Days after the BJP’s landslide electoral victory, some of the country’s leading Muslim leaders wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The signatories included All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMLPB) member Kamal Farooqi and Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind leader Mehmood Madani, and they sought confidence building measures from Modi.
The letter welcomed two significant speeches made by the PM-the first at the BJP’s Delhi headquarter on May 23 where he appealed to his party men to win the trust of the minorities, adding ‘Sab ka vishwas (winning everyone’s trust)’ to his ‘Ab sab ka saath, sab ka vikas’ slogan.
In his speech, Modi had charged the Congress party with taking the minorities for a ride by creating a fear psychosis in them and excluding them from the fruits of development. The letter suggested a new beginning between Modi and the orthodox Muslim community.
The relationship between Prime Minister Modi and the Muslims has been a contentious one, chiefly because of his reputation as a Hindu hardliner who presided over the 2002 Gujarat riots while he was chief minister of the state.
Today, different sections of the community perceive Modi differently. The more purist faction, comprising the followers of Deoband and Ahle Hadis schools of Islam, are opposed to Modi. The Barelvi school, on the other hand, have made overtures to Modi, the BJP and the RSS for a few years now.
That some members of the community have reconciled to the current ruling dispensation has been confirmed this election. A marginal shift was seen among Muslim voters, with the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) survey revealing that 8 per cent voted for the BJP and its allies (nearly double that of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls). The trickledown effect of the Modi government’s welfare schemes including housing, free gas cylinders and education scholarships were also perhaps a reason for this.
Among the key highlights of Modi’s first term was the landmark ordinance against triple talaq, though it was stalled by the opposition in the last Rajya Sabha. On June 12 this year, the Modi government signaled its intent to pass the Triple Talaq bill in the term of this Lok Sabha.
As part of the outreach, a day before, on June 11, the Modi government also announced a special scholarship scheme that would cover 50 million Muslim students. The scholarships are for pre-matric, post-matric and professional and technical course studies. The scheme, spread over the next five years, is meant to teach students modern subjects like mathematics, science and geography. Another scheme is meant to train and appoint professional teachers in the madrasas.
Interestingly, 50 per cent of the scholarships will be reserved for Muslim girls as the PM feels women should play a major role in any social or community reform.
“Through the scholarships, the Modi government is trying to create an atmosphere of healthy inclusive growth by eradicating the disease of communalism and appeasement politics,” says Union minister for minority affairs, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. “Our approach to the minorities is based on the three Es– Education, Employment and Empowerment.”
Modi’s special measures have not been exactly greeted by hurrahs by the Sangh Parivar, particularly the RSS bodies who see these steps as part of minority appeasement. These outfits are the same ones who opposed the continuation of the ‘minority affairs ministry’ started by the previous UPA government to implement the Sachar Committee recommendations of reservations for Muslims.
Sections of the Sangh still believe the Sachar panel recommendations were flawed and bolstered the Muslim victimhood theory.
The Sangh parivar believes it was this false Muslim victimhood theory aimed at getting concessions for the community to the cost of the majority community which led to the Partition in 1947. Had the Congress not appeased Muslims during the freedom movement by supporting the pan-Islamic Khilafat movement, the Sangh believes, India’s partition would not have taken place.
Modi, though, views these issues through a more modern lens. “The prime minister thinks modern times call for a modern strategy to tackle the problems in the Muslim community,” says a minister in the Modi government. India has the world’s third highest Muslim population but has the least troubles as compared to Muslim countries in West Asia and Pakistan. This is because of the influence of India’s syncretic culture on the Muslim community.
Modi’s plan is to side-step the Muslim leadership and sow the seeds of modern thought in the community. To this end, the new measures like student scholarships and teaching modern education in madrasas are enabling moves, necessary to wean the community away from fundamentalist theology.
The Sangh Parivar sections counter this by saying that there have been any number of cases in India and the world where educated Muslims have taken to jehad. Modi’s advisors, though, differ on this. They point to how the total number of Muslims who joined the terrorist ISIS outfit from India is extremely few.
Meanwhile, compared to 2014, parts of the Muslim leadership too looking for a compromise in their ties with the Modi-led BJP government at the Centre. Indeed, even orthodox preachers like the Darul-uloom Nadwatul ulema like Salman Nadwi have now come around for an amiable stand on the Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir problem.
But on this issue, the prime minister has indicated his preference to wait for the Supreme Court verdict. How his government handles the apex court verdict is likely to be a touchstone of its relations with the minority community.