Of late Narendra Modi has intensified his Muslim identity politics by making hundreds of burqa-clad Muslim women and kurta-pyjama-topi-clad Muslim men to attend his rallies.
This may not work for the following reasons. If you go to villages across India you do not find even one a thousand women in burqa. In cities, too, Muslim women in burqa are in a small number, except in certain locations, and in lower middle class. That made the Modi rally intriguing.
Muslims as a whole, and in their preponderant majority, show no preference for such dress. Hence, by wooing such cut-and-dried, standardised and denatured Muslims, one would be alienating the rest of us, that is, nearly all of us. This image of the Muslim (of both genders) is shorn of substance. It is a phantom Muslim, residing in the feverish imagination of people like Modi. His driver, his carpenter, his doctor, his school friend (if they are Muslims) would likely not be dressing like that. His Muslims are a caricature.
In caricature there is an element of ridicule, contempt, burlesquery. Caricatured folk would drift away from, not gathr round, the person who reduces them to objects of contempt. Flinching away from something physically or psychologically painful is a natural response.
The silence of secular parties is deadening and their inaction at the peak of communal violence, traumatic. They are heard from only when the hour of trial passes, only when the follow-up begins. Their men and women are there in every city, town and taluka, village and tola, but they are paralysed in moments when they could have saved Muslim life and limb, home, shop and factory. According to such people, a known enemy is better than a friend who is a stranger in the hour of need. Such people will vote BJP. Some other Muslims, for their own reasons, will also vote for BJP. However, all put together their number is small, not significant, to change the equation on their own.
Hence, the kurta-topi-burqa Muslims are a mere bait to ensnare hesitant Hindus, a despised, disposable bait.
Never in matters of physical security Modi or Sangh is the Muslim preference. They have not been seen to be addressing this concern sincerely and forthrightly. It is a sad comment on the state of our democracy that physical security remains the first concern of 150 million Indians. Modi has not been of great help in that.
The kurta-pyjama-burqa portrait of Indian Muslims is not only greatly reductionist, but has negative associations. The reason: Modi employs these images to express contemptuous dismissal. He, like other Sangh stalwarts, is dismissive about secularism. Hence, Mr Advani’s “pseudo-secularism” (to dismiss secularism as a gimmick), the BJP’s description of the PM’s visit to the camps of Muzaffarnagar riot victims as “secular tourism” and most hurtfully, Modi’s “burqa of secularism.” In Modi’s lexicon a burqa is a device to cover evil.
Muslims know what Modi really thinks of burqa and scull cap (which happens to be the only headgear he refuses to honour by wearing). The kurta-topi-burqa show thus can be seen through as a clever by half gimmick. With Muslims it would not go very far. Whether it works with the liberal Hindu class depends on how convincing they find it.