Mumbai: Parties rather than policy issues have been the flavour of the week. The Aam Aadmi Party is conducting a civil war against itself, determined to justify the label that it is anarchic to the core. Meanwhile, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) engages in a moment of reflection as party membership wanes. As Prakash Karat’s grim reign ends, Sitaram Yechury claims that CPI(M) must go back to its roots as a mass movement to regain its vitality. The Bharatiya Janata Party seems to be the only party cheerful about its future, confirming the official feeling that under Prime Minister Narendra Modi nothing can go wrong. Recent reports add that its membership campaign has been utterly successful.
The party dreamt of an increase in membership from 3.5 to 10 crore. Interestingly, its membership has risen impressively in states like Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. A Hindi-speaking party is going national by playing the Hindu card. In West Bengal, membership has reached 37 lakh making people feel that Amit Shah’s promise of numbers still holds true. As membership campaigns go, the BJP is attaining sheer cornucopia.
Numbers always have a Guinness-like quality to them, a believe-it-or-not zing. As early as November 2014, the BJP took the cue from the Communist Party of China, which claimed that it would soon be the planet’s largest party. It has recorded a primary membership figure of 8.8 crore, tipping the CPC, which has a membership of 8.67 crore.
Membership can be deceptive. It may hide the distinction between active and dormant members, between members who vote and those who do not. More particularly, membership does not indicate presence in an embodied sense. Given the virtual nature of registration and the obsession with electronic involvement, one has to wonder how much pressing a button means in terms of involvement and commitment.
But beyond the sociology of numbers, the increase in BJP votes does say a lot about how minorities think and parties think about them today. Earlier, the Congress was a bastion, a refuge, a fortress for the Muslims as a political community. But over the decades Muslims have grown to detest the Congress, feeling it has created a “cordon sanitaire” of stereotypes around the community. Stalwarts like Salman Khurshid were as imaginative about their legacy as Rahul Gandhi was about the Congress. They took Muslim membership for granted.
The psychology of the Muslim in such a situation becomes interesting. Many Muslims realised that the Congress as a party was freezing identities, pickling Muslims in the formaldehyde of past stereotypes. Today, just as a new generation emerges that despises the Congress, so does a new generation of Muslims which feels the Congress is no longer a party that provides refuge. It is a poignant political time between the Congress’ benign neglect of the Muslims and Mr Modi’s attempt to redeem himself. It is a time for ideological and political entrepreneurship raising strange, even surreal, possibilities.
Mehbub Chisty, 38, the state BJP Minority Morcha president, is a practising Muslim, who propagates Islam in his 24-hour channel in England and knows the Quran by heart. He is a new kind of missionary who is also spreading the message of Prime Minister Modi. He is not a source of salvation but of salvage, a political leader who can rescue Muslims from the traditional ghettos of the mind. In an interview given to Ahmedabad-based journalist Deepal Trivedi, Mr Chisty differs from the Qureshis, the meat entrepreneurs who built the meat sector into a global industry. Mr Chisty is a next-generation electronics engineer, who analyses religious politics like a collection of start-ups.
Mr Chisty’s reading of Mr Modi is fascinating. He locates it within the background of Congress’ default and hypocrisy. Given the trust the Congress received from Muslims, Mr Chisty feels it is time to give Mr Modi a “chance”. The word chance is a local word. “Chance dena”, implies hope, promise, faith, trust, a desperate need to believe. Indians believe everyone deserves a chance, even Mr Modi after the 2002 riots.
As an apologist for Mr Modi, Mr Chisty remarks that it was the Congress regimes that encouraged riots. He adds Mr Modi was new, a fresher when the 2002 riots happened. He controlled it. There is a philosophical and legal confusion between guilt and responsibility. It ignores questions of the party’s involvement, methodologies of violence and, of course, Mr Chisty like Mr Modi, never mentions the fate of Muslims in refugee camps. Mr Chisty, feels the media is hung up on 2002. The language, the logic reminds one of revisionist historians who played down the violence or even the existence of the concentration camps. But Mr Chisty is tapping into something new the frustration of Muslims desperate to live normal lives and bargaining for membership with the BJP might be the right option.
It is an attempt to redefine Muslim identity and citizenship with Muslims arguing that the BJP is benign next to the Congress, which forced them into criminal stereotypes.
Mr Chisty’s narrative is so matter-of-fact that one feels he is shopping between different alternatives. As a buyer, consumer and investor in politics, he feels the BJP is the buy. It is presented not as opportunism, or instrumentalism but as a rational choice. One is surprised to see that Gujarat despite the 2002 riots is the state that has the highest number of Muslims in the party. This choice of Muslims has been made despite all the antics of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad on “ghar wapsi” and “love jihad”.
Is the past so erasable or does realism demand joining of the BJP as an attempt to prevent such pasts? Do Muslims see Gujarat as a Singapore-like state where law and order will prevail over requirements of ethnicity? Is the Congress so decayed that there is no other answer? Is the BJP’s offer of citizenship and development authentic? Either way, one realises the choices could not have been easy. Years ago, Gujarat was read as the laboratory for holocaust. Today it is read as a laboratory for its aftermath, telling us the survivor had a few eerie surprises of his own.