BJP’s regret to Muslims: Too little too late?

By T.R. Ramachandran,

It has taken no less than 12 years for the top BJP leadership to come down a few notches from its high horse in offering regret for the 2002 riots in Gujarat in which at least a 1,000 people of the minority community were killed. If the apology is indeed sincere then there should not have been any reservations in going public to assuage the feelings and susceptibilities of the affected.

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The timing of BJP President Rajnath Singh’s belated regret in providing a soothing balm for the Gujarat pogrom where the innocent were mowed down in cold blood is significant.

It is a calculated bid to allay the apprehensions of the minority community by making a half-hearted appeal through an event, “Narendra Modi’s mission 272+: Role of Muslims”, in the national capital on February 25.

Speaking to a predominantly Muslim gathering, the BJP chief emphasised “we do not indulge in disrupting social harmonly. However, if we have ever made a mistake unknowingly I assure you we will bow down and ask for forgiveness….”

In desperation, with the general elections round the corner, Singh takes this opportunity of asking the minority community from what appears to be a quickly assembled and inconsequential platform imploring the Muslims to “try us once…If we don’t meet the expectations don’t look at us ever again”.

Of course, this does not mean acknowledgement of any culpability on the part of the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

It can be self-destructive and is unlikely to go down well with the RSS ideologues in Nagpur as well as the Sangh Parivar.

On his part, Modi has remained steadfast in refusing to apologise for the 2002 riots following the carnage in Godhra, where a train bogie with pilgrims on board was set on fire.

That ghastly incident on February 27, 2002, led to 58 people being killed inside a bogie of the Sabarmati Express just outside the Godhra railway station. Many of the victims were pilgrims and activists returning from the holy city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh.

Godhra, comprising a mixed population of the majority and the minority communities, has been a communal tinderbox since Independence. Any number of communal clashes have occurred in this town and been conveniently forgotten. However, this ghastly incident involving a large number of arsonists remains a huge blot in efforts to maintain communal harmony.

The official commission, after probing the hair-raising incident for six years, reached the conclusion that the fire was premeditated arson committed by a mob of 1,000-2,000 people of the minority community.

This is widely perceived to be the trigger for the violence and communal riots in Ahmedabad leading to widespread loss of life, destruction of property and homelessness. Estimates of casualties range from 800 Muslims to 254 Hindus to upwards of 2,000 individuals. The Gujarat pogrom lasted three days.

Modi has maintained all along that if he is found guilty of having had a hand in the massacre of the minorities he is willing to go to jail. The court has absolved him of any wrong doing connected with the riots or being involved in any conspiracy.

He, however, affirmed time and again that there has not been a single riot in Gujarat over the last 12 years. The constant refrain of the minority community is that precious little has been done for those who suffered in the riots in terms of providing adequate relief or rehabilitating them.

The BJP leadership is aware that without the support of the minority community constituting no less than 17-18 per cent of the country’s population, mission 272+ may come unstuck.

The saffron brigade also requires the thumbs up from the backward as well as other backward classes (OBCs) without which no single party including the BJP can aspire to secure a simple majority on its own in any general election.

Hailing from the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, Singh realises that in more than one-third of the 403 assembly constituencies in the state winning depends entirely on the the minority vote.

Singh is believed to be mulling over contesting for the Lok Sabha from Lucknow. In that case he will definitely need the goodwill of the minority community in the state capital.

A case in point is that of BJP stalwart and former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who contested from the prestigious Lucknow constituency where the Muslims supported a liberal leader without fear or favour. For obvious and compelling reasons Vajpayee put the Hindutva agenda on the backburner.

The saffron brigade’s policy towards the minority community is to shun appeasement and strive for equal opportunities to all communities, including the minority community.

The whole country is witness to how Samajwadi Party (SP) strongman and former UP chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav has had to face the backlash of the Muzaffarnagar riots the other day from the professors and students of the Aligarh Muslim University.

He ducked visiting Aligarh to avoid their wrath and confronting a highly-surcharged atmosphere. The minority votes in UP may split this time between the BSP and the Congress, thus dealing a grievous blow to the Muslim constituents of the SP.

The angst of the Muslims against the SP and Mulayam Singh in particular is all too evident. It will harm the prospects of the SP in the April-May elections for the 16th Lok Sabha. It can also put paid to the former union minister’s chances of being a prime ministerial aspirant.

The Muslim clergy has remained unwavering in asking its followers not to vote for the BJP or Modi after the pogrom in Gujarat in 2002.

Vajpayee, as the prime minister at that time heading a BJP-led NDA government, expressed pain and anguish at the turn of events and reminded Modi of his Raj Dharma.

The BJP claims it will quadruple its seats in Uttar Pradesh because of the NaMo factor. The party at present has only 10 seats from the state in the Lok Sabha. Along with Uttar Pradesh, Bihar is the second crucial battleground state in the Hindi heartland with a combined tally of 120 seats in the house of the people.

Can the BJP with NaMo in the vanguard really tip the scales by bagging between 80 and 100 seats out of the 120. That is the question doing the rounds with Modi launching his campaign blitzkrieg in Bihar during this week.

Can Modi pull the chestnuts out of the fire as it were in the two frontline states and confound his worst critics? It is anybody’s guess as he has also to contend with a wily politician in Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

(01-03-2014 -T.R. Ramachandran is a political commentator. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected])