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Behind Narendra Modi's concerns for Muslims, the BJP's logic of gain

Behind Narendra Modi's concerns for Muslims, the BJP's logic of gain


Prime Minister Narendra Modis comments that he does not do Hindu-Muslim relations because of his enduring commitment to sabka saath, sabka vishwas politics and that he has great faith in the truest form of secularism, which provoked an interesting debate. A section of political commentators (including the journalist who conducted this interview for a television news channel) argued that these comments reflect Modi's emotional side and his caring attitude towards all sections of society, including the Muslims. On the other hand, according to the critical point of view, the statements made by the Prime Minister in this interview are completely contradictory to what he said in a series of election speeches. This criticism draws legitimacy from the fact that the BJP's second-tier leadership defended the Prime Minister's previous controversial remarks. They do not hesitate to characterize the opposition, particularly the Congress Party, as an anti-Hindu entity.

The scope of this media debate on the BJP's Muslim outreach should be widened to analyze the possible electoral implications of Modi's recent statements. For this reason, the BJP's 2024 election campaign must be considered in its entirety: the promises made in the Sankalp Patra (manifesto), the identification of key voters and the strategic means of mobilizing them in favor of the BJP candidates at the level constituencies. The campaign has been organized in such a way that every facet continues to revolve around the figure of Modi. For example, the election promises made in the Sankalp Patra are described as a Modi ki guarantee; identified voters are called Modi ka Parivar; and Modi is recognized as the leading campaigner in virtually every state.

It is worth noting here that the Sankalp Patra emphasizes more on Modi-centric welfarism and downplays the Hindutva agenda. However, he remains silent on the question of Muslim backwardness. Even the slogan Sabka Saath is used very carefully to avoid any reference to Muslim communities. This strategic omission is interesting. For almost three years, the BJP has been running an active campaign to highlight the plight of Pasmanda Muslims. In fact, a strong impression was created that the party would use Pasmanda's reach to expand its electoral support, particularly in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The BJP establishment became too conscious just before the first phase of elections. Instead of highlighting Modi's welfarism or guarantees, the party leadership decided to take the Congress manifesto as a reference point. The manifesto was criticized for encouraging separatism and appeasement with Muslims. It is claimed that the Congress will restructure the affirmative action framework to provide reservations to Muslims on religious grounds. The entire BJP campaign eventually became Muslim-centric. In this sense, the Prime Minister's recent interview certainly goes against this style of electoral campaign.

Nonetheless, this seemingly more positive approach by the BJP towards Muslims does not deviate from the party's main electoral concerns. It appears that the BJP leadership is now keen to invest in its own version of inclusion and social cohesion in the remaining phases of this election. It's understandable. The contemporary BJP is a truly professional political party. The logic of victory, which is often invoked by senior BJP leaders to justify their strategic actions, does not depend solely on the party's declared ideological considerations. Instead, the BJP under Modi relies heavily on new and innovative ways to steadily secure and consolidate political power.

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From this point of view, the support apparatus for the BJP becomes very relevant. The party has the advantage of having a core ideological base, which includes grassroots leaders, workers and voters who have been nurtured by the RSS and other ideologically affiliated organizations. This grassroots support base allows the party to experiment at the local level. The manner in which the inauguration ceremony of the Ram temple in Ayodhya last January was publicized at the lowest level of society in various regional contexts underlines the fact that the BJP has a strong popular presence, which gives confidence to its leaders.

On the other hand, there is a relatively new, but growing, political support that helped the BJP establish its dominance after 2014. Professional politicians belonging to non-BJP parties (who joined the BJP), workers professional politicians (who now work for the party) and a significant number of new voters (dissatisfied with the opposition and abandoned them to support the BJP) constitute this political constituency. Unlike the main support base, this pro-BJP political configuration is relatively fragile for two reasons. First, these political actors come from diverse ideological orientations. They may not fully subscribe to the Hindutva imagination in politics and governance. They might even dislike anti-Muslim rhetoric and expect the party to have an inclusive vision. Second, and perhaps more importantly, professional politicians always support the successful political party. The Narendra Modi-led BJP is an attractive option for them as the party has established its political dominance. It will become difficult for these leaders to stay within the BJP if the party does not do well in the elections.

It is politically inevitable that the BJP establishment responds to the concerns and anxieties of both components of the support apparatus in order to make the logic of victory viable. This is precisely what the party leadership did. In the first phase of the elections, the BJP tried to mobilize traditional Hindutva voters simply to discredit the opposition. It seems the focus is now shifting. The BJP would like to reach out to its new constituency by highlighting Modi's concerns regarding Muslims. It will be interesting to see how this multi-faceted campaign will contribute to the growth of the party as an institution in the long term.

The author is Associate Professor, CSDS




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