By Soroor Ahmed,
The Muslim obsession of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi continues even eight-and-a-half years after the communal riots of February-April 2002. If in the past he used expressions like Mian and not General before President Musharraf of Pakistan, during the recent election for the six civic bodies in Gujarat, which the BJP won, he targeted the Congress by alleging that it wants to install the statue of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, while he himself is eager to build the statue of Iron Man of India, Vallabh Bhai Patel. According to him it would be double the height of the Statue of Liberty in the United StatesÃ¢â‚¬â€œÃ¢â‚¬â€œit would be 182 metres tallÃ¢â‚¬â€œÃ¢â‚¬â€œand would be known as the Statue of Unity. Ironically the latter as IndiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first Home Minister after independence played an important role in getting the RSS banned for some time after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
Though Indian Muslims have nothing to do with Musharraf, who was the ruler of Pakistan, and Sohrabuddin, who was a gangster, expressions like Mian, which is used to address Muslims, were deliberately used to tease them and consolidate the Hindu votebank.
However, of late Modi has been trying to improve his image and during the recent election for six Municipal Corporations the BJP floated the name of Abdullah Ibrahim Saiyad, a retired IPS for the post of Mayor of Ahmedabad. But not surprisingly the said man, a former Additional Director General of Police, lost from his own seat of Sarkhej in Ahmedabad and thus ModiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s move received a big blow. This notwithstanding the fact that Narendra Modi personally supervised the election of Abdullah Ibrahim Saiyad.
This is not the first time that Narendra Modi made an attempt to woo Muslims. A year back he did put up some Muslim candidates for election of Municipal Corporation in Junagadh, which has a sizeable Muslim population. All of them lost and the Congress won.
In fact 11 out of 12 Muslim candidates of the BJP who contested in the six Corporations on October 10 election lost. The lone Muslim to win on BJP ticket was Bibben Sama, wife of Habib Sama, from Rajkot. Habib has been Rajkot BJP general secretary for the last 11 years. In contrast 34 out of 66 Muslim candidates put up by the Congress romped home. This in spite of the fact that the overall performance of the Congress was very bad. The BJP won two-thirds of the 555 corporation seats in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot, Surat, Bhavnagar and Jamnagar. The BJP won 444 against Congress 101Ã¢â‚¬â€œÃ¢â‚¬â€œ34 of them Muslims. Modi did succeed in branding the Congress as a Muslim party.
As a part of exercise to win over Muslims sometime back Modi appointed Shabbir Hussain Shekhadam Khandwawala, as the first Muslim DGP of Gujarat. He has recently been given a three-month extension. Similarly when the BJP won the by-election of Kathlal a few weeks back, Modi claimed that 65 per cent Muslims voted for his party.
Modi and his party desperately need some Muslim faces for image makeover in the state. Saiyad fits the bill. Like Modi he also comes from Mehsana district and actively campaigned for the party.
Saiyad was an IG, when he almost became a victim of mob violence on February 28, 2002. A mob surrounded him looking at the name on his uniform badge. After the riots he was not given important posting during most part of Modi regime till the last year of his retirement in 2008, when he was promoted to the post of additional DGP and put in charge of police administration.
Still after the retirement he chose to join the BJP and not Congress or any other party. Now he downplays the incident which took place with him during the infamous riots day in 2002.
The Mayor seat for Ahmedabad has become a sort of prestige issue for Modi too as a year after the Gujarat communal holocaust of 2002 Congress candidate, Aneesa Mirza, managed to become the first woman Muslim Mayor of the state. To be precise she became Mayor of Ahmedabad on April 16, 2003.
The greatest irony of all is that, it is ModiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s anti-Muslim image, which is being used by the BJPÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s alliance partner in Bihar, the Janata Dal (United), to woo Muslim votes. Notwithstanding past friendship and handshakes Nitish Kumar has publicly dissociated himself from the Gujarat chief minister and tried to create an impression that he does not want him to campaign in Bihar. After the Ayodhya verdict of September 30 his party started avoiding Lal Krishan Advani and party spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad as well. Whether the move will click or not is an altogether a different matter.
When sometimes back Nitish did try to keep Modi away from the Bihar campaign the BJP was quick to explain its position. The party leaders argued that Modi is not coming to Bihar because he is busy in the civic poll in his own state. But now that the Corporation elections are over, yet he has not turned up for electioneering yet.
So eight and a half years later, Modi-Muslim relationship continues to bewilder the people.