idea of the seriousness of the crisis faced by the Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP) following its electoral setback can be gauged from the
stirrings among its Muslim members.
Normally, they remain very much in the background, so much so that
their presence in the party is often derisively described as an
example of its tokenism towards the country's multicultural ethos.
The fact that Muslim members like Sikandar Bakht earlier, and
Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Shahnawaz Hussain in recent years, remained
in the BJP when the Babri Masjid was demolished or the Gujarat riots
took place underlined an acquiescence which was at variance with the
community's customary antipathetic attitude towards the party.
However, for the first time, both Naqvi and Hussain are known to
have sought clarifications during the BJP's recent national
executive meeting on what its reassertion of the ideology of
Hindutva means for India's largest minority group. It was Varun
Gandhi's diatribes against Muslims during the election campaign
which evidently provoked them, leading to a sharp exchange of words
between them and Varun's mother, Maneka Gandhi, at the meeting.
What was worth noting, however, was the support which Naqvi and
Hussain received from influential leaders like Madhya Pradesh Chief
Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil
Kumar Modi and former Maharashtra deputy chief minister Gopinath
the three, Chouhan made the telling point that Muslim women voted
for the BJP despite their husbands' objections because of the
state's development agenda. Therefore, "Muslims must not go off the
party's radar," he said.
is rare for leaders in such positions to openly favour courting
Muslims in view of the BJP's widely perceived anti-minority
world-view, which goes back to its pre-1977 days as the Jana Sangh.
Although the party always formally claimed that it was not against
Muslims, it was never articulated in so forthright a manner as
Chouhan, Modi and Munde did. Instead, it was always a formal
observation which carried little conviction because of the words and
deeds of some of the party's members and affiliates.
For instance, the anti-Muslim comments of Varun Gandhi, B.L. Sharma
"Prem" and Ashok Sahu (of Kandhamal) during the electioneering
reaffirmed the party's communal outlook. Similarly, the burning of
churches in Kandhamal in Orissa, which made the BJP's ally in the
state, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), part company with it, served the
same negative purpose.
addition, the anti-Muslim utterances of the BJP's allies like the
Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Shiv Sena have made the
minorities keep the party at an arm's length. It was this attitude
which made Naqvi and Hussain tell the BJP meeting that Varun, rather
than Rahul Gandhi, won votes for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh by
There is little doubt that the second successive defeat in a general
election has made the BJP realise that it can no longer bank on
support only from the Hindus and from an apolitical middle class to
come to power at the centre. Even after its defeat in 2004, the
party was more or less sure that it would be able to return to
power. A string of victories in state assembly elections in the
intervening period confirmed this view.
But the reverses which started last November, when the BJP lost the
Delhi and Rajasthan assembly polls, and which were again evident in
the April-May general elections have robbed the party of its earlier
self-confidence. Although it has reiterated its commitment to
Hindutva, L.K. Advani has had to say after the national executive
meeting that it should not be interpreted as a narrow, anti-minority
However, given the stranglehold of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)
on the BJP, it is unclear to what extent it would be able to
reassure the minorities that it pursues a "tolerant, inclusive"
policy, as Advani has said. But it is worth noting how the views of
people like Chouhan and Sushil Kumar Modi have assumed importance
because of their experience in power.
view of the BJP's status as a ruling party in Madhya Pradesh and
Bihar, the two men have realised that political success depends on
reaching out to all sections of people. A segmented, illiberal
approach not only alienates the minorities, but puts off even others
because of its mean-mindedness.
The BJP may witness, therefore, a struggle not only between the
old-fashioned RSS-inspired hardliners like Rajnath Singh and
doubters like Jaswant Singh who sought clarifications on Hindutva,
but the party's Muslim members and their supporters like Chouhan are
also likely to enter the fray.
the BJP did not experience any ideological ferment of this nature
earlier, the reason was that it was cocksure that it had found a
magic mantra in Hindutva, which had brought it from the margins of
politics (two Lok Sabha seats in 1984) to centrestage in the 1990s.
But now the roadblocks of the defeats in 2004 and 2009 seem to have
induced second thoughts. It remains to be seen whether the internal
debates will refashion its outlook or the party will continue to be
its old crusty self, as favoured by the RSS.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst.
He can be reached at