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Right to be secularist - The Pioneer

Sushant Sareen ()
February 27, 1998

Title: Right to be secularist
Author: Sushant Sareen
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 27, 1998

With the BJP emerging as the odds on favourite for forming the
next government, the shrillness in rhetoric of so-called
secularists has gone up. It is almost as though they do not want
the BJP to moderate its hardline ideology. Indeed, the greatest
irony of contemporary politics is that while the BJP is trying to
reform its exclusivist ideology, self-appointed protectors of
secularism are desperately hoping there is no dilution in the
BJP's Hindutva plank. Politically, this is understandable.
Muslims constitute an important vote bank and any dilution in
this vote bank would lead to a collapse of the edifice around
which secularists have built their politics. After all, without
Muslims, people like Mulayam Singh would be mere caste leaders.

It is true that in the past Muslims have voted against the BJP.
But while doing so they have split their votes between non-BJP
parties. The real cause for distress to the secularists is,
however, not so much the split in Muslim votes but the fear of a
shift of Muslim votes in favour of the BJP. As of now the BJP has
managed to attract marginal support from Muslims. But if it forms
the next government, it might succeed in attracting greater
support from them. Those who think this to be impossible need
only to study the developments after Partition. In UP and Bihar,
die-hard Muslim Leaguers whose entire politics revolved around
accusing Congress of being a Hindu party, became Congressmen
overnight, not because the Congress had undergone transformation.
It was an opportunistic move by Muslims who stayed back in India.
Like everybody else, they too wanted to remain politically
relevant. Something similar might happen in the Hindi heartland
if the BJP comes to power.

That the relationship between the Congress and the Muslims lasted
four decades is in itself surprising. Token gestures like
subsidising Haj and paying obeisance at Muslim shrines apart,
there is little else to show for the Congress's secular
credentials. Its failure in controlling communal riots was more a
political strategy than an administrative failure. While Muslims
continued to vote for the Congress in the belief that it alone
could guarantee security, Hindus never turned against the
Congress because the score during riots was inevitably in their

But the Mandir ruined everything. While Congress lost its Muslim
vote bank to non-Congress and non-BJP parties. large sections of
Hindu upper and middle class supporters moved to the BJP. For
the first time now the BJP has succeeded in attracting some
Muslims. Although by and large Muslims are still apprehensive,
fear of a BJP government might prove misplaced. This, more than
safeguarding some great secular ideal, is what secularists fear
most. As far as the BJP is concerned, it has a support base among
the Hindus. But to become an impregnable force it has to win
support from a sizeable Muslim community. It is with this
objective that the BJP has tempered its ideology and made efforts
to woo Muslims.

A BJP government will perforce go out of its way to prove its
secular credentials. Unlike the secularists who have reaped
enormous political profit from communal riots, the BJP has
everything to lose if serious communal disturbances break out.
Its opponents will exploit them to tarnish its image while the
BJP's strategy of attracting Muslims will suffer irretrievable
damage. As regards issues like Ayodhya, Article 370 and the
Uniform Civil Code, these will end up like the directive
principles of state policy-not to be acted upon. Moreover, with
little chance of a majority in Parliament, and the fact that most
of its allies have reservations on these issues, it is unlikely
if the BJP will do anything to upset them.

Eventually Muslims will not have much cause for worry if the BJP
comes to power. Unlike the secularists BJP has vested interest in
maintaining communal harmony. And like the Congress after
Independence, having established its Hindu credentials it is
uniquely placed to ensure security to Muslims.

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