The high octane Bihar election, a rare bipolar slugfest in an era of multi-cornered contests, is over. Most exit polls have predicted a hung Assembly, something experts don’t agree with. But no one is certain. One thing they all agree with is that Muslims have voted, overwhelmingly so, for the Nitish-Lalu-Congress alliance. Most also agree that they have voted tactically to ensure BJP does not win. They have reasons to do so.
Bihar was one of the most communalised elections in recent times. A five-phase contest that began with the BJP pitching its usual slogans of development, soon converted into a dangerous and divisive campaign after the party realised the formidable consolidation of votes the Nitish-Lalu alliance had created.
Faced with a resurgent Grand Alliance and hoping to cash in on Hindu votes, the BJP went back to its drawing board and remodelled the campaign along its old bogies of the opposition's plans to give reservation to Muslims and, of course, the Holy Cow. Modi himself led the change in rhetoric when he minced no words at a rally in demonising Muslims who might steal the quota from other backward castes of Bihar.
Amid the furore over intolerance in the rest of the country, some Bihar leaders went on to spew bile on Shah Rukh Khan. The symbolism of that was not lost on anyone. The way things are, BJP and Muslims see each other as enemies. Though BJP would not admit it. The party’s top Muslim leadership, you can count them on your fingers, will rubbish it, but Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Shahnawaz Hussain, MJ Akbar or Najma Heptullah, don’t represent Muslims. Muslims see them as representatives of the Sangh ideology. Traitors, even.
The BJP’s shrill communalism didn’t bother the party because it was sure Muslims would not vote for it anyway. There was nothing to protect in terms of electoral politics. The last time, many Muslims did vote for the party because the BJP in Bihar was different with Sushil Modi leading it and Nitish Kumar leading the BJP-JDU coalition.
The big question, in such a scenario, is this: what if the BJP wins Bihar? Where do the nearly 20 crore of its Muslims, an 18 per cent of its population, go? Since it’s no secret that Muslims did not vote for it, will the BJP be fair in governance? Will it care for a large community when it knows none of them helped in coming to power?
Any government in an electoral democracy is only loyal to voters it believes are important to retain. If it wins Bihar, we are bound to have a situation where the state machinery will have no qualms in rejecting the state's Muslims as its constituency, reducing crores of legitimate citizens of the state to stateless enemies. This is dangerous for a healthy democracy. In a country chequered with caste and community lines, if the powers that be can identify who supported them and who didn’t, fairness, in all fairness, will be prejudiced.
In the US, one can’t know who among the common citizens voted the Democrats or Republicans. In our country, opinion polls proudly project how castes and communities vote.
What do the Muslims, deprived of a government because they never wanted it in the first place, do in such a case? Now, here is a hypothesis: they are free to occupy the BJP.
The BJP, its Hindutva notwithstanding, is like any other political outfit in India. Its constitution nowhere states that it is a party that stands for a Hindu India. In other words, it cannot stop any Muslim from joining it. In fact, as things go, a number of Muslims, including Union ministers, are currently senior BJP members. The party was even instrumental in electing a Muslim, APJ Abdul Kalam, to the highest chair in the Republic a decade ago.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Can we really rule out a situation where Muslims in Bihar en masse join the party? What if the fear of the BJP forces the community - right from the village panchayat level to Parliament - to join their enemies, an ironic subversion made possible only through the logic of electoral politics.
If Muslims worked, backed and populated the party in numbers that begin mattering, what will the BJP do? That’s an interesting question. What if BJP finds its meetings, public or the party kind, have enough Muslim faces who will reject the anti-Muslim bile and raise their voices within.
There have been precedents too, incidentally in Bihar itself. Lalu Prasad emerged as a messiah of lower-caste communities nearly three decades ago, but had to soon broaden his political universe to include upper-caste Hindus in order to survive in the political landscape of Bihar. That social arithmetic only made him stronger, ensuring him one of the longest stints as chief minister.
This argument is naively idealistic and can be demolished by an argument. But we do not know something until its tested and defeated on the uneven grounds of reality. In the dance of democracy, can we really reject the possibility of a new move?