The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) outreach to minorities, particularly Muslims, has been designed to reinforce the Union government’s commitment to ensure equal representation in all social welfare programmes, which in turn can help counter the consolidation of the minority community as an anti-BJP force, people aware of the details said.
The central leadership of the BJP has instructed its cadre to highlight the share of Muslims in social welfare schemes to indicate how there has been no disparity on the grounds of religion, and dispel the perception about the party’s alleged intolerance for the faith.
“The fact that Muslims have been beneficiaries of social welfare schemes punches holes in the oppositions’ claims of the BJP being an anti-Muslim party. For long, the opposition has fed fear about the BJP and its ideology, which has resulted in the minority community voting as a bloc against the BJP,” a party functionary said.
The BJP now wants to ensure that even if the community does not express support for them through the ballot, they should not be used as a vote bank against it. “They can vote for the party they choose, but the preference should not be dictated by aversion or hatred for the BJP,” the functionary said.
To change the narrative about the party’s alleged anti-minority stance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had instructed party leaders to reach out to the economically and socially backward Muslims, also known as ‘Pasmanda’, at the party’s national executive committee meeting in Hyderabad last year.
This year, he followed it up by pointing out that the outreach should not be carried out with an eye on electoral politics, but to forge ties with those in the community who are opposed to the radicalism and orthodoxy.
The PM was reported to have cited the example of Bohra Muslims who have not been opposed to the BJP, even if they are not counted as voters.
Starting February 10, the BJP’s ‘minority morcha’ will begin an outreach programme that will include identifying 5,000 people from 60 Lok Sabha constituencies who the party leaders will engage with.
“We have selected 60 constituencies where the population of Muslims is 30% and above. We will reach out to them with facts and figures about the how Muslims have been beneficiaries of central schemes, from Awas Yojana to Har Ghar Nal to scholarships and Ayushman Bharat. We will highlight how the PM has changed politics and shifted the narrative from the politics of appeasement and vote bank,” said Jamal Siddiqui, president of the minority morcha.
The outreach will also attempt to break barriers of electoral preferences by encouraging the community to shed their reluctance to vote for the BJP. For this, the party plans to carry out confidence-building engagements in states such as Bihar, West Bengal, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, in the first phase; it will subsequently be expanded to other areas.
However, Ali Anwar Ansari, the founder president of the All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz and a former Rajya Sabha MP, dubbed the BJP’s outreach as nothing but optics.
“I wrote to the PM (after the Hyderabad NEC) that on one hand he talks about reaching out to Pasmanda Muslims, while on the other there are instances of mob lynching, accusations of ‘love jihad’ and talks of ‘ghar wapsi’. This shatters our hope. There is a need to walk the talk on inclusion. The government that speaks about Pasmanda, should have remembered that Bilkis Bano (whose rapists were set free by a court in Gujarat) is also Pasmanda,” Ansari claimed.
Responding to his statement, Siddiqui said the government does not condone violence against Muslims and the “law takes action” wherever required.