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Posted at: Jun 16, 2019, 7:26 AM; last updated: Jun 16, 2019, 7:26 AM (IST)

Iron fist in gloved hand

Saba Naqvi
Saba Naqvi
The Prime Minister has spoken of earning trust of the Muslim community. Yet we also know that the ideology of the BJP/RSS is, at its core, hostile to minorities
Iron fist in gloved hand

Saba Naqvi

The BJP juggernaut has arrived and is on the launchpad of making big seismic changes. More dismantling of existing opposition regimes and old systems are on the cards in the coming years. What remains of the old fault lines in Kashmir will be demolished in ways we cannot yet predict because that is one of the most unpredictable places in the world. 

It’s easier to see that regimes in West Bengal and Delhi will face a furious onslaught of the well-funded and highly motivated army of victors. At the national level, the ruling party is likely to muster a majority in the Upper House by November 2020, at which time the legislative power of veto of the Opposition would end. There remain a few outposts in the south but we shall see how the strongest central regime in years impacts their autonomy in the long run.  

In the interim, it’s important to understand the unfolding strategy towards Indian Muslims (I treat Kashmir as distinct because of its troubled history). The Prime Minister has spoken of earning trust of the community and his regime has announced some welfare measures. Yet we also know that the ideology of the BJP/RSS is at its core hostile to minorities, particularly Muslims. 

So how do we comprehend what is unfolding? First let’s understand that the BJP has not set out to win Muslim support because they don’t need to electorally. On the contrary, some subliminal and open profiling and hostility towards Muslims will remain one of the electoral strategies of the regime. 

What the Modi-led BJP has set out to do is to “tackle” the Muslim problem because they cannot do away with such a large community (and possibly do not wish to do so either as every now and then they need to project the “Other” against “Us”). Appearance of a benign state policy towards the community only adds to the aura around a regime looking invincible. It makes supporters of the regime feel good as people like gestures that appear magnanimous. It also helps build an international reputation.

What is likely to happen therefore is the following. In the coming years there will be a stated welfare approach to the Muslim community. Certain schemes will be announced and I leave it to the experts to illuminate us on whether they will be absorbed. I have already met Muslim women who took the Ujjwala Yojana as they are entitled to as citizens of India. 

The question that remains is this: will the schemes targeting all poor (including Muslims) be given without prejudice in the bureaucracy and administrative structures? Or will the BJP be publicising its Muslim outreach largely through the madrasa network and in the process try to co-opt sections of the clerical establishment? If that’s what they do after shouting pseudo-secularism for the last few decades, it would make for a fascinating farce at the very least.

That was the route taken by the Congress that empowered the clerical establishment when it overturned the Shah Bano judgment years ago. That is also the route taken more recently by Mamata Banerjee’s TMC and look at the trouble they are in. The visibility of clerics always empowers the BJP so now if the maulanas et al line up and get an audience it would be on bended knee. The BJP could every now and then put a velvet glove on its iron fist.

It’s important to understand the contradictions. The RSS/BJP outreach project build on diligent work by the cadres has had considerable success with Dalits and to an extent with tribals. These are communities they wish to absorb. The BJP does not wish to absorb Muslims as a voter bloc. However, they wish to manage and tackle them. Hence, a few new schemes and inclusion in existing ones are highly likely. This is also ultimately intended to challenge what remains of the secular parties who worked solely with identity and ignored the delivery end of the electoral formula. 

But where the BJP will defeat Muslims is in identity battles. Even if a glorious Ram temple is built in Ayodhya after a court verdict permitting it, there is nothing to stop the faithful from remembering Kashi and Mathura tomorrow. But that would happen if they feel the strategic need to do so. 

Too many hate crimes against minorities do not actually suit the BJP narrative in this moment of triumph. Yet there is no checking the communal propaganda that continues on social media, by known BJP backers and members. Day in and out they spew venom against Muslims and Islam. That is a glimpse into the real mindset and there is no checking this injection of hate into the body politic.

Whatever the BJP gives or does not give Indian Muslims it will be done with an iron fist. The gloves will come off if required but at this point in the journey, velvet gloves make for smart statecraft. 


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