'What the Hinduisation of Muslim names by the BJP suggests is that the party's anti-Muslim outlook matches the virulence of almost any other far right outfit such as the Ku Klux Klan,' argues Amulya Ganguli.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad once admitted that Muslims did not vote for the BJP.
He was not disclosing a closely guarded State secret for it has been known from the days of the Jan Sangh that the Hindu nationalist party was not a favourite of the Muslims because of its anti-minority and ultra-nationalist worldview.
However, the Jan Sangh, which changed into the BJP in 1980, had stoically borne this rejection as long as it was unable to do anything about it.
The Muslims were of little consequence to the party before the Ramjanambhoomi movement of the 1990s because the party was too insignificant politically -- it won 2 Lok Sabha seats in 1984 -- to assert itself.
Strangely, however, the BJP's attitude didn't change even when the Ramjanambhoomi movement breathed life into the party, leading to a steady increase in its number of seats from 86 in 1989 to 120 in 1991, to 161 in 1996 and to 182 in both 1998 and 1999.
In this period, the party became so confident about its growing influence that, as before, it continued to be unconcerned about the Muslim vote.
With its Lok Sabha tally now at 273 (having dropped from 282 in 2014 because of a number of by-election defeats), the BJP can continue to afford to be indifferent about Muslim support.
Over the last few months, two factors seem to be influencing its attitude towards the Muslims.
One is that the BJP probably senses that 2019 will not be a rerun of 2014 when it swept into power with considerable elan.
So, it is in a hurry to accomplish what it intended to do over a longer period of time.
Hence, the building of statues -- of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and of Lord Ram and the laying at least of the foundation stone of the Ram temple in Ayodhya -- before leaving the corridors of power.
The other factor determining its attitude is to show Muslims their place before bowing out of office.
The renaming of Mughal Sarai as Deen Dayal Upadhyay Nagar, Allahabad as Prayagraj and Faizabad as Ayodhya, which is expected to be followed by the giving of Hindu names to Ahmedabad, Muzaffarnagar etc can be construed as an act of revenge by a party which has long been shunned by the Muslims.
Since the BJP was unable to win back their political support despite the promise that vikas will be for everyone -- remember sabka saath, sabka vikas? -- it apparently decided to hit back by obliterating as much of the vestiges as it can (in the limited time at its disposal) of the presence of Muslims as an influential community in the country.
The party's latest acts recall the bulldozing during the Gujarat riots of 2002 of the tomb of Vali Gujarati in Ahmedabad.
Up until now, the BJP has been engaged primarily in rewriting history by incorporating its own version such as that India is the homeland of Aryans or that Rana Pratap defeated Akbar in the Battle of Haldighati in 1576 or that the RSS participated in the Independence movement.
But the concerted move to give Hindu names to virtually all the cities and towns which have been known for centuries by their Muslim names is a crass new phenomenon.
The BJP presumably believes that if a 'secular' government tries to restore the earlier names, the party will raise its familiar battle cry of Muslim appeasement.
In any event, what the Hinduisation of Muslim names by the BJP suggests is that the party's anti-Muslim outlook matches the virulence of almost any other far right outfit such as the Ku Klux Klan.
Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs.