BJP reaches out to Muslim women in Maharashtra
Mumbai: In a first, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Maharashtra is reaching out to Muslim women to politically leverage steps that the BJP-led state and central governments have taken for Muslims.
In particular, the party has identified the Narendra Modi government’s “pro-Muslim women stand” on the triple talaq issue as “demonstrated proof” of its commitment to the material well-being of Muslim women, according to a senior BJP functionary who is part of the campaign and requested anonymity.
On 17-18 February, the BJP will hold a training programme for 150 Muslim women who are party office-bearers or workers at Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) think tank Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini’s Mumbai campus in the first leg of the campaign.
In the second, which begins on 4 March and is named Muslim Samvad Yatra, these women will go back to their districts and explain to the larger Muslim community the initiatives that the Modi government has undertaken. The campaign has been organized by BJP Minority Morcha. According to senior BJP leader and spokesperson Madhav Bhandari, it was partly inspired by the support Muslim women extended to the BJP in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections last year. “We received good support from Muslim women in Uttar Pradesh and we think we need to reach out to them in Maharashtra to explain what the government has done,” Bhandari said.
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and BJP state unit president Raosaheb Danve are likely to participate in the Muslim Samvad Yatra at some point.
Ravindra Sathe, executive director of Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini, which also serves as a training and knowledge centre for BJP cadre, said the two-day training programme would mainly focus on three points—the steps the Narendra Modi-led central government and Devendra Fadnavis-led Maharashtra government have taken for Muslims and Muslim women; the issue of triple talaq and the BJP’s position on it; and development of leadership among Muslim women.
“There will be other issues as well, like education among Muslim women and the steps taken by this government,” Sathe told Mint. He said the event was part of the BJP and Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini’s ongoing training of the cadres deployed in various party wings and affiliated organizations.
The Modi government in December 2017 introduced the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill in Parliament which, among other things, makes the practice of instant triple talaq a criminal offence liable for a three-year jail term. The bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in December and is now pending before the Rajya Sabha.
The BJP in Maharashtra believes that a large number of Muslim women voted for the party in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections which the BJP won comprehensively. “I have campaigned in Uttar Pradesh and I saw a strong undercurrent (of support) for the BJP among Muslim women. BJP candidates have won from Muslim-dominated constituencies, something that has never happened before. This is a big takeaway for us and we need to take this message to Muslim women in other states,” a senior BJP MP from Maharashtra said, requesting anonymity.
He pointed out that the Muslim community in Maharashtra, unlike in Hindi heartland states, was more amenable towards “internal reforms” due to the “reformist and progressive” traditions of the state.
According to the 2011 Census, Muslims account for 11.54% of Maharashtra’s nearly 120-million population. The BJP reckons that around 6 million Muslim women, assuming 50% of the 12.5 million Muslims in the state, can be tapped as a potential constituency after the Modi government’s “reformist” stand against the practice of triple talaq.
“We are well aware of our handicaps with regard to Muslims and the pressure to strike a balance between Hindutva and such outreach campaigns. But as long as we aren’t indulging in Muslim appeasement, we do not think we run the risk of losing our larger Hindu support,” said the BJP MP mentioned earlier.
Sarfaraz Arzoo, political analyst and editor of Mumbai-based Hindustan Urdu Daily, said “the BJP is asking for too much by giving too little”.
“These are all political exercises which don’t have any reflection in the policies the BJP government is following. Politics should be commensurate with policies but as far as policies are concerned, there is a deficit of all types. Muslim women don’t live in a vacuum and they have problems similar to their counterparts in other faiths. They should be given education, reservation, jobs but these things are not forthcoming. The BJP is treating triple talaq as an issue which concerns 100% of Muslim women when a very, very minuscule minority is affected by it. Even there, what policies is the government following for the divorcees? Unless substantial policies are made and budgetary provisions are put in place, these type of exercises will remain lofty promises only,” Arzoo said.
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