ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

Meanings of Rajnath Singh's 'apology'

Rajnath Singh’s ‘apology’ to Muslims has two aspects. This statement does have a symbolic political value, which might possibly be exploited to get rid of the established image of the BJP as a ‘communal-rightist’ party. Obviously, Singh would be interested in expanding the electoral base of the BJP by projecting it as a viable alternative to the Congress.  In this sense, it is quite understandable that Singh’s ‘apology’ to Muslims is a conscious political move. However, the scope of this uncomplicated and media-friendly explanation is limited. There is an intrinsic relationship between the official policy of the BJP towards Muslims and the apologetic gesture of Rajnath Singh, which needs to be examined critically for making sense of the other aspect of Singh’s remarks. 

Let us take two examples to elaborate this point.

The Rainbow Power of India - the development model of Narendra Modi- does not get into those contentious issues such as Ram temple, Article 370 and the uniform civil code, which are somehow linked to Muslims. BJP’s official website says:

The Rainbow Power of India, as envisaged by Shri Narendra Modi, encompasses the seven key focus areas that will become the fulcrum of most initiatives in the lead to the year 2022 - the platinum jubilee year of Indian independence.

The seven focus areas are knowledge, democracy, natural resources, agriculture, women empowerment, youth power and India's rich cultural heritage. Detailed action programs have been chalked out for each of these seven focus areas and they have been developed keeping SMART criteria in mind: the action programs shall be specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-bound. 

It does not however, mean that the BJP has given up these issues. Party’s leaders often make statements about Ram temple and the removal of article 370. However, there is clear reluctance to project controversial issues at least officially. The discourse of development, it seems, is established as the main electoral agenda, while the ‘cultural’ issues, including the conventional identity based concerns, are intentionally relegated to margin. This political configuration is quite compatible to the statement made by Rajnath Singh and further elaborated by Arun Jaitley, who said, "…the problem of perception with the Muslim community lies in the fact that conventional political parties treated them as instruments of power and that the community was only used for identity politics..." 

It is important here to clarify that the BJP’s official position on Muslims cannot be understood merely by evoking the given stereotypical ‘Muslim issues’ such as Babri Masjid and/or universal civil code. It is true that the destruction of Babri Masjid and Gujarat riots of 2002 still affect the political imagination of various Muslim communities; yet, it would be incorrect to overstate the significance of these events.

Political empowerment through reservation has emerged as one of the most acceptable Muslim political demands in recent year.  The post-Mandal policy discourse has played a crucial role in this regard. For instance, the Mandal Commission evolved a method for identifying OBCs among non-Hindu communities and paved the way for the inclusion of a few Muslim backward castes in the OBC list. The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC, 1999), which was set up by the BJP-led NDA, was the first official report, which made recommendations for the adequate political representation of Muslims. In its recommendation no. 240, the NCRWC says:

At present the political representation of minority communities in legislatures, especially Muslims, has fallen well below their proportion of population.  The proportion of BCs among them is next to nil.  This can lead to a sense of alienation. It is recommended that in situations of this kind, it is incumbent for political parties to build up leadership potential in the minority communities, including BCs, SCs and STs among them, for participation in political life.  The role of the state for strengthening the pluralism of Indian polity has to be emphasised.

Backward classes belonging to religious minorities who have been identified and included in the list of backward classes and who, in fact, constitute the bulk of the population of religious minorities should be taken up with special care along with their Hindu counterparts in the developmental efforts for the backward classes.  This should be on the pattern of the approach to the development of Backward Classes formulated by the Working Group for the Development and Empowerment of Backward Classes in the Tenth Plan referred to separately under Backward Classes.             

There is virtually no difference between the suggestions given by the NCRWC and the findings of the Sachar Commission Report. Interestingly the BJP, which set up the NCRWC and never questioned its findings, found it very hard to accept Sachar commission report. Criticising the report, Sushama Swaraj said, "…Much effort has gone into it but… in the wrong direction. This report reflects a pseudo vision and is full of biases…Ironically, 100 hundred years after the first seed of a separate electorate for Muslims was sown in India, which ultimately led to the demand for Partition, a report has come talking of nomination for Muslims…we are a democracy and to talk of nominations on the basis of religion is to pave the way for communal divisiveness."

Why did not the BJP oppose NCRWC? Was it not separatism?

We must remember that BJP’s is an inseparable component of two very different coalitions. There is an ideological coalition called the Sangh Parivar, which provides an abstract philosophical outline to the program and policy of the party; on the other hand, BJP is also a part of NDA, which is essentially a political coalition constituted for capitalising on the benefits of competitive electoral politics. BJP’s delicate placing in these two configurations makes it quite distinctive. Unlike RSS or VHP, the BJP is not merely accountable to its core cadres; as a political party, it is also answerable to electorates as well as the region-specific coalition partners. These multifaceted accountabilities actually contribute to the BJP’s official stand on Muslims. Rajnath Singh’s apology to Muslims stems from this ideological-political configuration.    

About Author

Hilal Ahmed (ahmed.hilal@gmail.com) ​ is Associate Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing societies, New Delhi. He is the author of Monuments, Memory and Contestation: Muslim Political Discourse in Postcolonial India (Routledge/Forthcoming). Ahmed writes on popular Islam and Muslim politics. He is working on his second book project, Politics of Muslim Political Representation.     
Back to Top