By Syed Ubaidur Rahman
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Muslim outreach program seems to be gathering strength merely a year before the Lok Sabha elections slated to be held next year. His eloquence was on full display when he spoke during a conference on Islamic heritage in New Delhi during Jordanian King Abdullah II’s India visit. The visit of the king from a small and rather insignificant Arab nation was deftly turned into a full-fledged Muslim outreach program.
Muslim intellectuals, politicians, academics and clerics of all hues from the picturesque Kerala to Ajmer constituting Deobandis, Ahle Hadith, Barelwis and Shias including Bohras were handpicked to grace the occasion. Reports suggest that there were around one thousand Muslim ‘leaders’ who attended the conference titled “Islamic Heritage: Promoting Understanding and Moderation”.
Modi chose to be seen seated on the stage, sharing space with the likes of Mahmood Madani, Mufti Mukarram and the likes and then warmly shaking their hands and chatting them for a long time while the King waited patiently, made a remarkable change from past.
Modi was on his famed charm offensive when he talked eloquently about the Muslim heritage in the country. “Islamic culture is flourishing across India. The influence of Sufism spreads the message of love, peace and brotherhood. The government of India is leaving no stone unturned in empowering the Muslim youth. We want them to have the Quran in one hand and a computer in the other” said Prime Minister Modi.
There is no denying that Modi is one of the best political speakers who can make his way into your heart (at least into the heart of people he represents) with minimal efforts. In one single breath he talked about different religions and called India confluence of the world religion including Islam and Hinduism.
Prime Minister said, “Every religion found life here, it grew here. Every Indian is proud of this virtue, no matter what language he speaks, no matter what religion he practices…Be it Buddha or Mahatma Gandhi, the fragrance of peace and love has spread across the world from India. India has given the idea of ‘Vasudev Kutumbakam’ — which means that the whole world is our family. India found its identity in considering the people of this world as their family…We will be celebrating Holi tomorrow, there will be a celebration of Buddha Jayanti, that will be followed by the month of Ramzan – a symbol of the country’s unity and diversity”. It is simply surprising to see the Prime Minister talking equally about Hindu and Muslim religions and not batting an eyelid. He talked about Holi that was to be celebrated merely a day later with Ramadan that is still months away.
Prime Minister has this uncanny habit to stump almost everyone with his very calculated moves. While the meeting was to inaugurate a book written by the Jordanian King’s cousin, it was turned into a show of Prime Minister Modi’s increasing influence on the Muslims in India or at least on Muslim leaders in the country.
There is no denying that it was a well-crafted move to give a message to the world and the Indian audience too that Muslims stand with Modi. While this may not be true, and Muslims have lots of apprehensions about him, given his past record, and about the designs of the Sangh about Muslims, Modi is giving an impression that his acceptability among the community is on the rise.
Despite initial burst of sporadic support from the community, the apprehensions about true intentions of the Sangh have baffled the community. The Lynching mobs preying on innocent Muslims in North Indian cities have become a commonplace at least in states like Rajasthan and Jharkhand. Both the states are governed by the Prime Minister’s own party, the BJP. Muslims have also been badly impacted by beef ban in much of the country. The Quraish, a largely backward Muslim community, dealing in beef products finds its livelihood sources shrunk considerably since the beef ban. This is despite the fact that Quraish community’s top leader claims close association with Modi. There are now indications that the government intends to make some amends, allowing sale of cattle for slaughter in cattle market. This practice was banned by the government around two years ago.
There is one serious flaw with Modi’s Muslim outreach strategy. It is staggered and comes in small bursts to suit the saffron camp. BJP didn’t give any ticket to Muslim candidates in UP assembly election nor in Gujarat to cater to its core vote bank. Nonetheless it gave ticket to a Muslim candidate in the just concluded Tripura assembly election. In Boxanagar constituency of Tripura, BJP’s Muslim face Baharul Islam Majumdar secured almost twelve thousand votes. Nonetheless he was easily defeated by Sahid Choudhuri of Communist Party of India (Marxist) who secured 19862 votes.
If Prime Minister’s musings are reflection of some sort of metamorphosis taking place in his personality, it is certainly welcome. After lording over 1.25 billion people of the country, the wisdom of Budha and Mahatma Gandhi and the innate communal harmony, a hallmark of the Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb of the country, may be having a profound impact on him. Nonetheless, to many people, this transformation is hard to believe, moreso after his earlier comments pitching shamshans against Qabristans and using puppies while responding to a question about Muslims.
There are telltale signs that following recent electoral reverses in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the saffron poll strategists might be searching for extra votes to at least maintain its tally in the next Lok Sabha, if not to increase it. The BJP strategists who are well-adept in macro-managing the polls, and possess the best oiled poll machinery, know pretty well as to how a few percent votes can swing the votes in favour of the saffron behemoth. As options are limited after it reached its zenith in the last Lok Sabha election, Muslim votes may help it retain its tally in the next elections. But will Muslims really bite the bait?
[Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based writer and commentator. He has written several books on Muslims and Islam in India including Understanding Muslim Leadership in India. He can be reached at [email protected]]