Modi attempts a new tone towards Muslims. But facts from Gujarat tell another story.
In 2002, during the election campaign that followed the Gujarat violence, Narendra Modi made at least one controversial speech targeting Muslims. On September 9, in Mehsana district, he described the relief camps where riot victims had been given shelter as “children producing centres” where the governing philosophy was “hum paanch, humare pachees”. Eleven years later, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate has adopted a different tone. He is making overtures to this minority, which represents a significant proportion of the population in key states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. This change in tone is evident, throughout the Hindi belt, from symbolic gestures like the distribution of free skullcaps and burqas for the Muslims attending his public meetings, as seen in Jaipur and Bhopal a few weeks ago. In August, the Modi government told the Supreme Court that it was willing to pay for the repair of the 535 mosques and dargahs, which had been damaged in 2002.
In fact, this new dispensation has been obvious in Gujarat for at least two years now. Modi first established a channel of communication with the Dawoodi Bohras. He has paid their leader, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, a courtesy visit and inaugurated the community’s trade exposition in Ahmedabad. Then, he tried to reach out to the Sunnis through his Sadbhavana Mission, which he launched in September 2011, on his 61st birthday. The aim of the mission was to promote social harmony beyond caste, class and religious divisions. In order to solemnly commit himself to this objective, Modi travelled throughout Gujarat and undertook fasts in various places. His last Sadbhavana fast was in February 2012.
Muslims attended these functions in somewhat large numbers. In Ahmedabad, an imam offered Modi a skullcap, which he refused to wear. In Navsari, a few days later, one of his Muslim supporters offered him a keffiyeh, a scarf, which he refused again. One may remember that in December 2002, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had hosted an Eid milan at his residence, and an iftar party the year before.
At the end of the Sadbhavana Mission, Modi’s ability to reach out to Muslims was doubtful. Indeed, according to a CSDS survey conducted after the 2012 state elections, 20 per cent of the Muslim voters had chosen the BJP, against 22 per cent in 2007. While a substantial proportion of Muslims was voting for Modi,