Qausar Khan is a political activist who is cynical about the ways of politics. A local Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader in Phulwari Sharif, an old Muslim-dominated area in Patna, Mr. Khan often mentions — in the course of an hour-long conversation — that no party, including his own, is really committed to the ‘true interests of Muslims’.
Talking about Narendra Modi, he wears the hat of an analyst. “He takes his own decisions, unlike Manmohan Singh, who works on signals. Modi main yeh talent hai [Modi has this talent]. The BJP’s numbers will increase.”
But then he points to a big weakness. “He is only for one community. And he won’t ever be forgiven for the injustice in Gujarat. He treats Muslims as untouchables. Has he given ticket to a single Muslim?”
Sitting with Mr. Khan is Ayaz Khan and his wife, Victoria Banu, who have come from Vikrampali Panchayat in Wazirpur. Both smile when the RJD leader speaks, and later disclose they are members of the BJP. They joined the party three months ago on the prodding of their mukhiya , and Ayaz Khan says he now serves as a local intermediary between his community and the district administration. “I get work done for people,” he says.
Asked how others in the community see their association with the BJP, he responds: “They tease us. But incidents happen under all parties. Did Muzaffarnagar happen under the BJP? What has the Congress given us except corruption?”
Mr. Khan has been given five cars, out of the 150 for the entire block, to get people for Mr. Modi’s rally in Patna on October 27.
Qausar Khan shakes his head and says: “This is wrong. But it is their choice.” He does not let political differences come in the way of personal ties, and offers them tea, before sending them off.
The couple from Vikrampali is indicative of the inroads the BJP is trying to make among Muslims. But they are an exception. Conversations with dozens from across the community in seven districts of Bihar reveal certain common strands.
Merely a vote-bank?
Minorities are not comfortable with Mr. Modi, though they are also wary of secular politics, which they say merely treats them as a vote-bank. They do not think Mr. Modi will be in a position to form the government. But in case he succeeds, a majority of Muslims are not scared, for they say he will have to stick to the current political framework.
“Why are you asking a Muslim this? You think we can like him?” says an irritated Manzar Islam, who teaches social science at Azad Academy, a government-recognised minority institution in Araria. Sitting in the staff-room, Mr. Islam asks: “Does the BJP not have anyone else, when they know nominating Modi is an insult to our sentiments?”
But prod further about what makes Muslims suspicious of Mr. Modi and there are a range of answers.
Some say the 2002 riots. Others point to the continued ‘discrimination’ against Muslims in Gujarat. Maulana Anisur Rahman, secretary general of the Imarat Shariah, asks: “If he cannot take everyone in his own State along, how will he take the entire country?”
Mr. Modi’s attacks on Pakistan are often laced with an undercurrent of hostility towards Indian Muslims, suggests Razi Ahmed, the founder of Gandhi Museum in Patna.
“Indian Muslims had nothing to do with Pakistan, but the two are, unfortunately, often wrongly equated.”
Mr. Modi’s ‘skullcap politics’ has only contributed to the doubts. A common refrain is skullcaps don’t make a Muslim, and they do not need or expect Mr. Modi to wear one. “But his personal contempt for it, combined with his desire to get Muslims to his rallies wearing it, shows his intentions are not clean,” says a Muslim resident of Forbesganj.
The apprehension, however, is accompanied with a widespread feeling among Muslims that Mr. Modi will not be able to muster the numbers. Social science teacher Mr. Islam asks: “Tell me, where are the numbers? In Gujarat, they have 14 out of 26. In UP, they have 10 seats. Where is he in South India? It is not us, but secular Hindus who will defeat him. See what U. Ananthamurthy and Amartya Sen said about him.”
Kishanganj is a district with among the highest Muslim population in the country. Mufti Javed Iqbal of the Madrasa Anjuman Islamia speaks thoughtfully, measuring his words. “We have no objection to anyone coming through legitimate democratic methods. What we want is that our life and property is protected. Our commitment is to the secular constitution of India. And we will not let him, or anyone else, change that.”