Two popular explanations for the BJP-Muslim question exist. First, the BJP’s relatively equitable economic development in Gujarat in the last decade. Second, its riot-free governance. Evidence in Chapters 3 and 5 demonstrates that attacks on Muslims were organised. Following the political ambitions of the BJP and its leaders to move to the Centre in 2014, allowing a trigger to develop into a full-blown riot was not required after 2002.
What is worth discussing is the explanation of equitable economic development. For this overarching term to make analytical sense, it needs to be broken down to the level of the individual voter. Whereas economic benefits mattered for the individual respondents I interviewed, there were differences in the motivation to support the BJP for those Muslims who had joined the party as members, from those who were supporters / campaigners for the party. All Muslim BJP party members and candidates I spoke with were motivated by individual reward, like career advancement through patronage with incumbent political leaders and future political front runners, whereas Muslim BJP voters/campaigners were guided by both material and value-rational benefits.
Suraiyya, a resident of the dismal Bombay Hotel slum in eastern Ahmedabad, was one such party member. She had moved to the safety of this neighbourhood in 2002, settled ad hoc near the municipal dump – a towering mound of the city’s garbage – following more than one attack in her old neighbourhood of Bapunagar. In 2012, her reasons to fear for her life were no longer riots but the civic conditions of her infamous neighbourhood.
She had joined the BJP as a party member in 2010. “Do we have a choice? We don’t want to keep drinking yellow water and die of dengue...”
It was interesting that Suraiyya chose to join the party rather than simply vote in its favour for, surely, voting by itself would have given her access to the facilities she desired. Suraiyya was candid: “I want to earn money by helping people.” I suspected Hasan had similar motivations.
Hasan and Suraiyya fit the typical “intermediary” or “broker” – local individuals who facilitate access of patronage-based state resources between citizens and the state. In turn they earn not only monetary benefits from the residents but also a positive social identity within the community. As discussed earlier in the book, this patron-client form of resource access can dictate political preferences, especially for the extremely poor whose daily survival is a never-ending ordeal and for whom direct access to state resources is nearly impossible.
Similar sentiments were reflected in the words of other Muslim BJP party members I met. Although they praised the BJP for its economic policies, none claimed to have directly benefited from them. Aslam, a local BJP leader, spoke of “indirect” benefits – housing developed to rehabilitate all slum dwellers displaced by a city development project, in keeping with a Gujarat High Court order, had also benefited Muslims.
These recent members of the BJP were aware that their aspirations to become a successful intermediary were possible only within the ambit of an incumbent party with the potential to remain in power for a long period of time. This meant moving Left, Right, or Centre, as the situation called for.
Aslam, for example, was a former Communist Party representative from Behrampura, a “people’s worker” as many had referred to him when he contested municipal elections in 2010 representing the CPI(M). Aslam’s allegiance to the CPI(M) was not entirely motivated by individual reward, for the party had no political presence in Gujarat. Aslam had decided to work for the party for he had considered it to be the next best option to the Congress which, he believed, had an equally poor record of security of Muslims as the BJP. When he lost the 2010 elections, Aslam decided to shift allegiance to the BJP.
“The BJP is in power and will continue to remain in power for the next 15 years...I cannot work with a dead party like the Congress or the CPM. Both the Congress and the BJP have killed Muslims but the Congress has given nothing in return. At least the BJP intends to do something now for Muslims too. I can only be able to work with a party that can do something.”
The BJP’s Muslim supporters in Ahmedabad
Again, prior to the 2017 assembly elections in Gujarat, 2,000 Congress workers joined the BJP. Mehmoodaben Sheikh (real name), the vice president of the Congress’s Minority Cell, was among them, for she saw “no hope for the Congress in Gujarat”.
Political patronage was important also for access to security – not physical security during future violence alone but also security from assertions of anti-national activity. It was this motivation that primarily distinguished the Muslim BJP supporter/campaigner from the party member. Mohammed Umar, a fruit vendor in Ahmedabad, gave me his reasons for shifting allegiance from the Congress to the BJP: “We Muslims first believe in nation, that’s what Islam also says...to get rid of our anti-national image we have to be with the BJP. What has the Congress done except breed goons and use Muslims to sell illicit liquor?”
Dressed in white Islamic attire, complete with a skullcap, moustache, and an unruly beard – a stereotype of the Congress voter – Mohammed Umar’s words implied the preference of social acceptance over patronage benefits or a political career. Remarkably, his new-found faith in the BJP had not overlapped with his orthodox religiosity. Rather, it suggested reconciliation with the possibility of the BJP retaining power in the near future and the subsequent need to forsake the anti-national image by gaining social approval of the majority.
As Maqsood summed up, “Musibat mein gadhe ko bhi baap banana padta hai. When circumstances are dire, one is forced to hold a candle to the devil.” Maqsood and his mother had a more strategic reason for the alteration of their preference. They had decided to support the BJP following official delimitation of constituency boundaries that changed the electoral salience of their vote: “We are no longer in a Muslim constituency... Muslim voters now are merely 5,000. Nobody among Hindus votes for the Congress so why should we?”
Note that the voting preference of many Muslims was based on the (incorrect) assumption that all Hindus vote for the BJP. Above all, what distinguished the BJP Muslim public supporters as well as party members from their Congress counterparts was the individual’s personal experience of the violence in 2002.
This makes intuitive sense if we consider the rationale that an individual who has lost a family member to the violence is unlikely to find an equivalent replacement in the present and can be expected to be more resentful of the perpetrator. Idris, a doctor in Ahmedabad who was left for dead in 2002 alongside his murdered brother, refused to support the BJP when I met him in 2010: “Those Muslims who support the BJP are traitors!” It was much the same for poor Muslims who had lost members of their family to violence.
Excerpted with permission from Keeping The Peace: Spatial Differences in Hindu-Muslim Violence in Gujarat in 2002, Raheel Dhattiwala, Cambridge University Press.