Nafees Ansari, a school principal who is Muslim, was this year listed by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a “Modi Mitra”, or friend of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Residents of the state of Madhya Pradesh host parties for neighbors and relatives at events such as weddings and tea sessions at friends’ houses. He explains how BJP’s welfare policies benefit all communities and talks about India’s position as a rising global power under Modi’s leadership.
BJP officials said Ansari is one of more than 25,000 Muslims who are volunteering to help Modi win a third term in the elections in May. BJP minority unit chief Jamal Siddiqui said the party is looking for community leaders like teachers, entrepreneurs, clerics and retired government employees who are willing to give an “unbiased” assessment of Modi.
Five Modi friends and six BJP officials responsible for the election strategy were interviewed and said the party used its economic record and the imposition of religion-agnostic laws on inheritance and gender rights to win over disenfranchised Muslim voters, including women. Expects to use the plans. Prime seats.
The specifics of the BJP’s Muslim outreach strategy, such as the message it is using to target voters in these seats, have not been reported earlier.
The campaign is part of a larger effort to woo India’s 200 million Muslims, with whom the BJP and Modi have a long and difficult history.
Muslims and rights groups allege that some BJP members and allies have promoted anti-Islamic hate speech and violent vigilantes, targeted nonprofits run by other religions with regulatory action, and destroyed Muslim-owned properties. Is done.
Modi denied that religious discrimination exists in India. Senior BJP leader Syed Zafar Islam, who is Muslim, said the violence between Muslims and the Hindu majority has ‘deep’ roots but now it makes headlines only because when the party is in power, political rivals use it. To target the party.
The prime minister is ahead in the polls, but a newly united opposition coalition and a recent defeat in a key state election have party leaders worried about the anti-incumbency vote and fear the BJP will lose power to its Hindu nationalist base, analysts and Maximum support has been received in the opposition. The leaders said.
Siddiqui of the party’s Muslim outreach said, “Unless you know us, you won’t recognize us. Unless you recognize us, (we) won’t be friends.”
Economy-First and Muslim Voters
The BJP’s website states that secularism in India has become “minority appeasement at the expense of the majority”. Some analysts say that the party has politicized the differences between Hindus and Muslims to such an extent that there is not a single Muslim minister in Modi’s cabinet.
According to Siddiqui and Hilal Ahmed, experts on Muslim politics at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi, the party has sought Muslim support sporadically in previous regional elections, but this national campaign is the first and most comprehensive of its kind. based think tank.
The BJP, which had garnered about 9% Muslim votes in the last two national elections, is targeting between 16% and 17% next year, its minority unit spokesperson Yasser Jilani said.
two officials said The BJP’s focus is on the 65 seats in the 543-member lower house of Parliament, where Muslim voters constitute at least 30% of the population, almost double their share in the national population. He shared details of the party’s internal strategy on condition of anonymity.
The BJP currently has around two dozen seats, according to party officials, who declined to give specific details on the exact seats to be targeted.
The Modi Mitra outreach focuses on spreading the BJP’s economic message particularly to “Pasmanda” Muslims, an Urdu term for marginalized members of the religious community that forms the majority.
Ansari, who is Pasmanda, talks to Muslim friends and neighbors at meetings about new programs, such as a monthly aid of 1,250 rupees ($15) for women disenfranchised from state authorities run by the BJP and Rs 150,000 launched by the central government. Housing subsidy of Rs.
“BJP’s welfare schemes are helping everyone, including Muslims,” he said.
In West Bengal, Modi-friendly businessman Uzir Hussain also visits his neighbor Mohammad Qasim’s grocery shop to spread the economy-centric message. Hussain said he was attracted to the BJP because there is “a world of difference” between Modi’s achievements and those of the previous centre-left government.
“Of course, Muslims don’t like Modi’s party, but Hussain Dada tells us that at least we should also listen to what the BJP is offering,” Qasim said, using the Bengali honorific for “elder brother.” Said.
KC Venugopal, a senior MLA from the opposition Congress party, which took power just before Modi, said, “The BJP has never respected and addressed the concerns of this section of the society and instead has systematically marginalized them. “
Asked about allegations of minority appeasement, he said Congress does not follow a divide and rule strategy: “Elections should be fought on economic and development issues, not on the basis of religion and identity.”
BJP leaders like Islam, the former India head of Deutsche Bank, said the opposition has taken Muslim votes for granted and neglected their welfare.
“We still have a long way to go, the gap is huge but it is being bridged,” he said.
Among Muslim women, the BJP promotes its pledge to reform personal laws. Supporters of the plan, including some Muslim women’s rights groups, say it would end religious practices on marriage age, polygamy and inheritance that are discriminatory against women.
Mahila Pasmanda writer and political analyst Amana Begum Ansari, who is not related to Nafees, said, “You can criticize the BJP for many other things, but I don’t think anyone other than this government has the right to reform personal laws. Wish to do.” Ansari.
According to government data, violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims have reduced since the BJP came to power, but tensions still remain. Some analysts say that in government, the BJP has often used enforcement powers to prevent inter-communal tensions from escalating into violence due to its law-and-order message and concerns about India’s international reputation.
According to community leaders and foreign researchers, many Muslims say they live in fear of Hindu activists emboldened by the BJP’s politics of cultural nationalism. Critics consider such nationalism a euphemism for Hindu supremacy.
Opposition leaders and analysts like political expert Ahmed said the BJP is likely to make gains with Muslims next year unless the opposition counters it.
The BJP, Ahmed said, has a dual strategy of “defaming Muslims” and wooing sections of the Muslim population to appeal to its radical base.
“The demonization of Muslim men will continue but a softer approach will be shown towards Muslim women,” he said. “Similarly…(there) will be some positivity shown to the Pasmandas.”
Ghanshyam Tiwari, spokesman for the opposition Samajwadi Party, which has a large Muslim base, said the BJP’s status as the ruling party gives it the ability to make policies that could win over some Muslims.
“But no matter what the BJP does, it does not change its core colour, core elements, which remain anti-Muslim, anti-minority attitudes,” Tiwari said.
Ansari, a Modi friend, said the BJP should control extremist workers who “ruin” its image but still support the party.
“There are extremists everywhere,” he said.