‘Sabka vishwas’ makes sense for country, and BJP’s poll prospects

Dear Narendra Modiji,

You made the bhoomi pujan at the proposed Ram temple in Ayodhya a mega media event. The Supreme Court judgment that gave this site to a Hindu trust also decreed 5 acres of nearby land for a new mosque to be built by a Muslim trust. An office-bearer of this trust said Islamic tradition did not include foundation stones for mosques, but chief minister Yogi Adityanath would be invited to lay the foundation stone for public facilities such as a hospital, library, and research centre next to the mosque.

Yogi Adityanath told news channels that though as a chief minister, he will not maintain distance from any religion or group, if he is invited as a ‘yogi’, then he will definitely not go. But he is not being asked to pray at or even inaugurate a mosque, just to lay the foundation stone for public facilities like a hospital and library.

Modiji, surely you yourself should indicate your willingness to go to the new mosque site and lay the foundation stone for public facilities. That will dismay the extremist fringe in your party but improve your image. It will improve the social harmony essential for reviving high economic growth. Research by Harvard’s Dani Rodrik and others has shown that economic growth depends on a country’s ability to manage social conflict. Both have gone downhill in India.

You have repeatedly called for inclusion. Your slogan after your 2014 election victory was “sabka saath, sabka vikas.” After re-election in 2019 you expanded that to “Sabka Saath sabka vikas, sabka vishwas.” This was even more inclusive.

Many critics sneer that you are instinctively anti-Muslim and will never inaugurate a mosque or its facilities. I disagree. If you were instinctively anti-Muslim, you would not have coined the slogan “sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas.”

Some critics will recall that when you were chief minister of Gujarat, a Muslim cleric at a meeting offered you a Muslim skull cap as a gift, but you refused to take it. This was widely reported as an example of your Islamophobia. But academic Madhu Kishwar has clarified that this was one-sided reportage, that the cleric had offered you both a shawl and a skull cap and you chose the shawl.

Why, after your new slogan of “sabka vishwas” has there actually been a total breakdown of vishwas, exemplified by the demonstrations at Shaheen Bagh and elsewhere? By itself, the CAA may look defensible, but not when combined with the proposed all-India National Register of Citizens (NRC). Experience in Assam showed that an NRC ends up identifying not foreign intruders but those too poor and illiterate to have the required documents. Of the 1.9 million Assamese lacking documents, 1.2 million were Hindus and 0.6 million were Muslims.

This was farcical. If we project Assam’s figures nationally for an all-India NRC, over 70 million people would lack documents and become stateless. Of these, non-Muslims might get fast-track citizenship through CAA, while millions of Muslims could be made stateless and herded into camps.

These fears may be exaggerated. But they have hurt you politically and put new vigour into an Opposition demoralised by its 2019 defeat. Non-BJP state governments have refused to implement the CAA or all-India NRC or both. This has left the BJP looking weak, helpless to implement its policies.

Then in Bihar, Nitish Kumar persuaded the BJP to go along with an all-party resolution against any NRC, while leaving the validity of the CAA to the Supreme Court. This must have had your approval. Abandoning the all-India NRC is a big, welcome reversal of your party’s earlier polarisation. It is a step towards “sabka vishwas”. Please reinforce that by indicating your willingness to inaugurate the new facilities at the mosque in Ayodhya.

The Centre for Study of Developing Societies, an independent and respected institution, estimates the BJP got 4% of the Muslim vote in 2004, 9% in 2014 and 8% in 2019. To some these may seem trifling figures, but as a politician you know they are highly significant. Muslims constitute 15% of the population. If you can get 8% of their votes, that is 1.2% of the total vote. Dozens of parliamentary and assembly seats are won and lost on margins of less than that. Instead of losing that edge, you need to try and increase it.

You have fared poorly in 11 state elections in a row — Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, and Delhi. You need to garner support beyond the communal Hindu crowd which is with you anyway. “Sabka vishwas” can achieve that. It makes sense even in the narrowest electoral terms.

What do you think?