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Paper No. 149

by R.Upadhyay

"The Muslims are the flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood" Deen Dayal Upadhyay in Calicut session in1967 of Bhartiya Jana Sangh.

Bangaru Laxman, the new president of the BJP in his presidential speech in the recently held Nagpur- session(August 26-28) of the party, repeated this statement.

Upadhyay, was an ideologue of the BJS/BJP, and his thesis of "integral humanism" continues to be the philosophical ideology of the party.  Though, the statement of Upadhyay was too general in nature, Laxman tried to send a signal that he was serious on re-working  BJP’s relationship with Indian Muslims.  This is not the first attempt on the part of the BJP to woo Muslims, as in mid nineties also it had made a similar attempt by forming Minority Morcha of the party with a view to counter its anti-Muslim image.  The present overture of the national president of a ruling party at centre, that too in the inaugural session of its highest policy making body is significant and could be  expected kick off a wide-ranging debate.

A debate on Hindu-Muslim politics is not new to Indian polity.  The seed of communal politics sown by the Britishers during freedom movement gradually developed roots by the time India achieved Independence with its partition on the basis of the two-nation theory. For the Muslims of this sub-continent, creation of Pakistan was a symbolic triumph of "Muslim Nationalism", whereas the Hindu community of divided India continued to nurse a psychological grudge against the Muslims for their direct or indirect role in support of partition.

Ever since partition of this sub-continent, the Indian Muslims were never allowed by their community leaders to get themselves free from the shackles of theological fundamentalism.   They were forced to nurse a feeling that the Muslims being a religious minority were deliberately ignored and deprived of their share in the governance of the country as well as in the educational and economic development of Indian society.  Their leaders with vested interests of their own did not allow them to share the platform with millions of deprived sections of Indian population irrespective of their religious affinity, and thus became victims of vote-bank politics.

Our political guardians irrespective of their political philosophy exploited the psychological problem of Muslim voters and preferred to utilise them for their political interests than to undo the widening gap of mistrust between the two communities.  The Muslim leaders too remained more concerned and zealous about the security of the personal laws and religious grievances of the community rather than for their modern education or economic advancement.  The growth of the BJP as a party of Hindu-resurgence further isolated the Indian Muslims from the mainstream politics of the country.

The demolition of a disputed structure Babri Masjid at Ayodhya was a catalyst in the resurgence of the BJP.  The Masjid incident worked as a psychological victory for "assertive Hindus", and there is no doubt that this helped the party to reach the centre-stage of Indian politics. Apart form other factors, the rise of the BJP in the last decade of the 20th century was mainly due to the projection of the party as a custodian of Hindu interests. Slogans like  "Jo Hindu Hit Ki Baat Karega, Wahi Desh Par Raj Karega" ( One who will talk of Hindus interest, would only rule this country.) was widely prevalent before the BJP came to power, and consequently, the Muslims by and large avoided party.

The scars of the two significant historical events, partition of the country on August 15, 1947 and demolition of "Babri Masjid" on December 6, 1992 are so deep in the mind of the two communities that any attempt to reconcile the Hindu-Muslim relations by the forces of Hindutva is not likely to succeed in the short term.

After the BJP headed a coalition Government at centre in 1998, Prime Minister Vajpayee and his advisers as well as his party colleagues in the Government have come to realise that without shedding its Hindu– agenda, it would be very difficult for it to function as a party of governance. With their experience of governance for over two years in association with their NDA partners, they perhaps learnt a lesson that without widening the base of the party in a pluralistic society, their party is bound to stagnate.

The failure of the BJP to counter the tactical voting by alert Muslims against the BJP during 1999 Lok-SABHA election, which caused a major set back to the party in UP, followed by its poor performance in subsequent assembly bye elections and panchayat elections in the State also sent an alarming signal to the leadership.   Vajpayee-centric leaders of the party were convinced that the onward march of the BJP was no more possible with singing and dancing on the tune of the triumph of Hindu –agenda.  The Nagpur resolution of the BJP under the presidentship of Bangaru Laxman was therefore, an attempt for re-engineering the BJP’s relationship with Muslims

The forthcoming Assembly election in UP, the largest state in the country next year is in the priority list of Laxman. It may not be possible for the BJP to retain its power in the state if the Muslims repeat their tactical voting against the party.  Since Muslims constitute 19% of the population in the state whose votes are decisive in many constituencies. Laxman was under political compulsion to announce the pro-Muslim agenda of the party in his presidential speech. But will the party succeed in UP with the change in tactics?

Realising the political compulsions of the BJP, even the RSS leaders have no reservations in BJP’s parliamentary front functioning as an independent body within the frame- work of the National Agenda for Governance.

The attempt of the new president to erase the anti-Muslim image of the BJP was greeted with skepticism by both friends and foes of the BJP. While the supporters of the party are not ready to abandon their dream to revive the pre-Islamic glory of their nation, its political adversaries are ridiculing the party leaders for their double speak. What to talk of creating a confidence among the Muslims, the BJP leaders are not even in a position to convince their own party cadres, who have pushed the BJP to a centre-stage on the basis of the Hindu-agenda?  Expressing his anguish against the BJP President for his "new found love for the Muslims" Acharya Dharmendra Maharaj, a prominent leader of the VHP cautioned the Muslims that "If the BJP could betray 85 crore Hindus in the country, it will not remain loyal to 15 per cent Muslims" (Hindu dated September 26).

On the face of it, the new approach of the BJP president towards the Muslims might be a revolutionary step. Similarly his symbolic gesture to "secularise" the party may have satisfied some of the party’s allies, though Shiva Sena is strongly opposed to it. But will it be possible for the party leadership to prove their long- standing historical and ideological philosophy towards the Muslims wrong? Will the BJP leaders be able to convince the Muslims that they are part of the mono-cultural Indian society, which they claim as cultural nationalism? So long the attitude of exclusiveness both among the Hindus and Muslims in looking upon each other as Mlechhas and Kafirs respectively is not changed, Laxman may not be able to overcome the psychological barrier between the two communities, which started from the day the country was partitioned and reached its climax on the day the "Babri Masjid" was demolished.  Altaf Hussain, chief of Muttahida Qaumi Movement of Pakistan might have denounced the two-nation theory and declared that "partition of India was the biggest blunder in the history of mankind" but would he be able to change the mindset of Indian Muslims, who are not being allowed to think on their by their community leaders?

The Muslim’s response to Laxman’s overture has been lukewarm. His liberal voice neither convinced the party supporters nor created any confidence among the Muslims. However, the debate on the issue is so intense that even the low profile President of the BJP, may be catapulted to national and international levels. With a series of his interview in media, Laxman could even attract the attention of the Islamic world. Evincing their keen interest in new president of a party of Hindutva the Ambassadors of Morocco and Tunisia have already invited him to visit their countries. This is perhaps his only but significant achievement on this issue so far.


(e-mail ramashray60