Special Report

Reassuring minorities

Reassuring minorities

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after being elected the leader of the BJP-led NDA on Saturday, struck all the right notes while addressing the newly-constituted ruling parliamentary party.  There was not a false note, no rancor, not even a trace of bitterness or partisanship. Modi was being prime ministerial. One of the highlights was his promise to take everyone along, particularly those who may not have voted for the NDA. In fact, he expanded the old familiar BJP slogan, Sab Ka Saath, Sabka Vikas to add an important layer, that is, Sabka Vishwas. Winning the trust of the minorities, particularly Muslims, ought to be a priority of the Modi Government. A huge and seemingly unbreakable wall of distrust separates the largest minority community and the ruling party. There may be historical reasons why the Sanhgh parivaar and Muslims look at each other with suspicion, even hostility. Much of it is to do with the division of the country on religious lines – and the inherent fellow-feeling that Indian Muslims have for their cousins and co-religionists in Pakistan. The tensions and recriminations between India and Pakistan gives the two communities an additional dimension for distrusting each other. Neither community is blameless. Muslims have made no effort to hide their animus against the BJP, invariably voting against the party in large numbers. For instance, in the recent election, the BJP failed to win a single seat in a Muslim-dominated area because the en-block vote of the community went against the party. On the other hand, if the BJP made an effort to woo the community, engaging it in dialogue, maybe it would succeed in whittling down its opposition. Yet, as Prime Minister Modi is expected to represent every Indian regardless of his caste or creed, his religion or political leanings. As he put it in his address to the NDA MPs, the government works for all 130-crore Indians. This must be reassuring for the community which feels fearful at the emergence of the BJP as the central pole of Indian politics. Modi, in particular, evokes harsh feelings among Muslims, given the controversy surrounding him as Gujarat Chief Minister.  He dealt with the post-result feared and insecurities of the minorities head-on.

Exhorting his MPs to demolish the ‘myth’ of fear of minorities, the PM reassured Muslims that those ‘who did not vote for us too are ours’, and we cannot leave them behind. Such a graceful message ought to help blunt the criticism that secularists-liberals routinely hurl at the PM for having reduced the minorities to a second-class status. But he did allude to the ‘deception’ of the minorities by the so-called secular governments as vouchsafed by the Sachar Committee report. Having used the minorities as a vote-bank, fuelling their insecurities by whipping up the anti-BJP fears, the secular parties did virtually little for their welfare, for their socio-economic upliftment. Modi’s words negate the propaganda about his party pushing a majoritarian agenda.

Undoubtedly, a number of BJP leaders have made no effort to hide their suspicion and distrust of the Muslims, often using inappropriate language against them. This, in turn, has further hardened the stance of Muslims against the BJP. This cycle of abuse and counter-abuse can be broken only if the PM consciously tries to co-opt the community in his administration. The fact that not a single Muslim was elected on the BJP ticket speaks for itself. It is now for the PM to reach out to over 20 crore Muslims by inducing a tall figure from the community in his government. Tokenism practised by successive Congress governments being highly avoidable, Modi should pick a widely respected Muslim from the academic and/or cultural fields for induction in his ministry. Such a large community should not go unrepresented. An inclusive government will grant representation to all sections, including, crucially, the largest minority community. Meanwhile, the miscreants in Gurgaon, a town in Haryana bordering Delhi, who allegedly harassed a Muslim youth at the week-end for sporting a skullcap must be dealt with sternly. Given that a hostile media invariably blows out of all proportion such stray incidents of misconduct by misguided individuals, an example out to be made of those who harassed the 25-year-old man from Bihar who had come for job training to Gurgaon. The way the local police handle this case will serve as a warning to other misguided elements not to intimidate minorities for extortion or just for ‘fun.’  Modi’s reassuring words to his newly-elected MPs ought to be heeded by his flock who must treat every citizen, regardless of his religion, equally with due respect and dignity.



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