PM’s loaded speech to new MPs, poll survey indications and anecdotal buzz picked up on 2019 election trail point to first, tentative gusts of change
Magic is powerful, unexplained science. And what the media often calls ‘Modi magic’ out of laziness or inability to analyse is usually the outcome of silkworm-like tenacious planning and deft, disciplined workmanship.
One such slowly unraveling, almost unbelievable political shift is afoot. It is invisible to the unsuspecting eye or clouded mind.
A very small but increasingly significant number of Muslims have started shifting towards PM Narendra Modi’s new BJP. As gingerly as a child that has just begun to trust a gruff stranger.
The India Today-Axis survey 2019 exit poll survey shows that in four states, 14% Muslims have voted BJP. Survey and exit poll figures always have a large room for extrapolation and inaccuracy. Given the problematic relationship of the community with the BJP and especially Modi since 2002 Gujarat riots, it hard to believe one in seven Muslims voted him in large and polarised states like MP.
New voices from the ground
But surveys are directional. They point to a broader trend.
While covering this election, I have come across a few young Muslim men who have said things like, “Modi toh kaam achchha kar raha hai. Lekin unko Yogi jaiso ko bolna chahiye ki soch samjhke baat karein.” (Modi is doing good work. But he should ask motormouths like UP CM Yogi Adityanath to stop attacking Muslims).
A young Muslim driver, while dropping me to work from a TV channel office on election results day, said, “Modi sabke liye kaam kar raha hai. Lekin hamarey mein jisko thoda education hai woh baki logon ko Modi ke baarey mein daratey hai, aur jisko education nahin hai woh darr jaatey hain.” (Modi is working for all. But in our community, anyone with half an education does scare-mongering among the illiterate masses).
Why Muslims voted for BJP pic.twitter.com/A1nGuNC3Sp— Raja Raj (@MeghrajRajeev) May 25, 2019
A Muslim cabbie in Dubai, a migrant from Lucknow, told me a few months ago that news from home delighted him. “Dubai aj Dubai bana hai kyon ki yahan logon ko kanoon ka darr hai. Modi aane se aj India mein bhi woh ho raha hai. Mujhe gharwale batatey hain.” (Dubai could become Dubai because of people’s fear of the law. I hear from my family that it is happening in India under Modi).
Women quietly leading change?
Many among an estimated 220 million beneficiaries of Modi’s direct benefit, household or public utility flagship schemes are Muslims, especially women. It is difficult to sit in city comforts and imagine what an LPG cylinder means in a poor household where women daily provide food for the family in fumes from chullahs.
We can’t even imagine how electricity brings alive a village home used to oil lamps after dark. Nor can most media commentators realise what it is particularly for women –– many of whom wouldn’t drink water even when thirsty so they don’t have to relieve themselves in the open –– to finally get a toilet built by the government.
My househelp is Muslim. Everyone in her family and village voted for BJP. They got free gas cylinder, gas stove, ration, schemes for pregnant women, girl child.— Rachna Parmar (@rachnaparmar) May 24, 2019
Those who talk about Muslim persecution have no clue how social welfare schemes have benefitted people under PM Modi. https://t.co/BbzIuxIP61
Under Modi, centuries-old social and gender injustices in the community have also been challenged for the first time. Instant triple talaq was outlawed, polygamy challenged in court. Parties that milked a twisted ‘secularism’ to build a Muslim votebank never thought of the women.
Interestingly, for the first time, about 1,300 Muslim women from India went to Haj without ‘mehram’ or a male companion.
Many believe that the silent vote of Muslim women brought greater immensity to the BJP mandate in 2017 UP elections and now.
Who doesn’t want a stake in success
After years of rallying behind so-called secular parties or backing smaller, communal ones like Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM or Kerala’s Indian Union Muslim League, Muslims stood forlorn and watched in fear and awe the onward march of Modi’s BJP. Scare-mongering ‘liberals’ and bigoted community leaders have drilled in the narrative for years that “any party which speaks up for Hindus is your sworn enemy and a danger to Islam”.
But now some have started seeing that while Modi has spoken up for Hindus and unabashedly wore his saffron identity, he has delivered benefits without discrimination and dazzlingly improved India’s relations across the Islamic world from Saudi Arabia to UAE to Iran.
Modi’s minority affairs ministry has quietly delivered. From hunar haats for craftsmen across India to mainstreaming madrassa teachers by training to providing facilities to institutions teaching Muslim girls in 308 districts under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Vikas Karyakram.
Now, many Muslims are beginning to wonder why they must stand aloof and not join the march of what more and more see as a resurgent India. ‘Secular’ parties have given them nothing but the lollipop of an aggressive identity and widespread, almost permanent poverty and illiteracy.
More and more Muslims will sense an opportunity in being stakeholders in their nation rather than sulking in a corner.
Modi opens a surprising frontier
Modi’s infallible political instincts have picked up the scent. In his speech to the new MPs, the signaling was clear and heavy.
“A people’s representative does not have the right to decide who he or she will serve. They must serve who were with us, and also those who may join our march in the future,” he said. “We will serve those who trust us, and those who may trust us in the future. In this lies great strength.”
जनता ने हमें बहुत बड़ा आदेश दिया है।— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 25, 2019
जनप्रतिनिधि के लिए कोई भेद-रेखा नहीं।
जो हमारे साथ रहे हैं, हम उनके लिए भी हैं। जो भविष्य में हमारे साथ चलेंगे, हम उनके लिए भी हैं। pic.twitter.com/UAvnh0M2Be
He didn’t stop there. “The deception that happened with India’s poor also happened with its minorities. It would have been good to bring them education, ensure social and financial parity with other communities,” He said. “But for the sake of votebank politics, imaginary fears have been unleashed. Today I say this after paying my respects to the Constitution, we have to end this trickery.”
For 70 years, India’s poor were betrayed. In the last 5 years, an effort was made to change this culture.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 25, 2019
Similarly, for 70 years, minorities were treated only as vote banks. ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’ aims to correct this wrong and work towards real empowerment. pic.twitter.com/TtzXq9Qd8L
Opportunity comes with a catch
Even small shifts in Muslim allegiance will make the BJP virtually unassailable. But if the party displays even traces of greed for the votebank, its core Hindutva supporters will catch it swiftly and furiously dissent. This is the term they are expecting the BJP to go for the kill. They want to see Ram Mandir built, Articles 35A and 370 removed from Kashmir and a Uniform Civil Code established.
One suspects even Modi would not want to leave a legacy of unfinished Hindutva agenda, however strong the temptation of secular, statesmanlike immortality.
Whatever India’s wounded Left-‘liberals’ may say, a shift –– not sweeping but significant –– in Muslim allegiance towards the BJP is almost certain. How the BJP will say thanks is the confounding question.
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Last Updated 26, May 2019, 10:29 AM