Muslims welcome PM Modi's 'conciliatory' words, but seek visible action

Photo: PTI
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s improvisation on the 2014 catchline, “sabka saath, sabka vikas (collective effort, inclusive development)” by adding “sabka vishwas (trust of all)”, was conveyed as a specific message for the minorities because the expatiation that followed alleged non-BJP governments had “deceived” the communities in the same way as they “cheated” the poor. Addressing newly elected MPs of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies in Parliament House on May 25, Modi said: “I expect from you (the members) in 2019 that you will be able to puncture that deception. We have to earn their (the minorities) trust.” The key word was “trust” and its use was predicated on an admission that a degree of distrust had existed between the BJP and Muslims, Christians and other non-Hindu communities in Modi’s first tenure.

Muslims thought leadership largely welcomed Modi’s “conciliatory” words with provisos that emanated from a long-standing mutual animosity and alienation between the community and the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). However, most of them acknowledged that while Modi arrived in 2014 creating “suspicion, hatred and fear” in them, five years on, the “negativity” was supplanted with a “little hope and reconcilement”. 

Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangi Mahal, the Naib Imam of Lucknow’s Aishbagh Eidgah, said: “The PM’s words were assuring, provided they yield results on the ground. We do not want reservations (in education and job) but if we are empowered educationally and economically, it will be good. We haven’t lost hope.”  There was a sense that the BJP’s overwhelming second mandate might cause the minorities to further recoil.

Mahmood Madani, general secretary of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, was among the first community leaders to felicitate Modi’s re-election in a note. He said: “The PM has returned with a huge verdict that we must not question or belittle. As Muslims, it’s incumbent upon us to map the road ahead on a foundation of mutual trust. India is complex and diverse and inter-faith differences always existed. Now it’s time Muslims became stakeholders and partnered in building a New India.”

Zaheer Kazi, a Mumbai-based educationist who heads Anjuman-i-Islam and who had interacted with Modi in the past, spoke of being “satisfied but not entirely happy” with the PM’s first innings. “Nothing untoward happened but there was nothing significant for us either. My message to the PM is that you didn’t do much damage as was expected but you didn’t do much to create a level playing field for us. This time, he must move ahead. On our part, we must give this government a chance.”

Not every Muslim opinion-maker was as sanguine as Kazi and Madani. Tariq Hasan, an author and a journalist from Aligarh, identified two goalposts for the community. Hasan said: “The next five years should be used by Muslims to become better and more committed citizens. They must build bridges with underprivileged sections of society and shed their insular approach.”  Hasan added: “The second approach should be for the Muslim intelligentsia to engage directly and collectively with the PM on community matters. No backroom deals with self-appointed interlocutors, please. This way there will be no sell-outs and no backstabbing.”

Nawab Malik, the Mumbai-based Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) spokesman, stressed that the fight to reclaim space for Muslims lay squarely with non-BJP parties.  Malik, who was a legislator from Mumbai’s Nehru Nagar and Anushakti Nagar, was emphatic that religious polarisation in an election was not insuperable.  “It’s time for secular parties to shed the fear psychosis that Muslim candidates will not win because Hindus reject them. I won from seats where Muslims were not in a majority. Giving more tickets to Muslims is a sure way of creating confidence in the community,” he said.   

If Malik believed in enlarging the political turf for Muslims, Zafarul Islam Khan, chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission and editor of Milli Gazette, a fortnightly, thought Malik’s proposal was “unfeasible”. “There are a handful of seats where Muslims are dominant. In India, we can’t have a Muslim leader or a Muslim party because these are recipes for polarisation,” said Khan, finding an aye-sayer in Maulana Khalid Rasheed and Asaduddin Owaisi, president of the Majlis-e-Ittehadil Muslimeen and Hyderabad MP. Owaisi said, “We have three more Muslim MPs than 23 in the 16th Lok Sabha. But we can’t term this a great victory. Take Uttar Pradesh — the six Muslims who won represent constituencies where Muslims are 40 per cent.  The point to note is that in 2014 and 2019, there is not a single Muslim in the 300-plus MPs that the BJP has. Our dilemma is we can’t have a pan-Indian Muslim leadership because every state has a different identity and culture. Secular parties will never allow a Muslim leadership to emerge.”

Given the hard realities, Muslims concluded that they have to work in two scenarios: With a more “benign” BJP or a more robust Congress that is prepared to accommodate the like-minded parties.

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