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Modi and Muslims need a political outreach

Last updated on: March 15, 2017 10:19 IST

'For the sake of the nation, and the preservation of its polity, it is high time the country's largest political party and the country's largest religious minority make peace between them,' says Saisuresh Sivaswamy.

A Muslim voter waits to cast his vote during an election

The Uttar Pradesh election verdict has been hailed for what it is, a truly landmark victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party.

But among the various adjectives used to describe the win -- from 'people rising above caste' and 'rejection of politics of appeasement' to 'nation is standing with Modi' -- none has come closest to getting it right as Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

A 'tectonic shift' in Indian politics, he has called it, and he is right.

The verdict in UP shows that the ground beneath all our feet has well and truly shifted, and marks a clean break with the past.

There is no going back.

Modi admitted as such, when on Sunday he called the UP results the 'foundation of a new India.'

This tectonic shift, or foundation for a new India, did not come about overnight, but has been long in the making in various 'laboratories' across the country, starting with Gujarat in 2002 where the formula to negate Mandal was perfected and finetuned.

The result is what we have in Uttar Pradesh today; but by no means has the last word been said or the formula been abandoned.

In his post-victory speech, the prime minister was categorical when he said that the new state government will be for every citizen alike.

This commitment fulfils two of the three parameters that civics textbooks use to describe democracy: Government by the people, for the people.

The third parameter -- government of the people -- stands lightly tattered, but that's nothing new in a BJP-led establishment, be it at the Centre or in states.

'Of the people' in UP, for instance, has a serious omission. It is not of 19.26% of its population who find no representation in the UP government.

To put it in stark terms, of the 3,84,83,967 Muslims in the state not one was found suitable by the BJP to be given an election ticket; the same was the case in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when it did not field a single Muslim from UP.

It fielded seven from other constituencies, all of who were defeated.

We don't think of people as Hindus or Muslims, for us everyone is the same, is the stock, oft-repeated BJP line that gets trotted out at regular intervals.

It sounds lofty and impressive, but what it hides is that one, electoral lists are not pulled out of a hat, but finely calibrated to reflect the constituency's caste and community mix, and one of the major determinants of a candidate is her/his caste and community, aside from all other winnability factors.

Leaving out Muslims will not deny them a share of public welfare which the government never tires of telling us does not depend on one's caste or religion.

But what this omission does is to deny the Muslims is a high place at the dinner table where everyone else has been invited and can be seen feasting.

Simply put, unless they are made MLAs, how can they become ministers?

So the point is not just about denying them election tickets, but also a role in the decision-making process.

And this is not a one-off with the BJP in UP. In state after state ruled by it, there is barely a Muslim representative, never mind the population figures.

In Maharashtra, where the BJP is the dominant alliance partner, it has one Muslim MLA, Syed Pasha Patel; the community accounts for 11.54% of the population (all population figures based on the 2011 Census).

In Madhya Pradesh, a state with 6.57% Muslims, the BJP fielded one candidate who was defeated – by Arif Aqueel of the Congress.

Rajasthan, with 9% Muslims, is a rarity under the BJP, in that it actually has a Muslim minister, Yunus Khan.

Gujarat, with 9.67% Muslims, holds no surprises in not having a single Muslim MLA from the BJP. And is unlike to see one in the elections due end of this year.

Same is the case in Uttarakhand, with 13.95% Muslims and which only last week elected a new BJP government.

Haryana, which has 6.83% Muslims, saw the BJP field two Muslim candidates both of who lost.

Jharkhand, with 14.53% Muslims, does not have a single BJP legislator from the community.

Assam has a whopping 34.22% Muslim population, and the ruling BJP has two MLAs from the community.

Chhattisgarh (2%), Manipur (2.92%), Arunachal Pradesh (1.94%) and Goa (8.33%) all have no Muslim legislators from the BJP.

It is not that Muslims are any enamoured of the BJP or that they are smashing its doors down to join the party or vote for it.

Despite the spin being given, that the latest UP verdict reflects a tentative rapprochement between India's largest political party and the second largest community in the country, nothing can be further from the truth.

This is not to say that all Muslims voted against the BJP. Certainly some of them did vote for the BJP, just at the BJP does give a few token Muslims election tickets. But both are out of proportion to the community's actual numbers.

The standoff between them is two-sided. There is a mutual trust deficit between them.

While that of one is based on distant history, that of the other is based on more recent history.

History, both far-off and near, has cast a lengthy shadow on the country's polity, but who is to say which history needs to have more currency?

The result of this standoff is that 13.6% of the population in states ruled by the BJP -- 876,50,481, to give the actual number -- has no representation in the ruling party.

A recent report in the wake of the five-state assembly election results said that two-thirds of Indians now live in BJP-ruled states.

To extrapolate the figures of Muslims left out of the BJP dispensation to an all-India basis then, some 7.23% of Indians, or one-fourteenth of its population, don't have any representation in the ruling party.

Sab ka Vikas is a great slogan, but vikas is not only about getting a gas connection or electricity connection or toilets built in time. It is also about political vikas, which is the natural wish of any community with a critical mass.

Which is why stories of Indian Americans climbing political mountains in their adopted land fill those of us back home with delight and pride.

While cheering one section of Indians who are making a mark politically, as US Congressmen and Governors, it doesn't seem right to deny another set of Indians the same opportunities back home.

Democracy is the ultimate outlet for airing grievances, and regional history shows that this tool has served India well even as its neighbourhood has embraced violence in the absence of genuine political representation and the safety valve it provides.

For the sake of the nation, and the preservation of its polity, it is high time the country's largest political party and the country's largest religious minority make peace between them.

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Saisuresh Sivaswamy / Rediff.com