The Times of India
New Delhi, 2 March 1995
2. BJP shifts stand to woo Muslims
By S.N.M. Abdi

KISHANGANJ, March 1 - The BJP is wooing the electorate in this Muslim-dominated district, 18 km from the Indo-Bangladesh border, by inviting Bangladeshis to enter “not in a clandestine manner but through the front door”.

The change in the BJP’s rigid stand on “infiltration” has given the party a foothold in Thakurganj, Bahadurganj and Kishanganj constituencies, which go to the polls shortly.

About 65 per cent of the voters in Kishanganj are Muslims. Defending the party’s shift in policy, district BJP president B.N. Mukherjee said, “All political parties are engaged in appeasing Muslims. Why shouldn’t we? The shift in our policy became imperative due to the ground realities here.”

Both Mr. Mukherjee and district general secretary Rajeshwar Baid claimed that they were merely toeing the line of Arif Beg and Uma Bharati, who addressed public meetings here in September and December last year. Mr. Baid quoted from Ms. Bharati’s speech: “Starving Muslims of Bangladesh are welcome in India. They should come through the front door and record their plight so that India can take up their cause internationally.”1

Earlier, the top leadership of the BJP-RSS-VHP combine had propagated that Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh should be treated as refugees and Muslims as infiltrators. The Sangh parivar had initiated a movement to identify and deport the “infiltrators”. The BJP had even described Kishanganj as a “Mini Bangladesh”.

The election folder released by the BJP state unit is also critical of the Janata Dal’s “appeasement” policy, especially in those districts where Bangladeshi immigrants have reportedly settled in large numbers. “Our citizens, cattle and land are being held to ransom by foreign nationals who have been provided ration cards by unscrupulous politicians for building vote-banks,” the folder alleges.

The district unit is pursuing a different lime. “Otherwise, it would have been impossible to even venture into rural areas,” Mr. Baid said. “We have been branded as mosque-breakers by our political rivals and the electorate feared that we would seize the loud-speakers that mosques use to summon the faithful to prayer, if we ever came to power.”

Going by the upbeat mood at the local BJP office at the end of the day’s campaigning in remote areas, it is clear that the party has pulled out all stops to garner votes. In the 1990 assembly elections, the BJP polled 32,000 votes here.  In the 1991 Lok Sabha election, its share shot up to 78,000.

“If we succeed in increasing our share of the votes this time,” Mr. Baid said, “it would mean that the Muslims are less apprehensive of the BJP and are willing to give us a chance. A pragmatic elder brother can always cajole the truant sibling to fall in line,” he added.


1 One has only to possess a large larynx in order to become a leading light of the BJP, as is the case with the BJP’s star performer Uma Bharati. She stands in no need of any brown matter in her brain.

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