In the run up to the Lok Sabha polls in 2004, the-then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, speaking at a Muslim gathering, called for a stronger bond between Hindus and Muslims to foster the spirit of brotherhood and to take India forward. Post his retirement , in 2006, Vajpayee, considered as a moderate face of the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) once again called upon the minority group to support the party in Uttar Pradesh (UP), a heavily Muslim populated state. Ironically, it was the same Vajpayee who had made a scathing attack on the minority group post the Gujarat riot when he equated Islam with terrorism and said that Muslims did not want to live in peace.
Vajpayee’s contradictory voice is an indication of the political hypocrisy driving the BJP ideology. With elections around the corner, the party has always warmed up to vote bank politics by appeasing the minorities, with whom it has shared an uneasy equation ever since its formation. Hence, with the general elections just a couple of months away, it was no surprise to see the BJP chief Rajnath Singh offering an apology to the Muslims for any of their past mistakes. But the farce apology will, in no way, help in bridging the widening gap between the two sides.
To begin with, Singh’s apology was a half hearted one especially because it had no specific reference to any mistake committed by the BJP. While many pointed out that his apology was a reference to the 2002 Gujarat riots, he was quick to assert the very next day that his party had never committed the mistake of disrupting social and communal harmony. He also asked people to stop associating Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi with the riots as even the court had cleared his name off the case. When Singh is not completely ready to own the responsibility of the riots, what is he apologizing for? If his apology was for the riots, how can he call a premeditated killing of a 1000 Muslims a mere mistake?
On one hand while Singh is ready to bow his head down to apologize, on the other hand his party still continues to disparage the minority group in its own backyard. However much the BJP trumpets Gujarat’s vibrant growth, the Muslims are still marginalized in the state. According to India’s Planning Commission report in 2013, more than 40 percent of the Muslims in urban Gujarat are poor, far higher compared to the Hindus. Contrary to the government’s claim that Muslims fare off far better than a decade earlier, more than four lakhs of them, double the number than 2002, live in the largest Muslim ghetto in Asia, Jahapura. Until the court’s order last year Modi had gone as far as to oppose a national plan from 2007 to set aside 15 percent of development funds for Muslims, claiming it would threaten the ‘social fabric of the nation’. He had also refused to implement the pre-matriculation scholarship scheme that would have provided 53,000 scholarships to students from the minority group in Gujarat. Neither did BJP field a single Muslim candidate in the 182 member assembly. How does the party expect to rake up their votes when their Prime Ministerial is yet to prove his secular credentials?
The apology will also have little takers in the minority community as the BJP’s action has hardly reflected its words in action in the past. During the 2004 LS elections, the party had formed the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Himayat Committee with a handful of intellectuals to woo the Muslim voters. Post the election defeat, leave alone working for the Muslims, the Committee’s name was nowhere to be heard. An attempt to cultivate a secular image of itself by criticizing last year’s Muzzafarnagar riots was also exposed as a mere farce after the party felicitated two of its Hindu MLAs, both accused of fanning the communal conflagration in the riots. Despite repeated efforts to shed the its image as an anti Muslim right wing fundamentalist outfit, the BJP leaders are also yet to take a soft stance on contentious issues involving Muslims such as the Ram Mandir issue and Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.
The BJP Chief’s apology attracted strong comments from his own hardliner party men -- a sign that the party is not yet ready to genuinely reach out to the Muslims. Until and unless the BJP’s words are accompanied by sincere actions, the Muslims will regard the BJP’s apology offer as nothing more than a gimmick.