In about a month’s time, the BJPthe self-proclaimed “largest political party in the world”, will cease to have a single Muslim Member of Parliament in either the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha, and that’s not all — the party has zero Muslim MLAs in all 31 states and Union Territories.
When I mentioned this on social media, one person wrote that the BJP was a truly democratic party which believed in merit. How was the party to blame if no Muslims were found worthy of being given tickets? It was only parties like the Trinamool Congress, the “appeasers” as it were, who believed in vote-bank politics and not in selecting the best person for the job. The BJP was far too evolved a party, free from dynasty, free from the burden of having to pander to cumbersome “secular” credentials. The BJP gave tickets to the best people who then went on to win and made sure the party stayed in power. And, surely, there was no greater political religion for a party except to win elections.
Another person wrote that the BJP was only following the Constitution which prohibited discrimination on the basis of religion. He argued that had the BJP given tickets to Muslims simply because they were Muslims, it would be discriminating against Hindus.
Most of those who reacted were even more direct — the BJP, they said, was a Hindu party wedded to Hindutva, furthering the Hindu cause. Why should it be held responsible for sending Muslims to Parliament?
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The BJP officially sticks to the agenda of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”. When cornered, they refuse to officially toe the Hindutva hardline. The Good Cop, Bad Cop routine ensures that on the one hand, the official press release following the Nupur Sharma fiasco stated that the BJP was “committed to making India a great country where all are equal and everyone lives with dignity…”, while on the other hand, party workers and office-bearers were actively encouraged to continue with the hardline rhetoric.
If BJP supporters are not able to understand what is so obviously wrong with the party not having a single Muslim despite it having 301 MPs (55 per cent) in the Lok Sabha; 95 MPs (38 per cent) in the Rajya Sabha and 1,379 MLAs (33 per cent) across various states, this is a sad reflection on how the rabid fringe have truly taken over the majority’s thought process.
The only two questions we need to ask ourselves as we face the new representational reality that will dawn on July 7 — when the term of the last Muslim BJP RS MP expires — are these: Does it matter? And do we care?
Yes, it really does matter that in a country of about 204 million Muslims, 15 per cent of the population, the ruling party in its third term in office does not have a single Muslim elected representative. The “we are merit-based, faith-blind” argument does not stand: The BJP bends over backwards to get its caste arithmetic right in every election, no matter how inconsequential. It does not shy away from dropping capable and meritorious incumbents to accommodate changing caste equations. As a party, it is acutely aware of the need for representation to castes and sub-groups within its identified vote bank. As long as they are not Muslim.
Hindus who vote for a Hindu party do so knowing it is not for Muslims. There is no issue with that. The issue is with the doublespeak of the BJP, wherein it appeals to millions of Hindus on the grounds that it is not a Hindu party, but an inclusive party that will deliver representation and governance to all. It does neither. And this new blatant finger-in-our-eye statistic of zero representation should be a wake-up call to all non-hardliner BJP voters.
India’s Constitution allows us the right to practice a religion and not be discriminated against for it. The point is not that Muslims should actively be sought out and given tickets by the BJP. By the simple law of averages, in a country where Muslims comprise 15 per cent of the population, a fair and representative process would normally result in a few Muslims being selected. The fact that it is not so, points to the inalienable truth that the BJP actively discriminates against Muslims. If one walked into a mall in Delhi, Kolkata or Mumbai and randomly picked out 301 people or even 55 per cent of the people present, the chances that none of them would be Muslim are practically zero.
The United Kingdom today is home to about 1.4 million people of Indian origin, about 2.5 per cent of its population. In contrast, it has 15 MPs of Indian origin and 15 MPs of Pakistani origin in the House of Commons. One in 10 MPs in the Commons today belongs to an ethnic minority. If our imperial colonisers can walk the path of better representation and diversity of opinion, how can India’s largest party be so tone-deaf?
As for the second question, how can we not care about the Muslims missing from the treasury benches? The BJP chided the “elitist” culture of the Congress, laughing at what they called the “Lutyens gang”. They promised to tear down the walls that excluded so many from the echelons of power. The party goes out of its way to pretend to ensure inclusive spaces for all. How then does it possibly justify excluding “sau mein se pandrah” from its own ranks?
There is a reason why people and communities across the globe insist on diversity in the decision-making process — their presence and input produce better outcomes. Perhaps the inclusion of Muslims in BJP’s legislative bodies would have sensitised the party’s spokespersons to a world less bigoted than their own and prevented a blunder of international proportions.
To the BJP I say this: A political party is fundamentally different from a private dinner party; you do not have the freedom to invite only those you want because you are paying for the food. Muslims are an integral part of this country’s blood and body, and any politics that results in their exclusion from decision-making and opinion-shaping processes is not an acceptable outcome in the 75th year of India’s independence. It does matter and you should care.
The writer is a Trinamool Congress MP