According to analyst Yashwant Deshmukh, founder of CVoter, there are 35 constituencies where 30% of the voters are Muslims and 150 constituencies where Muslims constitute 10% of the voters. This means in the House of 543 seats, approximately 200 seats depend on how Muslims decide to vote. This would make any political party salivate or feel jittery.
Many experts and political commentators assert that the Muslim voting pattern is unpredictable and it can never be ascertained towards which political party they are going to tilt. They might be right, but only partially. When it comes to deciding voting against the BJP, the pattern is quite consistent, and often predictable
Gujarat is an exception where 4 out of 10 Muslims voted for Narendra Modi in the previous elections and if this trend continues, the figure may improve further. In the rest of India though, the situation remains dicey. For the Congress and regional parties like SP, BSP and to a great extent even the Trinamul Congress, the Muslim vote bank has been a staple contributor. In fact recently the Congress President Sonia Gandhi is known to have urged Imam Bukhari of the 17th century Jama Masjid to urge Muslims to vote for the Congress in order to keep the "communal" forces at bay and Bukhari, after the Friday prayer meeting, did communicate the message to the congregation.
In Varanasi where there is a heated contest (well, at least according to the AAP enthusiasts) between Arvind Kejriwal and Narendra Modi, Mukhtar Ansari has stepped out of the fray to ensure that the Muslim vote is not divided and they collectively vote in order to defeat Modi.
Muslims recognise the Congress, the SP/BSP and now even the AAP as "secular" parties who would protect their interests in case of religious conflagration. Coming together of a religious community for the sake of communalism may seem a bit contradictory to an unbiased observer, but this is the state of affairs in the country. Naturally, for them, as it would be for any other community in similar situation, safety and security comes first, development and literacy become secondary. As a young Muslim voter was saying on a TV debate, "What will you do with development and progress if you are not alive?"
We can shrug off these apprehensions as mere misconceptions but these sort of misconceptions cost a big chunk of votes to the BJP. Blame it on the mainstream media propaganda or whatever, the BJP and its previous avatars like the Jan Sangh and the Janata Party came to be known as closely associated with the RSS and the Hindu Jan Sabha, two organisations that not only bear the worldwide stigma of having ideologically encouraged Mahatma Gandhi's assassination but they are also known to propagate the idea of a Hindu nation in which the majority Hindu population reigns supreme over minority populations. Whether this is true or not is open to debate, but this is the general perception of these parties and organisations among Muslims as well as liberal Hindus. Perception is everything in politics.
This perception is so strong that when Muslims vote they vote to bring to power the party that can protect their interests and if that is not possible, then to vote in such a manner that at least they spoil the broth for the BJP. The BJP becomes the common enemy and the rest of the world, the "secular" world, comes together to thwart its rise. Add to this the demolition of the Babri Masjid and it becomes the perfect concoction to demonise the party for a long time to come.
This perception is not going to go away in the near future. Even if you scream from the rooftops that more communal riots have persistently taken place under the Congress and other, the so-called secular parties, than under the BJP, it isn't going to make much of a difference. 100s of TV programmes, newspaper articles and magazine columns, and of course public speeches, pointing every accusatory finger possibly available at the BJP in general and Modi in particular, aren't simply going to vanish. Organisations and individuals hellbent upon stopping Modi are going to ensure that even the younger generation that wasn't directly exposed to the Gujarat 2002 riots doesn't remain oblivious and unaffected by them. Something could have been done in the earlier days, but that opportunity is lost. It's a political disadvantage that the BJP has and its opponents are going to use it to its hilt. No amount of convincing is going to help.
So what should the BJP do?
It should do what Narendra Modi has done in Gujarat. He never woos Muslims. In fact he never even talks about Muslims and Hindus and other communities. In Gujarat he talks about Gujaratis. When he's addressing a national audience, he talks about Indians. The religious lines are totally obliterated in actions and policies. Obviously he needs to talk about the various initiatives for the benefits of particular communities when he's talking among those communities, but other than that he doesn't make a show of his secular credentials. You may scoff at this and say that even if he does, people won't believe him, and even if that is true, this is a good strategy.
Instead of telling them that look, we are secular and you're totally safe with us, create an environment where they feel safe and secure naturally. The BJP doesn't have to appease them. It doesn't even have to take out the contentious contents of the construction of Ram Mandir, Article 370 and the Uniform Civil Code from its manifesto and rhetoric.
It is well and good that at their own various levels the BJP leaders make overtures toward Muslims, for instance yesterday the BJP president Rajnath Singh met prominent Muslim religious leaders like Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, Maulana Kahild Rasheed and Maulana Kalbe Jawa of Lucknow. More than trying to woo, these visits and meetings may be termed as an initiation or at the most a routine political exercise to reassure the community that just because the party doesn't intend to appease a particular community it doesn't mean there is no dialogue between them. These overtures are especially important, and necessary, when other political parties are not even pretending while specifically asking votes from the Muslim community. But the BJP shouldn’t go beyond this.
It's almost decided that there is going to be a government that will be headed by the BJP and Narendra Modi will be the PM. Historically it's the best opportunity the BJP has been provided with to prove its nationalistic credentials. Nation first, individual first and then everything else. Law should be equal for everybody and so should be opportunities. By not giving in to extremist forces and by making the rule of law effective and by formulating government policies that serve the citizens of the country well irrespective of their religion, class and caste the BJP can emerge as a political force that will be acceptable to all.
Until that happens, the BJP should stop wasting its time and resources trying to convince Muslims.
(Amrit Hallan is a professional content writer with strong political and social views that he likes to express on social media as well as through his writings. You can connect with him on Twitter at @amrithallan)