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India

BJP woos Hindu voters by highlighting Muslim issues

Indian PM and his party have the shrewdness to turn disadvantages to their advantage and appeal to core voters

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Updated: July 30, 2020 04:06 AM GMT
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BJP woos Hindu voters by highlighting Muslim issues

Petrol station workers wait for customers near a poster of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Kolkata on July 29. (Photo: AFP)

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Politics essentially is linked to consolidating a leader’s or a political party's support base. This seems to work very well with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in an adversarial situation, too.

Confronted with multiple challenges amid the Covid-19 crisis, a border conflict with China, rising unemployment and economic depression, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP know pretty well how to wriggle out of the situation.

They have the shrewdness to turn disadvantages to their advantage and appeal to their core voters. This is well reflected in the BJP's decision to highlight the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir and the passing of a new law banning triple talaq — instant divorce — among Muslims as major achievements of the Modi regime.

"First of August is a day which made Muslim women free from the social evil of triple talaq; first of August has been recorded in the country’s history as Muslim Women’s Rights Day," said Modi's Muslim lieutenant Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, minister for minority affairs.

"One year has passed since the law against triple talaq was passed and there has been a decline of about 82 percent in triple talaq cases thereafter. If any such case was reported, the law has taken action," Naqvi wrote in a well-publicized newspaper article.

On Aug. 1 last year, President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019, which criminalizes instant divorce among Muslims and stipulates a jail term of three years for offending husbands.

From July 28 to Aug. 3, the BJP's central leadership has directed its women’s wing and minority wing to interact with Muslim women on the abolition of triple talaq, BJP general secretary Arun Singh said.

The party leadership has also directed state units to interact with at least 100 female Muslim intellectuals.

Thus, on the first anniversary of the scrapping of Article 370 and enacting the triple talaq law, all BJP state units will be holding meetings, organizing virtual meetings and connecting to people in various regional languages and highlighting the party's achievements on these two fronts.

"Both the anti-triple talaq law and abrogation of Article 370 are definitely political achievements for the BJP as far as appealing to Hindu radical voters is concerned. The triple talaq law matters for Muslim women but Hindus always felt strongly about it. Similarly, doing away with Article 370 was aimed at bringing justice for Hindus, Sikhs and Jains in Kashmir and was seen as a nationalistic stance. It is also part of the BJP's chief electoral promise and once looked so difficult to implement," said social worker Ajay Jain.

In fact, this implies that besides Hindus, the BJP's move on Article 370 appeals to Jains and Sikhs also.

On Aug. 5, 2019, the Modi government abolished a clause in the constitution, taking away the semi-autonomous status awarded to Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state.

BJP insiders admit that consolidating core Hindu voters is crucial at this juncture as a political strategy as the challenges are myriad and could get worse.

Over the last few years there has been an aura of confidence about the prime minister's image. It suited the BJP and the party reaped rich dividends in the 2019 general election.

Essentially, BJP leaders have been focusing on declaring the arrival of a bolder and a stronger India under the premiership of Modi since 2014. However, the Covid-19 crisis and the border skirmish with China, which claimed the lives of 20 soldiers, could change that image.

Opposition parties including Congress and communists have slammed Modi's China policy and even described it as "surrender" by his regime.

Covid-19 cases are constantly increasing and the prime minister himself had to admit that the "real danger is not yet over," though the government has tried to seek consolation in low mortality rates.

Observers say there have been words of wisdom from Modi's well-wishers and from time to time he is cautioned that there is a need to display less of his pro-Hindutva nationalist image and show more of his administrative and economic reformist character.

For his part, Modi has been an ear-on-ground politician and thus on May 12 he revealed his government's economic reform package, including attracting huge foreign investment. But most of these projects remain "in the womb of time" and the results can be assessed only after some years.

Modi has handled things well. Closer ties with the US and France have helped him. In the last six years, he has also won civilian awards from South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates and Russia. But it is also true his popularity has somehow suffered due to Covid-19, the recession and the flip-flop with China.

Therefore, getting back to his Hindu radical support base is viewed as a natural phenomenon that could salvage him from the crises.

''The rise of India is the new reality and we [BJP under Modi's leadership] shall play a major role in shaping the global agenda in the 21st century,'' said the BJP’s election manifesto for the 2019 polls.

The same spirit was echoed by the late Arun Jaitley, a former federal minister and a close friend of Modi, who once said: ''To make India a land of opportunities, India cannot experiment with the adventurism of failed ideas.''

"The failed ideas" were Congress policies. In other words, the BJP would continue to persist with its agenda where Muslims will get a law benevolent for their women but unpopular with clerics. In Kashmir, the abrogation of a clause that gave autonomy shows Muslims will have to follow a line on the pretext of "One India, strong India."

Of course, in a political sense, BJP leaders say that at the 2019 election India voted overwhelmingly for a prime minister who pushed for soft power but dealt with a firm hand in handling Pakistan.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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