Post the PFI ban, what is the BJP’s game plan to reach out to Muslims?
While some reconciliatory efforts have been made in the past, BJP leaders believe the crackdown on the Popular Front of India will facilitate dialogue with the Muslim community
By Anilesh S Mahajan: Amidst the Centre’s ban on the Popular Front of India (PFI) and its affiliates, for allegedly pursuing radicalisation of Muslims, militancy and criminal activities, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Maharashtra police has claimed that the outfit had plans to target RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) leaders, and that its members had been gathering information about the movement of Sangh leaders in the run-up to Dussehra.
The crackdown on PFI has come at a time when both the BJP and the RSS have been making efforts to reach out to moderate Muslim groups in the country. It is clear that the PFI, despite its reach, did not enjoy broad support among Muslims. One of the first organisations in Kerala to welcome the ban on the PFI was the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). Its leader M.K. Muneer said the PFI had been misguiding Muslims to take to the path of violence. In July, leaders of the All India Sufi Sajjadanashin Council (AISSC), at an interfaith conference in Delhi, had proposed a resolution advocating a ban on the PFI for indulging in “anti-national activity”.
The BJP think-tank sees the hand of PFI activists in rampant radicalisation and organised religious conversions, attempts at mobilisation of Muslim youth to serve the PFI’s agenda, and propagation of violence. Some BJP leaders also accuse the PFI of ‘love jihad’ in Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Bihar and other states, stoking anti-CAA protests, and funding communal riots in Delhi, Karnataka and other places. During the investigation into the riots in Delhi in 2020, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had traced the funding trail to the PFI.
RSS leaders too have highlighted PFI violence in Kerala. The Kerala police recently arrested PFI’s Palakkad district secretary Aboobaker Siddik for allegedly hatching the conspiracy to kill RSS activist S.K. Srinivasan in April this year. A BJP leader cites the recent unearthing of a ‘training camp’ in Uttar Pradesh’s Kakori on the Lucknow-Barabanki border, where the PFI was allegedly indoctrinating youth on ‘love jihad’ and subsequently sending them to Kerala for training.
In June last year, the Uttar Pradesh ATS had arrested two Muslim clerics, Mohammad Umar Gautam and Mufti Qazi Jahangir Alam Qasmi, from New Delhi’s Jamia Nagar on charges of forced religious conversion. Qasmi and Gautam were running the Islamic Dawah Centre, an organisation for deaf and mute children which, officials claimed, was involved in conversions. Gautam was an active member of the PFI’s political wing Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI). The police traced the funding of the Islamic Dawah Centre to several West Asia outfits and also suspected its links with Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI and terrorist Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa.
BJP leaders believe the crackdown on PFI will create an environment for reaching out to the Muslim community. “Radicalisation and weaponisation of Muslims is a national threat, and many of the Muslim outfits too realise this,” says a top BJP leader, who did not wish to be named.
In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP government has decided to hold a survey on unrecognised madrasas. BJP governments in several states are exploring if they should do the same. A learning for the BJP, according to its leaders, from the Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal assembly polls has been that the Muslim electorate there largely voted en bloc against the party. In Bengal, although the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and Indian Secular Front (ISF) had fielded candidates, they failed to split the Muslim vote. The AIMIM got a drubbing in UP as well.
One of the BJP’s losses has been ally Janata Dal (United) in Bihar, which used to bring a sizeable number of Muslim votes to the NDA. The current Lok Sabha has 27 Muslim MPs, much less than their proportion in the population. None is from the BJP.
BJP leaders claim they are making efforts to make space for a dialogue with the Muslim community. At the BJP national executive meeting in July, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked party leaders to reach out to the marginalised Pasmanda community among Muslims. Earlier this month, in a first, the BJP nominated a Gujjar Muslim, Gulam Ali Khatana, to the Rajya Sabha. In the past six months, the BJP has made some reconciliatory moves, include distancing itself from the controversial remarks about Prophet Muhammad made by party leader Nupur Sharma.
Recently, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat held a meeting with All India Imam Organisation chief Umer Ahmed Ilyasi and visited Madarsa Tajweedul Quran in Delhi’s Azad Market and interacted with students there. Bhagwat also held a meeting with five Muslim personalities—former Delhi lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung, former parliamentarian Shahid Siddiqui, businessman Saeed Shervani, former Aligarh Muslim University vice-chancellor Lieutenant General (retd) Zameer Uddin Shah and former chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi. Sources said that if the personalities raised objections to some right-wing Hindu leaders regularly raising the demand that Muslims of India “go back to Pakistan”, Bhagwat objected to use of the word ‘kafir’ (non-believer) against Hindus.