Now that practically one in two people votes for the BJP/NDA, it is not unreasonable to want to not only retain this huge constituency of over 300 million voters but mop up as much of the rest as possible.
Even before the swearing-in ceremony on 30 May, reports have started appearing that BJP wants to win 333 seats in 2024, up from the astounding solo majority of 303 in 2019. That means retaining the cross caste and creed vote it has received, and then some. The intent is to garner these additional 30 seats from the South of India, beyond and besides Karnataka.
And perhaps, from the Muslims, spread across the nation, once thought of as a bridge too far. In the meantime, the Muslims have stopped being a monolithic vote bank for any party. This includes the Congress, which shares this minority vote with the Yadav/Dalit/Muslim combines of the SP, BSP, the RJD, amongst others.
And who can blame the community for trying its luck elsewhere? It is a cliché that Muslims are remembered by the politicos only at election time. This has been largely true of other voting sections too, but it is getting increasingly difficult as the more aware voting public has started to demand accountability. Muslims, ghettoized and deliberately frightened against the saffron parties, remain amongst the most neglected, poor and uneducated people in this country.
However, 12.2% of the Muslims have voted for the BJP in 2019, up from 9% in 2014. The slight rise means that at least one in ten Muslims have now voted for the BJP.
It is thought this is because of the BJP efforts on the triple talaq bill, appreciated by many Muslim women. And also the reaching of benefits like electricity, cooking gas, direct subsidies paid into newly created bank accounts. The even-handedness of this welfare work combined with millions of rural toilets, at least 100 days of paid work, internet connectivity, and a rural road development network has been well received.
Why didn’t the UPA, professedly on the side of the minorities, do anything similar for them? Perhaps it was a failure of the imagination or a lack of energy in a notoriously corrupt order.
The BJP/NDA of 2014-2019, by way of contrast, has done many economic and tangible things for the poor of all religions, castes and communities. And the poor have responded with their votes, cutting across traditional fractures and fissures, as the SP, BSP and RJD have learned at their cost.
It is the traditional stance of a victor with a landslide in democratic elections, to be magnanimous in order to heal the wounds of electioneering.
The early pronouncements of Prime Minister Narendra Modi are true to this convention. They strive to establish the right atmospherics for the new government to come.
Modi 2.0 begins with a near two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha, not seen since 1971, soon after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi helped in the birthing of Bangladesh. And by 2021, the NDA will have a majority in the Rajya Sabha as well.
The results in the largest state of Uttar Pradesh, which had a major role in taking the individual tally of the BJP to 303, broke through the caste calculations of the opposition. It granted 62 out of the 82 seats to the BJP state run by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Speaking to the NDA MPs in the Central Hall of Parliament, Modi framed the coming five-year term with reference to the period 1942 to 1947.
It was a time, he said, when everyone in the country, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jain, did their bit, however minor, to bring about national independence. The atmosphere was super-charged with a sense of patriotism.
Modi wanted to invoke that same spirit of nation-building and cooperation in the period 2019 to 2024. He used one of his favoured acronyms — NARA — normally meaning slogan, but in this instance, also National Aspiration cum Regional Aspiration.
The other related thing he said in the Central Hall is that the minorities have been cheated and scare-mongered for too long. This naturally implies that Modi 2.0 is going to set this right.
The social media has been quick to jeer at this, even as the mainstream reported it with a question mark. But, the BJP, particularly the duo of Modi and Shah are well known for setting themselves lofty and early targets.
People who support the opposition, too stunned at first to say much, just don’t believe the prime minister. They are joined by quite a few BJP supporters turned sceptics.
Perhaps Modi is aiming this inclusive intent at foreign observers and potential investors, some of whom are worried about possible communal strife in the not too distant future.
Nevertheless, it afforded the well-spoken two-seater AIMIM head and MP Asaduddin Owaisi from Hyderabad, a ready-made opportunity. He got on television immediately to list the many things Modi must do. But perhaps the well-spoken multi-term parliamentarian, lawyer and businessman are somewhat behind the curve. Modi 2.0 is difficult to pressure from inside or out. It has the will of the people firmly on its side.
The Hindutva fringe has reacted to the prime minister’s message with a modicum of intolerance. They have roughed up Muslims suspected of illegally slaughtering, transporting and selling beef. In other incidents, they have knocked off skull caps, split lips, and forced some Muslims to recite Jai Shri Ram.
Is the Vishwas call-out going to be derailed by Muslim scepticism or Hindu belligerence?
Very unlikely, because cynicism has little political future. Scaremongering by invoking the excesses of Nazi Germany is also old hat now. The lib-left, wavering between outrage, hysteria, and soft Hindutva itself, will have to think up something new. It has hurt itself badly in electoral terms. It must think of how to undo the damage done by the counter-polarisation it has caused by its intemperate and juvenile hatred. As Hillary Clinton found out in the American presidential race with Donald Trump- the “Deplorable” can deliver a mighty electoral kick.
From the point of view of the BJP, now proved to be adept at the social engineering engendered by its sabka saath sabka vikaas plank, another 10% of the Muslim vote for itself might put paid to the opposition. Particularly, an opposition, largely out of power, even in the States.
The Congress held states of Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh are tottering and could fall on their own. In any case, BJP might well wrest them away in short order, along with Delhi from the AAP, and West Bengal from the TMC. Telangana, Orissa, and Andhra Pradesh are practically outside support allies of the NDA. It doesn’t leave much out of the saffron net. There are just Punjab, Kerala and Tamil Nadu amongst the other notable states that may remain with the opposition.
In addition, there is a leadership crisis with Rahul Gandhi’s presidency, which sees no easy resolution. The opposition, largely dependent on caste, community and religious considerations is not holding water. It is also hamstrung by its non-performing family private limited architecture.
The Muslims might well begin to see their best bet is to ally with the strength of the BJP/NDA and trust in the prime minister’s professed intentions. The prime minister, on his part, seems to be aware of this. So, while the economy, jobs, other longstanding promises, foreign affairs, defence, health, education, and a hundred other priorities get the new government’s attention, the Muslims are not going to be forgotten this time.