Special to Times of Oman
Western journalists love to describe it as the greatest show on earth — and with good reason. It is the biggest democratic spectacle on the planet involving a staggering 814 million voters — double the combined population of the US and Canada — and thousands of candidates.
That this massive, mindboggling exercise has been conducted at regular intervals with efficiency for 67 years is in itself a miracle and a tribute to the strength of Indian democracy. The countdown for the 2014 Elections is already underway. In many ways, this could very well turn out to be the most defining election yet.
It's not merely the fate of the party in power that hangs in balance. At stake is the very future of Indian democracy with its celebrated secular and liberal traditions and a constitution that promises equality and protection to all its citizens.
And given the voters' visible disenchantment with the governing alliance and a bruised and beaten Congress rushing to throw away the fight already, this game appears to be over before it's even begun.
No wonder the BJP appears excessively jubilant and cocky. While its senior leaders repeatedly gloated in the last session of the parliament that they are going to lead the next government, the party's prime ministerial hopeful already acts and talks as one.
The ever obliging media is part of the game as it approaches Modi with great reverence, dutifully covering and analysing every sound bite as he goes about addressing every imaginable constituency and vote bank in the country. The target is the magic number of 272+ seats in parliament that would help the party form the government on its own, something that it failed to achieve even under Vajpayee at the height of his popularity.
For this to achieve though every vote must count and every electoral possibility must be tapped. No one is untouchable — not even the Muslims. So there's nothing dramatic about BJP chief Rajnath Singh's reaching out to the community.
With polls only weeks away, every party is out to woo the minority vote that plays a prominent role in many battleground states. Given the high stakes, even the BJP that has long accused the Congress and other parties of appeasement and vote bank politics clearly cannot help it.
Addressing an event in Delhi impossibly titled, "Modi for PM — Mission 272+ — Role of Muslims", Rajnath urged Muslims to give the party "at least one chance." The BJP chief, who under orders from the RSS played a decisive role in clinching Modi's PM candidature, offered to apologise to Muslims for "any mistakes" committed by the party: "Try us once. If we don't come up to your expectations, don't look at us ever again. Please note that whenever, wherever, if there has been any mistake and shortcoming on our part, I assure you that we will apologise to you by bowing our heads."
But even as Muslims tried to make sense of BJP's overtures, party spokespersons were deployed to water down Rajnath's so-called apology. They explained that the reference was not to Gujarat 2002 and that the party and its prime ministerial candidate have nothing to apologise for. They were visibly red in the face as they tried to defend the indefensible insisting the 'offer' to apologise to Muslims was for "possible mistakes in future, not in the past!"
How ingenious! Clearly, even as it reaches out to Muslims, if it can be called that, it's also anxious about not upsetting its core constituency. Besides, even BJP knows that these too- clever-by-half games cannot fool the community. Nonetheless, it hopes to confuse, confound and divide its crucial vote even as the party notches up a couple of brownie points with the larger electorate.
In any case, if the BJP had been really sincere in its overtures, it wouldn't have gone out of its way to pick up someone like Modi to lead the nation ignoring his awful legacy. Indeed, the Gujarat leader was chosen by the Parivar not despite his past but precisely because of it.
So apology or no apology, the BJP's equation with Muslims is unlikely to change as long as there's no change in its policies and goals. What happened in 2002 was not an aberration--even if the Muslims and the nation chose to overlook the victims' cries for justice and move on.
It is part of the larger agenda and designs that the party and its extended family of various organisations, outfits and think tanks have for the incredibly complex, diverse country of a billion people with a myriad identities, cultures and communities.
The threat is to the unity in diversity and pluralism that this nation has cherished and celebrated for centuries. This is not about Muslims and other minorities and their troubled relationship with a particular party. This is about the Idea of India. If it is in peril, we are all in deep trouble.
The 2014 election therefore will be like no other. It will be a vote — a referendum, if you will--on India's future. Yew few seem to be conscious of the radical ramifications of their electoral choice or the perils lurking around the corner.
The author is an award-winning Gulf based writer. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.