COMMENTARY
 
Why do Indian Muslims fear BJP?
The Nation
April 19, 1998
When Basheeruddin Khan quit his ministry in the Chandrababu Naidu government in Andhra Pradesh over the Telugu Desam Party’s support to the BJP government at the Centre, he seemed to be reflecting the fears of the average Muslim towards the Hindutva party. While Muslims expect no major offensive against them, they are convinced that subtle means of cultural assimilation will be employed during the BJP rule.

It is the RSS, the 75-year old Hindu fundamentalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and its Sangh Parivar whom Muslim fear more that the BJP. And despite the goodwill that Vajpayee has among the community, they doubt if he can stand up to the RSS, reported Indian magazine, The Week, in its April 12 issue.

“It is a party which charged all other ruling parties at the Centre with appeasement of the minorities.” It brought down a government—V P Singh’s—on the question of building a Ram temple at the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, and three years later, strongly defended the Masjid’s demolition.

It wants the Muslim Personal Law scrapped and replaced by a Uniform Civil Code. It has made the “communalism versus secularism” debate the central issue of the nation for more than a decade. It celebrates Hindu revivalism, flaunts the Sants and Sadhus in its ranks, makes distinctions between “nationalist” and other Muslims, welcoming only the first kind. Now this party, the BJP, is in power at the Centre.

How do the Muslims view this development ? For years most of them complacently believed the BJP would never succeed in ruling the country. With the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the Ayodhya movement ran out of steam, and on the question of secularism, the BJP (along with Shiv Sena) stood isolated. The party came to be believed as a ‘political untouchable’.

Yet, a little over five years after the smashing of the Babri Masjid, one of the defining moments of post-Independence India, the BJP has achieved its ultimate dream. What do the Muslims expect under this new dispensation? No doubt about it: most of them are apprehensive. The national agenda, adopted as a policy framework by the BJP government, may have no reference to the BJP’s pet themes, Ayodhya, Article 370 or the Uniform Civil Code, but Muslims realise this is only to placate its numerous allies, none of whom, barring the Shiv Sena, shares its Hindu aspirations.

“The contentious issues have merely been set aside as a tactical measure. They have not been given up”, pointed out Javed Ali Khan, a state secretary of the Samajwadi Party (SP) in Uttar Pradesh. “In 1989, too, the BFP had agreed to soft-pedal the Ayodhya issue while teaming up when the opportunity arose, they brought it up.” “The inconsistency in the BJP’s approach is very clear,” noted Haneef Jawaid, a well-known academic and intellectual of Banglore.

“In the President’s address, preceding the BJP’s 13-day rule in 1996 , these controversial issues were left out. It hoped to win over sections of the opposition by projecting a secular agenda. It brought up these issues again in its election manifesto this time, only to shelve them for remaining in power with the support of its allies. One cannot help feeling that even the so-called moderates in the party are working for a strategy to capture power. They are putting on an act and in due course will reveal their true colors.”

While Muslims expect no major offensive against them, they are convinced that small, subtle means of cultural assimilation will be employed. “If nationalism is the BJP’s main concern, why does it not lay emphasis on eradication of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment? Why concentrate only on the Uniform Civil Code?” asked Mazhar Hussain, a social activist in Hyderabad.

“I had expected the BJP to keep the home, human resource development (HRD) and information and broadcasting (I&B) portfolios for its own people,” said ex-MP Syed Shahabuddin. “And sure enough it has done so. These are the ministries which it employs for indoctrination. We will not be sent to the gas chambers, but we will be administered slow poison.”

Since the HRD ministry has been vested with Murli Manohar Joshi,” said Dr Mumtaz Ali Khan, Banglore sociologist, “we have this fear that the educational system may be tempered with to sow seeds of hatred among children. Grants to minority educational institutions may be curtailed or even suspended.” “ It is quite possible the BJP may try to revise school text books in a manner that depicts Muslims as villains,” feared Maqsood Ali Khan, chief editor of Salar, a popular Urdu newspaper of Bvanglore. Although the BJP government is barely a fortnight old, a number of minor developments were mentioned by Muslims as instances of what lay in store for them.

