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After Pasmanda Muslims, BJP Trying to Win Sufis

Arshad Shaikh studies the latest strategy of the ruling party to gain support within the Muslim community. After playing a non-existent caste card by trying to divide Muslims into Ashraf (privileged) and Ajlaf and Arzal (marginalized), the BJP is now trying to classify the community according to their religious denomination and is making overtures to the Sufis who have a good following in rural India. This move proves that the party of “Sab ka Saath” has given up on winning “all” Muslims and is looking at gaining pockets of support by engaging in the appeasement of those who are popularly known as the “Barelvis”.

The Bharatiya Janata Party calls itself the party with a difference. It is definitely different from other parties, as it does not have a single Muslim MP among the 301 in the Lok Sabha. Similarly, the BJP does not have any Muslim MP in the Rajya Sabha. This single fact is sufficient to call the bluff of its slogan of “Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas”. The BJP also swears proudly that it does not believe in “minority appeasement” and “vote bank” politics. However, a critical study of its political strategy reveals that the “largest party in the world” (18 crore members) does the exact opposite of what it preaches. After trying its level best to create a “Pasmanda Muslim” vote bank, it has recently announced a Sufi Samvad Maha Abhiyan (Grand Campaign for Dialogue with Sufis) program that is aimed to appease the Sufi section among the broader Muslim community.

The BJP knows too well that it will not get substantial votes from the Muslim community. Neither are Muslims naïve to misunderstand the political agenda of the BJP, nor can they be duped by the empty slogans of “sab ka saath, sab ka vikas”. So what can the BJP do? One strategy is to divide the Muslim community into caste and religious denominations. The Pasmanda outreach was to show that Muslims are as divided as the Hindus along caste lines. Muslims were classified into the Ashraf (privileged/ upper caste), Ajlaf, and Arzal (marginalized and corresponding to the OBC and Dalits). The Ajlaf and Arzal were termed as “Pasmanda” (meaning backward) and the BJP tried to woo and appease them by offering a share of the various government schemes meant for the poor.

Next came the division according to religious denomination or a particular school of thought. First was the personal connect of the Prime Minister with the Dawoodi Bohra community. Next in line was the outreach to the Sufis or Barelvis. The BJP’s Minority Morcha held an event in Lucknow on October 12 as part of the Sufi Samvad Maha Abhiyan. About 200 Sufi leaders from over 100 Dargahs attended the program. They were asked to share the government’s plans and programs with Muslims all over India. BJP ministers, MPs and MLAs have been instructed to respond to any calls for meetings with the Muslim community if it comes from the Sufi channel.

There are plans to reach out to Sufis in 22 states. In UP itself, the BJP Minority Morcha plans to connect with more than 10,000 Dargahs. The larger gameplan is to show that the BJP is with the Muslim community, respects their “Ulema and Mashaykh” and revers their Sufis and saints. A big part of the campaign is the emphasis on “optics” in which various leaders of the BJP are photographed with the “Khadims” of various Dargahs and offering them “chadars” for the “mazaar” of the “Aulia Allah”.

The Prime Minister is at the centre of the Sufi outreach. The UP BJP Minority Morcha have coined a slogan “Na doori hai na khaai hai, Modi hamara bhai hai” (There is no distance nor chasm, Modi is our brother)”. The PM is seen meeting various Sufi leaders and making speeches that praise various popular Muslim saints from the Sufi tradition.

The raison d’etre of the newfound love for Sufis was explained by senior journalist Uday Mahurkar, in an article for India Today. He opined under the title “Modi’s game plan” that, “India’s syncretic culture-over half of the 14.5 crore Sunni Muslim population worship at dargahs and follow practices that would qualify them as Sufis who are believed to be one of several reasons that have firewalled Indians from the lure of ISIS. India’s Sufi Muslim numbers are constantly under pressure from the hardline Wahabis of the Deobandi School and its missionary wing, the Tablighi Jamaat, and a more virulent Wahabi stream, the Ahle Hadees. However, unlike Pakistan where Taliban suicide bombers have attacked Sufi shrines, the Sufis in India have only to reckon with Wahabi proselytization. India’s security community is also favorably disposed towards them because, as they are fond of saying, no Sufis have become terrorists. Hardline thought is incompatible with the moderate strain of their faith.”

However, there is a slight difficulty in the BJP belief that the Pasmanda and Sufi outreach shall deliver substantial Muslim votes in its kitty. This confidence stems from the assumption that the Muslim religious leadership (Sufis and Sajjada Nashin of Dargahs) can influence Muslim voters to vote for the BJP despite all its acts of omission and commission. It assumes the Muslim voter to be devoid of any political sense and a blind follower of the Imam of the Masjid or Khadim of the Dargah or the Peer of a particular “Silsila”. Fortunately, that is not the case. Muslims understand which candidate will best serve their interests.

Anand Vardhan Singh, Editor Public India correctly pointed out the plight of Muslims in his latest interaction on YouTube, saying “Muslims feel that they are being targeted. Secondly, they do not have any share in power. There are only assurances. Just have a look at the recently by-elections. How many tickets did the BJP give to Muslims? If Muslims are 15 to 16% of the population, did you give tickets to Muslim candidates in that proportion?”

Thus, the BJP Sufi outreach is bound to meet the same fate as the ill-conceived Pasmanda program. There will be no need for any outreach program if the BJP genuinely has a change of heart and starts working for all citizens irrespective of their caste and creed. However, will their ideological masters allow this to happen?

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