Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and his core team thought long and hard about fielding a Muslim candidate, especially after his September 2011 sadbhavana fast where he tried to reach out beyond his core Hindu constituency, but they developed cold feet and finally decided against it.
There were many arguments in favour of the proposal: it could help soften his anti-Muslim image; and it could go some way in making him more acceptable to a pan-Indian electorate.
But the plan also had a potentially fatal downside: it could alienate the BJP’s core Hindutva constituency.
“It was too risky a gamble. This symbolic gesture may have confused the majority who see Modi as a saviour of the Hindus,” a senior leader close to him told HT. More importantly, the conciliatory gesture towards the minorities could’ve alienated the party cadre.
So, Modi vetoed the plan despite his close advisors being keen on it.
“If this election has to be a springboard for 2014, it is important to keep Gujarat’s majority sentiment in mind. There will be enough time for symbolic gestures later,” the leader said, adding: “The party may think of nominating a Muslim to the Rajya Sabha when the time is right.”
For the record, BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitaraman, said: “The sadbhavana fast was never meant as a quid pro quo (for gaining Muslim support). When there is a fight for every seat, winnability is important. We don’t believe in appeasement.”
On the face of it, Modi includes all religious groups when he talks of bettering the lives of “six crore Gujaratis”, and ‘Ekmat Gujarat’ (united Gujarat) is the main theme of the BJP’s election strategy, but the core Hindutva ideology has never been too far below the surface.
There’s another reason why Modi and his close advisors developed cold feet about giving a ticket to a Muslim. Keshubhai Patel’s newly-floated Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) has not given any Muslim a ticket. The chief minister was apprehensive that his core constituency would drift towards the GPP if he did.