by FP Politics
As the 2014 Lok Sabha polls draw closer, the secular-communal debate gets louder. And uglier. While the Congress scrambles to strengthen its grip on India’s minority votes, the general despondence over the economy could just be the Bharatiya Janata Party’s best chance to beat the Congress at its own game and snap up a poll victory by deftly reaching out to non-traditional BJP voters.
In an obvious attempt to somewhat dilute his hardliner image, 11 years after the Gujarat riots, the Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government has decided to pay for the repairs of mosques damaged during the riots. The Times of India reports:
The state government’s u-turn came after close to 10 years of legal battle, during which it refused to own up responsibility for restoring and repairing the shrines damaged by marauding Hindu mobs across the state.
In the present political climate, the first step towards that end would naturally be to paint their poll campaign chief Narendra Modi as more pro-Muslim even though the Gujarat chief minister has made it evident in the past that he will not bow so easily to populist gimmicks like Shivraj Chouhan wearing a skull cap on Eid.
Narendra Modi and Sonia Gandhi. Agencies.
The case of the mosques was based on a petition filed by the Islamic Relief Committee-Gujarat. In fact, the government, which had tittered and contested the Islamic body’s demands for ten long years, has assured the Supreme Court that it will come up with a credible scheme to pay for damage repairs by October this year, when the next hearing is scheduled to take place.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the reason behind the sudden softening of the Gujarat government’s stance on repairs to over 500 mosques and religious properties across the state.
The move serves two purposes: One, it sends out a clear message that if the Gujarat CM were to take up a bigger, national role, he would be more accommodating towards Muslims than he is currently made out to be. Secondly, it doesn’t really require a very apparent stepping down for Narendra Modi’s image in the form of directly canvassing for more votes.
On the other hand, with the Congress’ policy failures fast outrunning its pro-secular reputation, the party would seek ways to tighten its grip around Muslim votes soon. As several Congress leaders have already opined, the VHP-SP government showdown in Uttar Pradesh may havepolarized votes to such an extent that UP’s electorate could might be starkly divided between the BJP and the SP.
With the Samajwadi Party giving Congress grief on several issues, the party would need to devise ways to promote its secular image and turn votes back towards itself. In fact, Sonia Gandhi has herself intervened in a case in which several Muslim clerics complained that land owned by the Wakf Board was encroached upon by contractors and land mafia.The Times of India reports:
At the heart of the controversy are two plots of land, which a number of prominent Muslim clerics alleged have been encroached upon by the land mafia. One is an eight-acre plot in the tony Jor Bagh area, which also happens to be the constituency of Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. The second is a two-acre plot in Mehrauli in South Delhi. The approximate value of both the land parcels is over Rs 3,000 crore
The report says that at Sonia’s behest, an expert committee headed by Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit and Minorities Affairs minister Rahman Khan has been set up. On behalf of Rahul Gandhi, Digvijaya Singh has written to the leaders assuring them that their issues will be resolved soon.
However, in their hurry to grab attention of the minority population with populist measures, the national parties might be missing the shift of focus in the Muslim community itself. The political players probably fail to realise that the Muslim voters are now wary of old tricks.
As writer Abdul Khaliq points out in article in The Indian Express aptly titled ‘The same old sop story’, the community can no more be appeased or waylaid by debates on religion. Flaying the BJP, Congress and the SP for their divisive and opportunistic policies, Khaliq notes that the Muslim community doesn’t seek cosmetic sympathy. He writes:
Muslims want to bridge the distance between communities, not exacerbate it. They are sick of the politics that uses secularism as a cloak of convenience. Rather than being given nominal group privileges, they want a level playing field in education and the job market, when looking for accommodation, or when an act of terrorism takes place.
And if that is indeed the predominant feeling within the community across classes, the big political players have got their election math all wrong!