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Varanasi: Why many Muslims find hope in Narendra Modi

Author: Debobrat Ghose
Publication: Firstpost.com
Date: May 11, 2014
URL: http://www.firstpost.com/politics/varanasi-why-many-muslims-find-hope-in-modi-1518033.html

Amid all talk of communal polarization and the Muslim antipathy towards Narendra Modi, a section of the community has been working silently to ensure the latter’s victory in Varanasi. The young Muslim men and women campaigning for Modi in the walled-city part of the Hindu religious centre offer an interesting insight into the changing mindset in the community, which for long followed the diktats of religious leaders while making its political choice.

“A new perception has emerged amongst the Muslims. They now want to vote for development, unlike in the past. Narendra Modi has emerged as a new political icon on whom many Muslims feel they can depend on,” says Dr Iftikhar Ahmed Javed, an educationist, who runs a school amongst weavers in Bajardiah.

According to Dr Javed, a doctorate in Statistics from BHU, the gradual shift amongst Muslims towards the BJP has been due to Modi, otherwise considered ‘anti-Muslim’. “Muslims have so far voted for Congress or non-BJP parties, but have only got exploited in return. The Congress used Sachar committee report to showcase the neglect faced by the Muslims, but did nothing about it.” Muslims comprise 15 percent of Varanasi’s population. “There are 2.80 lakh Muslim voters and nearly 12-15% will vote for BJP,” he says.

The BJP is pinning hopes on the weavers’ community of Muslims (Ansaris). Modi has promised to rejuvenate their dying handlooms. “A large number of weavers have already migrated to Surat. Considering the better condition of Muslim weavers in Gujarat, we’ve decided to vote for Modi as he may bring a change,” says Iqbal Ahmed Ansari, a fourth generation weaver from Bajardiah.

But, he feels that other BJP leaders should also extend a hand towards Muslims, without harbouring misconception that Muslims won’t vote for the party.

A big chunk of support for Modi from the community has come from its women. It was evident on 8 May when Modi’s cavalcade passed through the highly sensitive Muslim-dominated Madanpura. “I’ve never seen such a tremendous response to a political rally like that of Modi’s. Women and children came out on streets, stood at roof tops to have his glimpse and showered petals and Itra (perfume) on him,” recalls Madanpura resident Afsana Begum.

Though it’s difficult to say how much of it would get converted into votes for Modi, a big credit for this paradigm shift goes to two Muslim women in their twenties, who both hold a master’s degree in Conflict Management from the Banaras Hindu University (BHU).

One of them, Najma Parveen is the president of the Bhartiya Awam Party (BAP), an all-women’s political party, which claims more than 35,000 members, with 90% women and 10% reserved for men. BAP works towards creating political awareness among Muslim women and salutes Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose as its ideal.

“We’re not contesting the election this time but supporting Modiji for which we’re mobilising Muslims to vote for him, and also trying to wash-off rumours spread against him by other political parties,” says Parveen.

The BAP members visit various Muslim localities and hold interactive sessions to present their point of view. “We’re making them realise that Muslims are not mere vote banks and we too need development,” says Parveen.

The other leader is Nazneen Ansari, president of the Muslim Mahila Foundation (MMF) set up in 2006 that works for Muslim women. Despite facing threats from the ruling Samajwadi Party and police, as Ansari claims, the MMF continues to canvas for Modi.

“We’re apolitical and want to tell our people that the Godhra riot stigma on Modi was a political conspiracy. Had Modi been anti-Muslim, there would have been more riots in Gujarat after 2000. Instead, progress has taken place there. Besides, there have been riots in other states including UP,” she reasons.

A sentiment common to most Muslims here is that of indignation over being taken for granted as vote banks by the Congress and other parties. Fahim Ansari, a weaver from Badsha Bagh, says, “More than development, a Muslim wants izzat (respect); and these political parties during elections publicly demonstrate false respect for us by addressing us as ‘our Muslim brothers, etc’, which has not been the case with the BJP.”

The RSS has been working hard not to let the pockets of goodwill evaporate. Indresh Kumar, a member of the RSS’ national executive, has been camping in Varanasi. Despite being a hardliner within the Sangh Parivar, Kumar is known for his proximity towards Muslims. He’s also the guiding force behind the Muslim Rashtriya Manch (MRM) – an independent body of 10 lakh members. Kumar and the MRM have been working in Varanasi for the past two years.

But according to BJP insiders, Kumar is in Varanasi to rein in the loud-mouthed right wing activists from Bajranj Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad etc, who otherwise could throw spanner in Modi’s national agenda.

Political analyst Prof Kaushal Kishore Mishra sums up the sentiment. “Muslim voters are confused about who to vote for, but Modi has an edge, as people of Varanasi are getting the chance for the first time to have a PM candidate from their constituency, who talks of development.”

“Moreover, Modi has said that if he comes to power, there’ll be a branch of PMO in Varanasi, which has heightened the expectations among voters, and caste-based polarisation is almost nil this time,” says Mishra, also the head of Political Science in BHU.
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