From wooing the Muslim intelligentsia to formulating a Muslim-centric employment generation scheme, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying not to miss an opportunity to win the minority vote.
In a plan to make the party more credible in this segment, the BJP would initially bring out a report card on the status of minorities in the country. Taking their cue from the Sachar committee report, the party would argue the long rule of the Congress is to be blamed for the backwardness among minorities; by doing so, it wants to dispel its ‘anti-minority’ image.
However, the BJP is unlikely to give up on contentious issues such as a universal civil code and abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution which grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
“These issues should be explained to minorities as representative of politics of appeasement. Our stance is removal of Article 370 and that promulgating a universal civil code is necessary for a stronger India,” said a BJP leader. In the past, these issues had led to strained ties between the BJP and its allies.
The Sachar committee report on the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community in India had pointed to lower literacy levels among Muslims, their low presence in the higher bureaucracy and the relative backwardness of Muslim other backward classes (OBCs) compared to Hindu OBCs. According to the 2001 Census, minorities accounted for 18.5 per cent of the country’s population; the majority of these were Muslims (12.4 per cent), followed by Christians (2.3 per cent) and Sikhs (1.9 per cent).
Traditionally, Muslims haven’t voted for the BJP. In a recent article (Understanding Muslim voter behaviour, Seminar, 2009), political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot said Muslims voted together at the local level when, in a particular constituency, they had to defeat a Hindu nationalist candidate nominated by the Shiv Sena or the BJP.
According to a survey by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, in the current Lok Sabha, the BJP managed to receive only 3.7 per cent Muslim votes. The party has just one Muslim member in this Lok Sabha — Shahnawaz Hussain from Bhagalpur, Bihar.
This week, the party’s senior leadership met representatives of the minority community who had gathered from across the country.
It was emphasised to come to power, the BJP needed the minority vote. The gathering pressed the party to formulate an employment-generation scheme targeted towards weavers, artisans and fishermen, which accounted for a higher number of Muslims compared to other communities.
“At each polling booth that has a 10 per cent minority voter, a BJP candidate from that minority community should be present. This is the long-term strategy.
In the short run, identify members of Muslim institutions and the Urdu press to be influenced towards the party’s ideology,” Ram Lal, the party’s national general secretary, told the party cadre.
A core focus of the strategy would be to bring influential members of the Muslim community into its fold. The party leadership has asked its members to ensure a meeting is held between the senior leadership and influential members of the Muslim community before December.
It has also asked its state-units to focus on sects such as Shias and Barelvis.
Many junior leaders of the party also pitched for an emphasis to woo the Christian vote. Some suggested the party should announce a travel subsidy for Christians on the lines of the Haj subsidy, as well as a Waqf-like body for Christians. The senior leadership is yet to take a call on this.
* A core focus of BJP’s strategy would be to bring influential members of the Muslim community into its fold
* Some junior leaders suggested the party should announce a travel subsidy for Christians on the lines of the Haj subsidy