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The triple M factor: Modi, Muslims and Madani

In trying to rebrand himself as a formidable national leader, Narendra Modi - many analysts feel - is walking a tightrope

Shantanu Bhattacharji  |  New Delhi 

If Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s Delhi dreams needed another shot in the arm, it came yesterday — from leader The Muslim cleric’s remarks — fear about Modi among — created a political storm as the BJP used it to target the Congress accusing it of being communal.
. Don't create scare over Modi to seek votes: Muslim cleric

The saffron party is making an appeal to in Kanpur to wear skull caps and burqas for Modi's rally scheduled to be held on October 19. Ahead of Modi's rally, the party is distributing booklets in the Muslim-dominated localities in the city highlighting the 'growth of the community in Gujarat' under his chief ministership. In trying to rebrand himself as a formidable leader, Modi — many analysts feel — is walking a tightrope.

There is one school of thought that argues that Modi’s electoral success is a watershed in Indian By electing him as Chief Minister for a third consecutive term, the voters have sent a clear signal across India’s political spectrum that the alleged distortion of secularism or will no longer be tolerated.

Still, the BJP’s prospects are unclear. Arguably, Modi is a controversial figure, especially among Muslims, after riots in 2002 that killed over 1,000 people in on his watch. The latest opinion polls show the ruling Congress is on a sticky wicket, suggesting a loss of 75-90 of its 206 seats. According to a Times Now-CVoter July opinion poll, the Democratic Alliance (NDA) would win 156 seats with the BJP getting 131 of them.

The Hindutva poster boy is leaving no stone unturned to alter his anti-Muslim image linked to the 2002 riots. At present, Modi is banking on the anti-Congress mood in the country and his own reputation as a development-oriented leader. But his real challenge will be to douse the long-prevalent, intensely anti-Muslim sentiments not only in the BJP but also in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal among other saffron political affiliates.

Modi's Muslim strategy at national level has received a boost with the elevation of Bharuch-based leader Asifa Khan, who switched from the Congress to the BJP on the CM’s behest days before the 2012 Assembly elections, has now been promoted as a member of BJP Minority Morcha's national executive member. Khan is the biggest votary of Modi's main slogan ‘Development without discrimination’ and that minority appeasement is the root cause of communal disharmony in the country.

However, no Muslim was given a ticket in the last Assembly elections. The saffron party’s PM-in waiting claimed the exclusion was not “wilful” but had largely been based on the perception that the aspiring candidates might not win the seats they were looking at on a BJP symbol.

At a conclave of BJP election campaign committee in August, the Hindutva icon said that there are different segments within the like Shias, Sunnis, Bohras and others and they can be reached out with promises of redressing their specific grievances. He claimed that '20-25%' voters from the minority community had voted for him in the assembly polls.

In July, Modi tweeted “Happy Ramazan” on the first day of the holy month, hoping it would bring “joy, peace and prosperity”. But several community leaders said the message was inappropriate and termed it as an electoral gimmick and Modi’s compulsion to be seen a secular leader. In 2011, Modi launched a three-day sadbhavna fast on his birthday to reach out to Gujarat’s aggrieved minorities.

Hindus make up roughly 80% of India’s population and Muslims 13%. The question looms large in Delhi's corridors of power: whom will the Muslims go with in 2014? The issue has the ring of a national pastime. But do Muslims really vote en masse as part of tactical approach to keep forces inimical to their interests out of power? Studies show that Muslims, by and large, voted for non-BJP parties, or anti-BJP parties in states where BJP has been a force to reckon with for long. Also, they adopt 'tactical voting' method, where they vote for the best possible candidate who can defeat the BJP.

The current Lok Sabha has 26 Muslim MPs, of whom six are from Kashmir and Assam. Of the remaining 20, only one was elected from a constituency with less than 10% Muslim voters — Theni in Tamil Nadu, which according to the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies data, where Muslim voters total 4%.

First Published: Wed, October 16 2013. 17:46 IST