The chase for vote banks is the surest sign that an election is in the offing. So with the general election less than two months away, it is no surprise that political parties are offering protection, prosperity and more to Muslims. Nonetheless, it does seem odd when the Bharatiya Janata Party woos the community with the same passion as those among its rivals whom it has always accused of practising vote bank politics. In the event, BJP chief Rajnath Singh went beyond customary entreaties to offer a general apology to Muslims for whatever hurt the party may have caused them in the past. This is the farthest the BJP has gone vis-à-vis Muslims, with whom it has so far shared an uneasy equation — as much on account of the party’s belief in majoritarian Hindutva as because of its calculation that it stands to gain electorally from religious polarisation. Against this backdrop, Mr. Singh’s overture raises some questions: What explains the attempted inclusion? And secondly, is this enough to bring around a community that has felt deeply alienated by the BJP’s exclusivist philosophy? After all, the BJP’s opposition to Muslim welfare schemes, which it characterises as “appeasement”, is a matter of record.
That the BJP does not need the Muslim vote is an open secret. But it is an equally well-established fact of history that no party or alliance can rule this country without showing at least a semblance of accommodation towards the community. The ‘sectarian’ image of the BJP was balanced by the many ‘secular’ constituents in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance. The same constituents deserted the alliance, unfailingly citing the 2002 anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat. With the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, as its prime ministerial nominee, the BJP’s task becomes that much more difficult, and hence Mr. Rajnath Singh’s offer to apologise. But critically, the offer has not come from Mr. Modi himself. Asked if he regretted the 2002 violence, Mr. Modi, in a 2013 interview to Reuters, generalised about pain and hurt, using the metaphor of a puppy coming under a car. Not just this, arguing before the Supreme Court recently, the Gujarat Government disputed the very constitution of the Rajinder Sachar Committee on the ground that it was only for Muslims. Set up in 2006, the Sachar Committee was a landmark effort at evaluation of Muslim deprivation; it concluded that on some indices, Muslims were worse off than Dalits. Not surprisingly, Sachar is today an article of faith with the community. Muslims will regard the BJP’s apology offer as a gimmick — unless it is accompanied by verifiable action on the ground.