Friday, January 23, 2009

BJP's failure to become national party despite Congress' weakness and disenchantment of Muslims

Despite the hoopla and the advertising blitz projecting Lal Krishna Advani as the Prime Ministerial candidate, it seems difficult that the BJP will be able to form a government at the Centre on its own.

It's current tally in the parliament is a mere 138 and even if it manages to reach it's zenith (which was 182 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was active and campaigned extensively) it will have to search for coalition partners to somehow reach the magic figure of 272. Isn't that odd for a party that promises an alternative to the old and weary Congress?

The reasons are many. But let's see how the BJP has failed to get Muslim vote:

1. After Babri Masjid demolition, Muslims were angry with the BJP but they were not happy with Congress either. The wounds took time to heal and by late-90s there was a small minority of Muslims that had begun voting for BJP in some constituencies.

2. Then occurred the Gujarat carnage. Atal Behari Vajpayee as Prime Minister did ask Narendra Modi to perform his 'Raj Dharma', but that was an eyewash and aimed at keeping his image of a more inclusive and comparatively secular politician intact.

3. Six years down the line, Muslims haven't forgotten Gujarat, but they also know that innumerable riots occurred in India during Congress regimes. The Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute occurred due to some Congress leaders who had reignited the controversy with the the shilanyas in 1986 and that the social condition of Muslims reached its nadir during 40 years of Congress rule at the Centre and states.

How BJP could have got Muslim votes:

Now, BJP could have still managed to get some Muslim vote. Had it simply said that:

We will not provide any reservation or any preferential treatment to Muslims but will ensure that like rest of the citizens, their lives and property would be safeguarded, riots will be checked effectively and we'll open schools, dispensaries and hospitals in Muslim concentrated areas.

Is this too much an expectation from a national party? This is something basic any responsible political party should say. But the BJP doesn't make even such a promise. What holds it back: Kyaa niyat kharab hai?

BJP claims to be the national alternative to Congress but it doesn't address nearly 175 million Muslims and Christians. It doesn't even treat them properly. At the ground level, its cadre is the same as that of VHP, Bajrang Dal and RSS. And in riots, it allows its workers to run amok when it is running a state government.

Unlike other parties the BJP has to be content with mostly non-minority votes in states other than Punjab. So, effectively it has to get more votes from lesser number of electorates. While a candidate belonging to any other party including Congress can expect votes from all sections, the BJP candidate stars with a disadvantage.

If in a multi-cornered contest, a candidate generally wins if he secures over 30% votes (obviously out of 100), but the BJP candidate has to get his 30% from less than 85% (minus Muslims).

If one looks at the chart showing BJP's vote percent, it's quite clear that it hovers around 22%. If it snatches just a section of Muslims (13.4% of India's population) from Congress, then it can easily beat the Congress.

But many Muslim leaders who joined the BJP later felt that the party was just not interested in the welfare of the community. Its middle-level leaders are often from such background that when in states they head departments like Waqf Board, Urdu Academy, Madarsa Board or Haj Committee, they further damage these institutions by cutting grants and trying to impede their functioning.

This negative thinking forces Muslims to either go to Samajwadi Party, RJD, Leftist (Communist Parties) and even JD (U) in states where the third front exists or back to Congress due to the TINA factor (There Is No Alternative). Thus BJP refuses to become an alternative to Congress. Though LK Advani's website now has an appeal for Urdu-speakers (Muslims)also. The Urdu content has been added recently.

Aakar Patel on How Indian People's Party (BJP) treats Muslims:

Senior journalist Aakar Patel has summed it up quite well. He writes that the party that claims to be Indian People's Party governs six states with a population of 190 million (19 crore) that has tens of millions of Muslims but neither it has a Muslim minister (or MLA) in Gujarat, nor in Madhya Pradesh. In Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Uttarkhand also it has no Muslim minister in the cabinet. In Karnataka there is one Muslim minister to manage the Waqf and Minority affairs.

Of its 38 national office holders, just one (Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi) is a Muslim and of the 26 national general secretaries none is a Muslim. Patel further writes that the BJP is a national party, but its constituency is Hindu. The BJP's problem is that the majority of Hindus actually don't vote for the BJP. Only one in four Indian voters prefers it, and this has not changed in the last 20 years. Link

Can BJP fill the void:

There is a void in Indian politics. People who are fed up with Congress and want to teach it a lesson, don't know what to do. BJP could have filled the space. It talks about appeasement all the time, but when it comes to power, it appeases the right-wing Hindutva constituency and forgets that inclusivity is essential to run a nation.

It can start gettting Muslim votes just by taking the community in confidence and promising them that there will be no injustice or step-motherly treatment. But it stops far short of that. And that's the tragedy of our national politics that the only national alternative to Congress is afraid to promise protection and respect to a section of its citizens.

The general elections are just a few months away and we will know whether Advani manages to get to the post of Prime Minister or leaves the field for the next generation of BJP.

Read an earliest post on this blog:
When burqa gets saffron band: Bharatiya Janata Party and Muslims