The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has started a Muslim-outreach drive caught in a minority dilemma as it gears up to take a shot at power in West Bengal.
There appears to be some realisation within the party that it would be foolhardy to completely ignore the state’s over 24.6 million Muslims, who constitute over 27 per cent of the population, as it launches a membership drive among the minorities.
In a series of brainstorming sessions, starting from West Bengal’s election strategy meeting held in New Delhi in July, a section of party leaders have underscored the need to expand the BJP’s base among minorities in the state, BJP insiders say.
On Thursday (September 24) a senior BJP leader, Paresh Chandra Das, in a Facebook post wanted to know what the party’s strategy for the Muslim is. “…Are they (Muslims) untouchable? Will the Muslims not take part in the government formation? We must adopt a policy for participation for everyone and development for all,” he wrote.
There have also been some indications that one of the reasons for senior leader Mukul Roy storming out of the Delhi huddle in July was his differences with state president Dilip Ghosh over the assessment of BJP’s present strength in Bengal.
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BJP sources said Roy, who had joined the BJP in 2017 after being sidelined in the TMC, was of the view that the party was not yet in the position to come to power in the state, and it needed to expand its base beyond its vote bank of core Hindu hardliners.
Roy, who enjoys a very good rapport with a section of influential Muslim clergy in the state, has reportedly been asking the party to reach out to the minorities as there has been a “growing disgruntlement” within the community against the ruling Trinamool Congress over governance and economic issues.
BJP think-tanks too have now decided to make some efforts to reach out to the minorities.
Revamping its minority units in all the districts, the party has set a target to enrol 20 lakh members from the Muslim community by the end of this year, said Ali Hossain, president of the party’s Minority Morcha.
Ali claimed to have already inducted 70,000 people from the community into the party fold, taking the number of BJP’s Muslim members in the state to over four lakh.
To achieve the highly ambitious target, Ali said, they were trying to clear “misconceptions” about the BJP being an anti-minority party. He said they were explaining the party’s position on contentious issues such as the construction of Ram Mandir, implementation of NRC-CAA, proliferation of unregulated madrasahs in the state, cow slaughters etc.
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“No true Muslim will have any allegiance to a mosque named after an individual (read Babar) and not Allah. The temple is being constructed as per a Supreme Court’s verdict and as law abiding citizens, we should respect the verdict,” Ali said on the demolition of Babri Masjid and the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya.
On NRC-CAA, the BJP’s minority leader said, the National Register of Citizens was no longer in the party’s agenda. “We are for implementation of only the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which has nothing to do with Indian Muslims.”
He also defended his party’s stand against cow slaughter, saying they were telling people that there was nothing wrong in it as the Article 48 of the Constitution of India directs the state to make efforts for banning the Beef consumption and animal slaughtering.
On the BJP leaders’ consistent attacks on madrasahs terming them as cradle of Islamic terrorism, Ali said the allegation was against the unregulated madrasahs and not those affiliated with the government.
Criminalisation of triple talaq is another issue the BJP is harping to get support of Muslim women. Ali, who is with the BJP for the last 27 years, said the move gave lot of social security to Muslim women for which they would support the party.
Though not many within the community are entirely convinced with Ali’s argument, Israrul Haque Mondal, president of Bengal Madrasah Education Forum, said that a section of the Muslims were unhappy with the TMC and might vote for the BJP in the ensuing assembly elections due early next year.
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“If the BJP does not rake up fresh issues to vilify Muslims again, then it might get some more Muslim votes because many are disappointed over joblessness, lack of development, corruption at the grassroots level and muscle flexing of local TMC leaders,” Mondal said.
In 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP got 4 per cent Muslim votes, an increase of 2 per cent from what it had secured in 2014 parliamentary polls.
Most of the migrant labourers who lost job and had to return to the state due to lockdown, necessitated because of Covid-19, were Muslims, he pointed out. “For their current plight, they (migrant labourers) blame lack of employment opportunities in the state. No visible attempt has been seen so far from the TMC to clear its position and pin down the central government for failing to handle the problem of migrant labourers.”
He said many Muslims were also not very happy with the so-called secular parties, including the TMC, for pandering to communal Muslim leaders instead of working for the greater welfare of the society.
“Just like many Hindus do not like the communal agenda of the BJP, many Muslims too are annoyed with the politics of Imam bhata (allowance given to Imams and Muezzins by the TMC government). The community wants their real problems of poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy to be addressed,” Mondal said.
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He rued absence of tall secular Muslim face like that of late ABA Ghani Khan Choudhury (former Congress leader and Union minister) among existing minority politicians in the state.
“The problem with the BJP is that its core supporters feel very strongly about anti-minority issues and there is a risk of them starting deserting the moment the party drops those issues,” said senior journalist Probir Pramanik.
The predicament for the party, many BJP leaders admit in private, is that the curve of Hindutva politics started flattening in the state and that the NRC-CAA, Ram Mandir and other such emotive issues of polarisation have past their sell-by date, and are no longer getting enough traction with the Hindus.