25 February 2021 04:53 AM




The grand narrative!

So it's official now. Or rather the cat is out of the bag, finally. Unless , of course , we assume that BJP official spokespersons are not to be taken seriously.

As the Maharashtra assembly election results rolled out, Meenakshi Lekhi, a senior party spokesperson, was asked on a TV channel why didn’t the BJP field any Muslim candidate (in fact it did, I'm told, but he lost)? And didn't she think, it needed to reach out to Muslims in order to stop them drifting towards parties like the AIMIM which ended up winning three seats in the state?

Prompt came the unambiguous retort: the BJP wasn't in the business of reaching out to Muslims.

"It's for others to reach out to the BJP; not for us to reach out to them,"she said testily. If Muslims wished to vote AIMIM it was their lookout, not the BJP’s.

Ms Lekhi needs to be complimented for so clearly and unabashedly spelling out her party's position on the issue. In a sense she only confirmed what we already knew --i.e. Muslims shouldn't entertain any illusions about getting a hug from the Sangh Parivar. Still, it helps to be told the truth to your face.

But it also reflects the BJP's growing arrogance which, if not tempered in good time, might come to haunt it one day. Hubris is never far away from arrogance.

Forget Muslims. They never had great expectations anyway. This new swagger under the party’s new management is reflected in the contempt with which it deals with its critics generally. Anyone who dares disagree with it, or especially Narendra Modi, is promptly branded anti-national/pseudo-secular /or plain silly who don't know what they're talking about. Even old allies are not spared if they don’t sign on the dotted line as happened in Maharashtra in relation to Shiv Sena.

I don’t give a damn for Shiv Sena and perhaps it deserved a kick in the shin but the humiliation the BJP has heaped on its oldest ally speaks for itself. Remember how --not long ago--BJP rode piggyback on Shiv Sena's coat-tails? SS has paid the price for its own arrogance wherein lies a lesson for the BJP. But then it never did humility well and has been famously self-righteous with the moral high ground its preferred territory.

But coming back to Ms Lekhi's comment, it is rare for a mainstream party --and a governing party to boot -- to take such a publicly contemptuous attitude towards any section of the electorate, even if as in this case it has no love lost for them. So, what was she up to? Was it simply an off-the-cuff remark? Or her personal opinion? Or has the party finally decided to let it all hang out openly?

Let’s face it, Ms Lekhi is no ordinary foot soldier of the party prone to speaking out of turn. She is a senior party spokesperson and knows exactly what to say when. And on this occasion she was speaking not in her individual capacity but on behalf of the party leadership in response to a specific question about its attitude towards Muslims. Moreover the BJP is pretty good at keeping its flock on message when it wishes to. Ever heard a dissenting voice under Modi raj? Hence no point pretending that she was either off-message or expressing her personal views, or was misquoted. She was clearly articulating the party line.

Anyone who believes otherwise hasn’t been listening carefully to what the “Modified” BJP has been shouting from rooftops. Namely that it doesn't need Muslims. It can win without having to "appease" them. Remember Modi's maiden prime ministerial speech in parliament when he named everyone--Dalits, SC/STs, tribals, backward classes et al --but pointedly left out Muslims?

It seems he finds it hard to bring himself even to mention the word Muslim. The only time he did it was when giving them a good character certificate ("Indian Muslims will live for India; they will die for India. They will not want anything bad for India.") his famous CNN interview to Fareed Zakaria. But then we all know the context: he was talking to a Muslim journalist on the eve of his first official visit to America which had banned his entry into the country for his alleged role in Gujarat violence. It was all about making the right noises. There are rumours that the answers were heavily rehearsed over several days.

Meanwhile, although it might be good for the BJP's ego to ignore Muslims -- “punish” them for not voting for it -- it's bad politics. No party can claim to be truly national or claim to govern for the whole country if it chooses to exclude such a large part of the population. Muslims are not a fringe group who can be wished away simply because you don't like their face. A 170-million-strong community constitutes a significant electoral force and unless the entire BJP strategy is based on consolidation of the Hindu vote --not sustainable for all time to come--it will be shortsighted to alienate it. The fact that the Congress decline began when it fell out of favour with Muslims tells its own story. There's also the risk of pushing them into the arms of right-wing Muslim parties such as the AIMIM as we saw in Maharashtra.

Nor, ultimately, it is good for the country to have such a sizeable segment constantly simmering and in a permanent state of alienation.

In any case, reaching out doesn't cost anything. It doesn't necessarily mean mollycoddling Muslims with economic incentives or "appeasing" them , to use the BJP's favourite term. It simply means giving them a sense of belonging, not keep questioning their loyalty, not discriminating against them because they are Muslims--and, if they're in difficulty, give them a helping hand .

Is it so difficult to be civil to your own people Ms Lekhi?

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