The barricade on one side of the controversial Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi had been removed to enable Hindus to worship the idol of goddess Shringar Gowri, which stands in the mosque compound. At Pirana, 20 km from Ahmedabad, a Dargah has been forcibly occupied by local Vishwa Hindu Praishad (VHP) workers.

In Rampur, where the BJP’s sole Muslim MP and now minister of state for I & B, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, won the poll, RSS’s attack wing Bajrang Dal attacked a Muslim Mohallah from where Naqvi had not received a single vote. “When the residents went to complain, the Thanedaar told them, “Yeh to sirf shurwat hai (this is just the beginning),” maintained Shahabudin.

Said Syed Sajid Ali, an advocate and founder of the Rajiv Gandhi College in Bhopal: “Already they have decided to reorganise the Haj Committee which has not been taken well by the Muslim community.” Muslims alleged that the Haj subsidy had been slashed 20 per cent, while Central grants to Aligarh Muslim University had been reduced by Rs 20 crore. “The BJP is not alone”, noted A Z Rehmani, a social worker in Chennai. “Behind it is the RSS.

The Sangh Parivar will remote control the BJP government”. It is the RSS whom Muslims fear even more than the BJP itself. The RSS is a mission and the BJP is its political wing. It is not as if political power is its sole end, and Hindutva just a means. In that case, they would have given up issues like Ayodhya, once they captured power. It is the other way round: Hindutva is the end, political power is a means. The organs of the state, the media, the educational infrastructure, these too are means the RSS wants to employ in the pursuit of its end, which is to completely absorb Muslims into the Hindu fold.”

Javed Ali Khan of the SP echoed this view. “We fear that institutions of the state may be subverted or misused by BJP government in such ways that they may suffer permanent damage, which even future governments may find difficult to rectify,” he said.

“For instance, in UP the provincial Armed Constabulary acquired a notorious character after certain RSS-minded officers came to occupy its top positions, and gave the entire force a certain orientation. The same may happen to the IB, CBI and RAW by inducting communal minded people in crucial positions, this government can wreck a lot of mischief. “ Though a liberal by instinct, can Atal Behari Vajpayee stand up to the RSS?” Asked Shahabuddin bluntly. “So many times his initial stand and final stand on a particular issue have been very different.

He was shocked at first by the Babri Masjid demolition, but later he refused to condemn it.” Javed Ali Khan believes that Vajpayee does not make any difference to the average Muslim under BJP rule. “ The Muslims see the very RSS-VHP leader who kept shouting that Muslims should go to Pakistan, now suddenly assume importance, start dictating to the local Thanedar,” said the SP leader. “Vajpayee is very far away, he has to deal with this fellow.”

How have the Muslims fared under BJP rule so far? Nihaluddin, president of the All-India Muslim Forum, headquartered in Lucknow, pointed out: “The Babri Masjid was demolished under BJP rule, after the government gave assurances to the highest quarters that it would do its best to protect the monument. How we can trust them after that?” According to Javed Ali Khan, if earlier BJP governments were restrained, it was because there was “a hostile, reasonably secular government at the Centre. The Central government has no such restraint, and its real character may emerge sooner than expected.” “Why should we fear the BJP?” Asked the Delhi-based Maulana Jameel Ahmed Iiyasi, president of the All-India Organization of Imams. “What do we have that they can take away from us? We wanted to be at par with the Hindus, but the Congress converted us into a ‘minority’. They kept saying RSS and Jana Sangh would finish you. We are your sole protectors. But they gave us nothing. As for the United Front, are they really all that bothered about having a secular government? The Congress could support them for 18 months, but they are not willing to support the Congress government for even 18 days.”

The Week , in its April 12 issue, also ran a separate interview with Baheeruddin Babu Khan, who said: “The BJP is merely a government party. Its innermost being is the RSS, and they are essentially anti-Muslim. Under their covert activity of bringing in cultural nationalism, there is the danger of me losing my identity and my rights. The RSS will govern using a remote control. The Muslim today is uneducated.

Why does not the government open schools in Muslim areas? When 40,000 teachers were to be appointed, they said there were only 900 vacancies for the Muslims. There is no justice for the Muslims.” Asked if he makes any distinction between moderates like Vajpayee and hard-liners like Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, Babu Khan said: “There is no distinction. They are all RSS at heart, and, at the Centre, there will be remote control governance. The question is how much of its own man is Vajpayee.”