The BJP’s insouciant response to minority members quitting in droves over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, a challenge it is grappling with in Madhya Pradesh, has propelled a spiralling spate of resignations showing no signs of abatement. But faced with a sturdy Congress government treading cautiously on policy matters, recent setback in the Jhabua Assembly byelection and its inability to whip up a sustainable offensive, the BJP has shed its reluctance to soothe minority members, with the exigency of the local body elections this month in view.
During January, the BJP’s State unit remained in denial mode, looking away from simmering resentment among its Muslim members — snubbed for flagging their exclusion from awareness drives on the contentious law, communal remarks during rallies and ignoring of complaints. A sense of betrayal gradually sank in, resulting in more than a thousand resignations in Indore, Bhopal, Khargone, Guna and Satna districts. The biggest shocker was Jabalpur, where 700 members quit, virtually dissolving the cell.
On Saturday, however, when the party’s only Muslim corporator in Indore quit over the CAA, its response was different. “If not the backbone, the cell is a major wing of the party. Several leaders have called me and are ready to talk. They said all differences could be resolved amicably,” Usman Patel, a member for 40 years, told The Hindu. This contrasts with the party’s dismissive response to the resignations of cell’s State secretary Akram Khan and media chief Javed Baig, who claimed even the State party president ignored complaints, and democracy was subverted within the party.
Moreover, State BJP media chief Lokendra Parashar confirmed that besides Hindi, the party would now distribute CAA pamphlets in Urdu too. “Muslims are being misled. Therefore it’s important to convince their elderly, who make decisions for the community and read Urdu,” he said. From February 3, the minority cell began hearing out its grassroots workers, explaining the law to them, as “if we don’t understand the law ourselves, how will we make others aware?” said the cell’s vice-president Nasir Shah.
However, the Muslim retreat would not hurt BJP’s electoral prospects in the local elections, believes Yatindra Singh Sisodia, Director, Madhya Pradesh Institute of Social Science Research. “Muslim population is concentrated in certain pockets of urban areas. The BJP didn’t enjoy popular support from the community even before the CAA, which may in fact have consolidated its vote against it,” he explained.
As for political dividends for the BJP owing to a possible polarisation on religious lines after the minority members quit, he said elections to panchayats and urban bodies were fought primarily on local issues instead. “Candidates contest panchayat elections without using the symbol of a political party yet are endorsed by them. In Madhya Pradesh, the pattern largely has been that results of the Assembly elections are replicated in local elections,” he said.
“The smaller the electoral college, the more personality-centric the contest,” said Rasheed Kidwai, Visiting Fellow, the Observer Research Foundation. “Farmers, irrespective of their religious identity, at present feel the pinch due to an incomplete loan waiver promised by the Congress in the State.”
A virtual two-party system in the State however, added Mr. Kidwai, forecloses the BJP option for Muslim aspirants now. “Unhappy with one party, aspirants switch to the other party. It’s not a decision taken on ideology, but on exigency. There was a time when the BJP had more than a 100 corporators in the State. Muslims have a sizable population in cities like Indore, Bhopal, Burhanpur and Jabalpur, therefore religion will be a factor nonetheless,” he said.
At present, the BJP controls all the 16 Municipal Corporations, while the Congress leads in 23 of the 98 Municipal Councils. With no Mayor to call its own, the Congress government last year amended rules to allow indirect elections to the posts of Mayor and president of smaller civic bodies, claiming direct elections meant incongruence between the functioning of Mayors and corporators.
BJP State president and MP Rakesh Singh, who earlier downplayed the exit of minority members from the party, on Sunday said, “We held meetings with them to assure them Muslims won’t be affected by the CAA. Home Minister Amit Shah during a rally in Jabalpur had stated the law will be implemented no matter what and had assured Muslims too. Anyway, no one can convince those who have made up their mind about leaving.”
Furthermore, Mr. Singh discredited reports of thousands of members resigning from the party, refusing to recognise them as members in the first place. “In Jabalpur, the cell didn’t have 700 members. And in Indore, the same people staged resignations more than once.”