Syed Khalique Ahmed
NEW DELHI—Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, within a period of six months, twice advised his party leaders and cadres to connect with the Pasmanda (backward) Muslims.
First, he appealed to his party workers and leaders while addressing the concluding session of a two-day national executive meeting of the BJP in Hyderabad in July 2022.
On January 18, 2023, he made a similar appeal while giving a valedictory speech at the party’s national executive here in the National Capital.
In his latest appeal, he asked his party workers to go to Muslims without expecting Muslim votes.
(Is PM Modi really sincere about his “Muslim outreach programme”, or is it mere rhetoric to impress some constituencies at the national and international levels? Or is it a clever bid to split the Muslim community vertically and make them politically weak?
The UP Assembly elections in 2022 have shown that Muslims, irrespective of their schools of thought, and social status, voted en masse for the Samajwadi Party of Akhilesh Yadav after a long gap. Has this unnerved the BJP top brass? It was the division of the Muslim votes among various parties like Congress, SP, BSP etc. that made the BJP’s job easy to win elections in North Indian states.)
Surprisingly, PM’s appeal has not found any serious taker from among the Muslim community or its organizations, suggesting that Muslim leadership takes his statements with a pinch of salt.
This indicates a trust deficit between the premier of the world’s largest democracy and the largest religious and cultural minority of the country.
In none of the two appeals, he explained his vision for bridging the gap of his party with the Muslim minority.
His appeal seems to have failed to convince Muslim intellectuals, human rights defenders and thinkers.
The condition of Muslims, who had been facing myriads of problems under the previous governments led by Congress and other parties, deteriorated extremely after the commencement of the BJP at the helm of affairs at the Centre in May 2014, with Modi as the chief boss.
No one can contest it because there is ample proof of Muslims being targeted officially and non-officially in the last one decade.
But why is Modi interested only in Pasmanda Muslims, or the tiny Dawoodi Bohra community? What about the rest of the Indian Muslims? Is the condition of the rest of the Muslims, other than Pasmanda, anything better, and that is why he is talking about Pasmanda Muslims only?
Dawoodi Bohras, a tiny Shia community, were hounded out like any other Muslim group during 2002 anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat when Modi was chief minister. The attack on their life and property forced the Dawoodi Bohras to improve their ties with Sunni Muslims. Bohras, who earlier stayed in posh localities adjoining Hindu colonies, have gradually shifted to Sunni Muslim localities for their safety.
Considering that PM Modi is really concerned about Pasmanda Muslims accounting for about 80 percent of the total Muslim population in the country as claimed by Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz (Marginalized Muslim Front) leader and former Rajya Sabha MP Ali Anwar, will the PM come to their rescue by extending them separate reservation in government jobs, and reservation of seats in Parliament, state legislatures and local bodies?
As government departments are being gradually handed over to private parties and corporates, will PM Modi fix a quota in jobs for Pasmanda Muslims and Dalits of all religions? Will PM Modi conduct a special census to find out the percentage of Pasmanda and Dalit Muslims to fix a percentage of quota for them?
Will PM Modi implement the recommendations of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, also called the Rangnath Mishra Commission? The commission had recommended 10 per cent reservation for Muslims in government jobs and favoured Scheduled Caste status for Dalits of all religions.
Will PM Modi also implement Sachar Committee report? The Sachar report stated that the educational and financial condition of Indian Muslims collectively was worst than that of Hindu Dalits.
To address the issues facing the Muslim community in India, the committee came out with several recommendations. Among the chief recommendations was: “to set up Equal Opportunities Commission to look into Muslim grievances, create a nomination procedure to increase participation of minorities in public bodies, establish a delimitation procedure that does not reserve constituencies with high minority population for SCs, increase employment share of Muslims, particularly where there is a great deal of public dealing, work out mechanisms to link madrasas with the higher secondary school board, and recognize degrees from madrasas for eligibility in defence, civil and banking examinations.
The Sachar Committee also suggested that policies should sharply focus on “inclusive development” and ‘mainstreaming’ of the community while respecting diversity.”
Where do the PM’s party and his government stand with regard to these recommendations? In the history of Independent India, Modi 2.0 is the first government at the Centre without a Muslim minister. BJP never shies from stating that it does not want Muslim votes, thus isolating and marginalizing Muslims politically. Madrasas have been the butt of attack in all BJP-ruled states. Several madrasa buildings and hostels associated with them have been pulled down in Assam, UP and other states. Madrasas and the students are being systematically vilified. Many mosques have also been razed to the ground by using bulldozers that have become a symbol of awe and fear.
Modi government, in an affidavit in the Supreme Court, rejected the Rangnath Mishra Commission report.
There are many other incidents that indicate the PM’s appeal is only for public consumption and lacks sincerity. Muslims have been the worst victims of mob lynching on the pretext of cow protection, “Ghar wapsi”, “love jihad,” etc. There are many BJP MLAs, MPs, and even ministers and chief ministers who used highly provocative language against Muslims. A Union minister even was live to say to shoot at Muslims during anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests. A woman BJP spokesperson in a TV discussion used highly defamatory language against the Prophet, inviting international criticism of the Indian government.
In an election speech, PM himself said that some people could be recognized by their clothes and this was interpreted as an anti-Muslim comment by political analysts. What kind of message does such a comment from the highest executive of the government give to the citizens? Does not it help create an anti-Muslim atmosphere in the country?
India had never seen the degree of communal division and tension that it witnesses today. Muslims are going through the worst crisis now in the last 75 years of the country’s Independence history.
One hopes that PM Modi’s “Muslim outreach programme” will change the situation for the better for every citizen, including Muslims.