इंडियन आवाज़     19 May 2024 12:43:56      انڈین آواز

BJP displays tokenism for minorities in ticket distribution

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Exclusive Report by Nirendra Dev

The BJP’s first list of election candidates of BJP has one Muslim and one Christian, both from southern Kerala state Socio-religious division is crystal clear in the politics of India’s ruling BJP.

Of the 195 first list of candidates released by the party’s election committee where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a chief decision maker, there are only two from religious minorities – one Muslim and another a Catholic. The Christian leader is a second generation politician and his father a veteran Congressman and India’s ex-Defence Minister A K Antony has more often described himself as an agnostic person. 

But in communist-ruled southern Kerala state, the pro-Hindu BJP hardly has any presence.
Anil Antony, a Catholic, will be the BJP’s candidate from the Pathanamthitta Lok Sabha constituency that has nearly 40 percent Christian voters. The BJP is banking on them to wrest the seat from rival Congress, whose Anto Antony Punnathaniyil has represented it in Lok Sabha for three terms since 2009. 
Anil is the son of veteran Congress leader and former defence minister A. K. Antony. The father has often advocated the philosophy of Kerala’s foremost social reformer Sree Narayana Guru — a champion of equality and justice. 

However, the BJP has dropped Bengal lawmaker John Barla, also a Catholic, who is serving as a junior minister for minority affairs in the present Modi-led council of ministers.

Barla was elected in 2019 from Alipurduar constituency in West Bengal and has been championing the rights of tea garden workers in West Bengal and Assam states in eastern India.Christian leaders say Barla’s exclusion from the list of candidates came as a surprise to many in Delhi’s political circles as he was Modi’s go-to man in times of crisis, especially amid rising attacks on Christians. He also had polled more than 50 per cent votes in 2019.

The BJP, which claims to be the “biggest political party in the world” hasn’t had a single Muslim lawmaker in parliament for the past few years. Its last Muslim Lok Sabha MP was Shahnawaz Hussain, who won in the Bhagalpur constituency in Bihar state in the 2009 elections.

In the forthcoming election, Abdul Salam, a former vice chancellor of Calicut University in Kerala, will be the BJP’s candidate in the Malappuram parliamentary constituency, which is known as a Muslim stronghold.The current elected representative from Malappuram is Abdussamad Samadani from the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). 

Salam joined the BJP in 2019 and had unsuccessfully contested the state assembly election in 2021. The BJP’s critics often accuse it of attempting to divide communities and consolidate Hindu votes for Modi.
French scholar Christophe Jaffrelot recently claimed that Muslim representation in India’s civil sector — namely police and other government jobs — was far lower in proportion to their numbers (14.5 percent of India’s total population).Moreover, Muslim representation has fallen sharply in parliament and state assemblies under BJP rule.

The Modi cabinet at present does not have a single Muslim member. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi was UnionMinister for Minority Affairs but was dropped.  

However, all these do not affect Modi and his BJP’s electoral prospects. Far from it, even the prime minister’s staunchest critics admit that his BJP has a clear edge in the coming election against a rag-tag opposition alliance.

“The BJP has a distinct advantage. The only thing that could go against it is overconfidence and perhaps internal sabotage,” says political analyst Vidyarthi Kumar. He pointed to how an overconfident BJP suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Congress in 2004. 

Modi himself is not from Uttar Pradesh. But his pro-Hindu politics and policies are his biggest qualification to represent the Varanasi constituency, which is one of the top pilgrimage centers for Hindus across the world.

The prime minister, since his first election win there, has transformed Varanasi into a popular tourist hub, which attracted around 84.2 million visitors between January and September 2023.
A decade since 2014 Varanasi is a transformed city in more ways than one largely due to
Modi’s intervention.

It is a pilgrim and tourism hub and attracted an estimated 8,42,00,000 tourists from around the world between January and September 2023. These perhaps included 8,40,71,726 domestic tourists and 1,33,088 foreigners.

“Everyone talks about the Hindutva politics of BJP. I do not dispute that. But in Varanasi, Modi has caught the imagination of the local electorate by taking up development work,” says Tushar Bhadra, a political observer from Varanasi. 

Agrees Assam-based Ashutosh Talukdar.

“That Modi is contesting again from Varanasi is nor surprise. He needs this Hindutva elementin his electoral journey. The ‘Athens of East’ that is Varanasi gives Modi an advantage. In 2024, Modi is the “larger-than-life personality”  and on the other side the opposition is disorganised,” says Talukdar.
The BJP’s first list has a right mix of youth, women and sections that are socially deprived in India’s social milieu. 

Out of 51 candidates named for Uttar Pradesh, the party will be repeating 43 sitting Members ofParliament. There is also a right mix of Brahmin candidate and those who belong toinfluential traders and farming communities such as Jats. Popular actress of yesteryearsHema Malini, also a sitting lawmaker, has been fielded for the third term from another temple city of Mathura in Uttar Pradesh.Actor Suresh Gopi is BJP nominee from Thrissur in the southern state of Kerala.

Interestingly, in Uttar Pradesh, the party has reposed faith in Saket Mishra, son of Nripendra Mishra,
for the Shravasti parliamentary seat. The Senior Mishra has served in the Prime Minister’s Officeunder Modi and is chairman of Ayodhya’s Ram Temple Construction Committee.

Saket Mishra was also a police officer and gave up the job to work in the finance sector, at Germany’s Deutsche Bank.

In Bhopal in central India, the BJP has replaced its controversial MP Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, once alleged in a bomb blast case.BJP has also replaced four sitting MPs in Delhi.Former Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan on Sunday announced retirement from politics as he has been denied ticket this year.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who represents the Wayanad constituency in Kerala, may face an uphill task holding on to it with the Communist Party of India announcing it will be fielding a woman candidate, Annie Raja, in the constituency.

India’s communists are part of Gandhi’s India alliance, but in Kerala, they have been staunch opponents of the Congress since independence.

The BJP knows that if he is forced to seek refuge again in some other constituency it will be a major embarrassment for Modi’s challenger-in-chief.

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