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September 6, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi

'Muslims have begun to feel that the campaign unleashed by the Congress against the BJP was totally baseless'

Former information and broadcasting minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who is likely to be named one of the general secretaries of the Bharatiya Janata Party by president Bangaru Laxman, has already begun functioning as one. Being one of the few Muslim leaders in the Hindutva party, Naqvi's nomination as a key official is being taken as a foregone conclusion.

In an interview with Onkar Singh, Naqvi claimed that more than 1.6 million Muslims have enrolled as primary members of the party in the last three years. "The clean administration provided by the Vajpayee government has instilled a sense of security amongst Muslims. We took time to counter the anti-Muslim propaganda carried out by the Congress and other political parties. Now Muslims know the real face of the BJP," Naqvi claimed.

He believes the Muslim community has forgotten the Babri Masjid issue. "Muslims have practically forgotten the issue because they too want education, development and other facilities. They now feel that they are amongst equals and are no longer treated as second-rate citizens," he asserted. Excerpts:

Your party president Bangaru Laxman has given a call to Muslims living in India to join the BJP. Do you think this will help the BJP win over the Muslim vote bank?

After watching the performance of the Vajpayee government for the last three years, Muslims in India have begun to feel that the campaign unleashed by the Congress against the BJP was totally baseless. It was designed to keep Muslims away from the BJP. This campaign was so deep-rooted that we had to struggle hard to remove all the doubts Muslims had about the BJP being an anti-Muslim party. But the BJP succeeded in convincing Muslims because it has been providing good governance.

But Congressmen say that when rioters come into power, then there is nobody to engineer riots against the minority communities. And this is why there is peace.

I do not buy this theory. They resort to such allegations against the BJP out of sheer frustration. The fact is that the Congress party has been thoroughly exposed on all fronts and its credibility has touched an all-time low.

But BJP member Sikandar Bakht is still unhappy with the party's top brass and is sulking at home. When you cannot please even one Muslim, how can you please the rest of them?

Who says he is upset with the party? He holds a senior position in the party and partymen and leaders have great respect for him. As far as a post in the Cabinet or the party is concerned, he has been given responsibilities from time to time and he has been shouldering these responsibilities. I don't think he is unhappy with the party.

You are tipped for appointment as a general secretary. Is that correct?

How can I answer that? I am right now secretary in the party and I feel this itself is a great responsibility. If I am given any additional responsibility, I will discharge my function as a party worker with full dedication and honesty.

It has been seen that when a Muslim leader is given any responsibility in the BJP, barring his own immediate supporters, Muslims in general desert him.

I don't think this is true. When I was president of the BJP's youth wing, a lot of Muslims who were members of the youth wing continued to give me their support. I have been national secretary of the party for the last six months and during this period, more and more Muslims have come into the BJP fold. More then 16 lakh Muslims are enrolled as primary members of the BJP now.

Has the Muslim community forgotten about the demolition of the Babri Masjid? This is what Congress leaders ask.

Babri Masjid is no longer an issue with the Muslim community. Other issues, which affect their day-to-day lives, have taken precedence. You cannot keep harping on the Babri Masjid issue time and again and hope to get the support of the Muslim community. This realisation has already dawned on our community. Muslims have forgotten about it, but the Congress party keeps reminding them of it from time to time in the hope of capturing their votes. Then there are people like Syed Shahabuddin who literally ran his shop on this sentimental issue.

What would you do to ensure that Muslims come into the BJP fold? Can you count five or seven such points that would help the party widen its base in the minority community?

The first and foremost thing that needs to be done is to tell the minority community that they are equal citizens of this country. They should not consider themselves second-rate citizens. They have to be told who are the real culprits responsible for their backwardness. They have to be told how to differentiate between a real and an artificial issue. They should understand that the bill on Muslim Personal Law will not take away their right to practise their religion. We have to tell our Muslim brothers and sisters what the Vajpayee government has done for them. We have to expose them to the realities of present-day life.

Why are Muslim leaders afraid of supporting the Uniform Civil Code?

Political parties in India have been giving a wrong picture of the Uniform Civil Code. They have been told that if the Uniform Civil Code comes into force, they will not be able to go to the masjid. They will not be able to say their prayers. That they would cease to be Muslims. These doubts need to be dispelled.

Will Bangaru Laxman succeed in bringing Muslims into the BJP fold?

He will succeed. I have no doubt about it. The day he gave the call to Muslims to join the BJP, the opposition parties looked worried. The Muslim community will respond positively to his call. I feel there is a need for the top BJP leadership to tour Muslim-dominated areas and explain their points of view on various issues that have been the cause of misunderstanding between them and the Muslims.

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