January 11, 2024
📰 FEATURE STORY
Will the BJP’s minority outreach pay dividends during the upcoming Lok Sabha election?
As we move closer to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, strategies of the parties, leaders, candidates, and campaigns will come into focus. Rahul Gandhi is off on another yatra, and the INDIA bloc is crunching the numbers on seat sharing. The alliance has a lot of catching up to do.
Over the past year, part of the BJP’s strategy has become clear – minority outreach. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is actively trying to reach out to minority communities, even if it’s just to break the opposition’s vote banks. In particular, the outreach is to the Muslim and Christian communities. Could this strategy pay dividends? Will it be enough to siphon off votes and prevent the opposition from coming to power?
When the BJP came to power in 2014, it was historic – the first to win an outright majority in the Lok Sabha since 1984. They repeated that feat in 2019. There have been plenty of discussions about the rise of the BJP, the right wing, and communal polarisation.
When one party has dominated for so long in India, views on it and the issues it has sought to assert itself on are likely to predict a person’s ideology. Also, for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, it’s important to note the importance of political ideology in everyday life. Issues like state intervention and minority rights have relevance to people’s political behaviour.
Minorities have changed the Indian electoral landscape to some extent. Take Muslims, for example. Several parties claim to represent Muslims, like All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and Jamaat-e-Islami. Some experts have argued that Muslims don’t vote en masse, and so one party is unlikely to secure all the Muslim votes.
In some state assembly elections like Karnataka in 2023 and Uttar Pradesh in 2022, Muslim voters consolidated against the BJP. In the past two national elections, the BJP won about 9% of the Muslim vote. Now, they’re targeting 16-17%.
The BJP seemingly has a plan. Modi has highlighted that Pasmanda Muslims have been facing widespread discrimination in the name of votebank politics. They are pegged at 80% of the country’s Muslim population. Modi has also backed a Uniform Civil Code (UCC), cited equal rights as stated in the Constitution, and criticised the Opposition for not supporting it.
Last year, the BJP launched a targeted outreach programme for Muslim women and religious leaders focussed on 65 minority-dominated Lok Sabha seats. The BJP Minority Morcha planned to reach out to over 100 Muslim women in each district and educate them about the Modi government’s policies and schemes. They even prepared a list of over 500 “dharma gurus” among Muslim, Christian, and Sikh leaders.
On Christmas Day a couple of weeks back, Modi opened up his home to Christian community leaders. The next day, he marked the martyrdom of the sons of Guru Gobind Singh as Veer Bal Diwas. It was the first official tribute marked by the Indian government. He spoke of Parsis as the model minority since they prospered in India after choosing it as their home.
For all of their efforts, with certainly more to come, can the BJP be confident of securing the minority vote? Will all these efforts pay dividends?
VIEW: It’s likely to work
To begin from a broader perspective concerning the BJP – there’s a feeling that they’re expected to return to power. That’s mainly due to the organisational and financial machinery at their disposal. Electorally, they’ve got a few things going for them – Modi’s popularity as a leader, especially in the Hindi heartland, and the Hindu vote bank. In December, Modi said the goal is to get 80% of the Hindu vote. That’s enough of a buffer with minimal minority votes.
That doesn’t mean they’re banking on just the Hindu vote. No doubt, the party and Muslims have a very fraught history. In the past, the party has only sporadically sought their support. Now, it’s a different ballgame. Just ask the 25,000 Muslim volunteers that the party has brought in to propagate Modi’s messages. They include educators, entrepreneurs, and retired government officials. Astutely, they’re focussed on select seats that have at least a 30% Muslim population.
As Modi welcomed Christian leaders for Christmas, the party was in the middle of its “Sneha Yatra” in Kerala visiting Christian households. Kerala is important since Muslims and Christians make up over a third of the state. The Church plays a significant role in the state. The BJP’s success in the Northeast is a validation of it being an acceptable party for Christians. Much to the dismay of some local leaders, it seems the Catholic Church has aligned itself with the BJP. That’s crucial in a state like Kerala, which has been a tough nut to crack for the BJP.
COUNTERVIEW: An uphill climb
There’s no harm in trying, but it remains to be seen if the outreach efforts will result in tangible electoral results. With the BJP at the helm over the past several years, in the eyes of several human rights groups, India has gone down a dark path. The country’s secular credentials have come under the scanner as minority rights have been slowly but surely eroded. The party has exploited faultlines between Hindus and Muslims. The attacks on churches in Manipur and the state government’s inaction don’t speak too highly of the BJP.
Minority outreach, if done by the Opposition, is often labelled as appeasement by the BJP. It seems Modi’s directives to not anger minorities with incendiary statements and speeches haven’t gone down well with the ranks. Perhaps there’s concern that the base might become angry. Case in point – local RSS leaders in Kerala weren’t happy with BJP leader AN Radhakrishnan’s church visit last April. They also revived an old controversy of the dispute over a Christian shrine. Muslim outreach plans faced more opposition, and the party cancelled plans to visit homes during Eid.
For many, the BJP’s plan to woo minorities is just pure electoral maths combined with controversial policies like UCC and Triple talaq. This isn’t likely to pan out as the BJP hopes. Despite the BJP’s ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ model, minorities continue to lag on many socio-economic indicators. They continue to be targeted by the Hindu right wing. If the BJP was serious about minority outreach, they wouldn’t have slashed the minority affairs ministry’s budget by 38% last year.
- How Ideology Shapes Indian Politics – Carnegie Endowment
- BJP launches minority outreach programme ahead of 2024 Lok Sabha elections – Deccan Herald
- PM’s interaction, Christmas message, home visits: BJP pushes on with Christian outreach – The Indian Express
- How Modi’s BJP seeks Muslim vote in India’s 2024 election – Reuters
- What Does BJP’s Outreach to Minority Communities Mean for the Opposition? – The Wire
- Narendra Modi’s Dilemma as Minority ‘Outreach’ Efforts Face Hindutva Backlash – The Wire
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The BJP’s minority outreach will pay dividends during the upcoming LS election.
b) The BJP’s minority outreach won’t pay dividends during the upcoming LS election.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
At the Heart of the Soundtrack of Hindutva, that Spreads Hateful Anti-Minority Messages
For the Left:
India stands out as an outlier worldwide on the positive side