelligent,capable and practical political leader,whose heart beats for India—which means,and this is confirmed by his answers to Nai Duniya,his heart also beats for Indian Muslims. (“Let the dreams of Muslims,and their children,be fulfilled. This is what I want.”)

Among all the leaders of the BJP,Modi bears the heaviest responsibility to bolster both the pillars of the party’s above-mentioned strategy for winning the next parliamentary elections. However,he needs to do more,much more,to have a dialogue with the hearts and minds of Muslims. Well-informed Indian Muslims know about,and are impressed by,the Modi government’s irrefutable achievements in Gujarat. Therefore,his ability to lead an NDA government at the Centre is hardly in doubt. What Muslims want to hear from him,and from the BJP,are essentially three sincere commitments: (1) security; (2) justice; and (3) equal opportunities in development and democratic governance. There is nothing in the BJP’s ideology,nor in Modi’s own core beliefs,that prevents these commitments from being given. Let these promises be further fleshed out,with the RSS too backing them— “zero tolerance towards both terrorism and communal riots”; concrete assurances to address Muslims’ legitimate concerns; fair representation to Muslims in jobs and educational institutions,without recourse to religion-based quotas,as has indeed been achieved in Gujarat,where,as Modi mentioned in the interview,Muslims’ share in government jobs is 12-13 per cent even though they constitute 9 per cent of the state’s population; more BJP tickets to Muslims in elections; and so on. Muslims too have a responsibility: they should reciprocate by not blindly opposing the BJP.

The dynastic Congress will shiver and sink if the Modi-Muslim relationship gets recast in this manner,with both sides learning the lessons taught by that wise teacher—democracy.

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