bitter election campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech on the
Parliament premises was one of reconciliation and unity. Modi reached out to
India’s minorities, who have traditionally not been supporters of BJP. One of
the things he said was that minorities in India had been deceived “through an
imaginary fear created for the purpose of vote bank politics”. He added that
the BJP would have to “pierce” through this deception and “gain trust”. The
prime minister also added a new phrase “Sabka Vishwas (everyone’s
trust)” to his earlier slogan of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (development
One of the
failings of Modi’s first term had been its tardy record in curbing acts of
religious intolerance and violence. Modi’s first term had also empowered fringe
Hindu groups and anti-minority voices. While Modi had periodically spoken about
BJP being an inclusive party and punishing instigators of religious violence,
it has often been a case of too little, too late. Now Modi has the opportunity
to set the record straight, put the election rhetoric behind him and assuage
fears that India is taking the majoritarian route.
Some of the
candidates who got elected on BJP tickets are likely to prove a challenge to
Modi’s post-election resolve. There has been plenty written on BJP’s nomination
of Pragya Thakur, a terror accused out on bail. Among the many inflammatory
things that Thakur said during her election was to defend Mahatma Gandhi’s
assassin, Nathuram Godse.
Thakur retracted her statement following pressure from the BJP high command,
she is now an elected member of Parliament. However, it is not only Thakur’s
election which has caused disquiet. While BJP refused to nominate several of
its sitting MPs, it still went with many of its rabble rousers known for
regularly making religiously charged and intemperate remarks. Some of them have
also found a place in the new Union council of ministers. If Modi is to keep
his word, he has to rein in these elements.
these individual MPs, what is worrying is that BJP’s landslide win has been
achieved largely without the support of minorities, particularly the nearly 200
million strong Muslim population in India. According to the post-poll survey by
the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), nationwide only 9% of
Muslims voted for BJP. Another credible survey pegged the Muslim vote at 10%.
The figures for India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, show low levels of
Muslim support for BJP. According to CSDS, in UP, where a fifth of the
population is Muslim, 8% of Muslims voted for BJP.
representation in Parliament is also at an all-time low. The newly elected Lok
Sabha has 26 Muslim MPs, a slight increase of three from the last house. At
just under 5%, this is the second lowest proportion of Muslim MPs to
population, the lowest having been in 2014. The proportion of Muslims in
Parliament is way lower than their share of India’s population, which stood at
14% in 2011.
get even starker when one looks at BJP’s numbers. Of BJP’s 303 Lok Sabha MPs in
2019, only one is Muslim. This is an improvement from the last Parliament where
BJP did not have a single Muslim among its 282 MPs. The Union council of
ministers, too, has just one Muslim.
in the state assemblies are no better. For instance, in the 2017 UP assembly
elections where BJP won 325 seats, the party did not field a single Muslim
candidate. The numbers suggest that BJP has worked out a strategy where it
consolidates the majority Hindu vote, irrespective of caste, while at the same
time making the minority vote irrelevant.
conciliatory message at the start of his second term is welcome. He will,
however, have to back his words with action. With a resounding mandate, Modi’s
actions in his second term will determine whether India remains a pluralist
democracy, albeit an imperfect one, or slides towards a majoritarian polity, as
some fear. The world will be watching whether Modi carries through with the
promise, made in his victory speech, of taking everybody along.
Views expressed above are the author's own.