The BJP should ask itself whether its only aim is to win the next state election. 2017 is not 1992. Today, the BJP is the largest party in the country and leads the Union government with an absolute majority. For it to leave out Uttar Pradesh’s Muslims might have consequence that go far beyond just a state election
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s Uttar Pradesh finished with its fifth phase of polling on Monday, there is disquiet within the Bharatiya Janata Party that the party has failed to field even one Muslim candidate.
“As far as tickets are concerned, it would have been better” if tickets were given to Muslims,” remarked BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who is minister of state for minority affairs.
Naqvi isn’t the only BJP leader to express reservations about this. Union minister for water resources Uma Bharti made the same observation as did Union home minister Rajnath Singh. However, Naqvi made sure to claim that the BJP’s strategy would make no difference when it came to development efforts for the Muslim community. “We will address their concern by compensating them if we form government in the state,” Naqvi said.
This might be true in an ideal world – that the identities of candidates do not matter and a government could do justice to all communities. But it doesn’t work that way on the ground. Indian democracy functions on an intricate system of clientelism and patronage that works via identity.
When commentators speak of a choice between, say, caste and development, they betray a lack of understanding of India’s grassroots politics. For the Indian voter, identity is a means to access development. Electing a man from his community – or a person who has a community’s support – will ensure quid pro quo in the form of development. It means that voters will have better roads, water supply and law enforcement.
The BJP rose to prominence in the late 1980s due its campaign to demolish the Babri Masjid in the Uttar Pradesh town of Ayodhya. The enormous violence sparked by the campaign have naturally caused Uttar Pradesh’s Muslims to be deeply suspicious of the BJP. But instead of attemtping to build bridges, the party seems to have decided that reaching out to the community is futile. That was evident in BJP leader Vinay Katiyar’s reply to Uma Bharati: “When Muslims do not vote for us, then why should we give tickets to them?”
While this maybe true, the BJP should ask itself whether its only aim is to win the next state election. 2017 is not 1992. Today, the BJP is the largest party in the country and leads the Union government with an absolute majority. For it to leave out Uttar Pradesh’s Muslims might have consequence that go far beyond just a state election. Democracy presupposes that the government will take as many people along as possible. That is what distinguishes democracy from majoritarianism.