Sirajuddin Qureshi is president of the Indian Islamic Cultural Centre. As BJP prepares to form the government with Narendra Modi as prime minister, Qureshi spoke with Amin Ali about Muslim voters in this election, how the new government can reach out to minority members — and choosing the future over the past:
How do you interpret this resounding win for BJP and Narendra Modi?
This win is a clear mandate that every community voted for good governance. Despite repeated attempts by so-called secular parties to polarise the elections, Muslims in large numbers came out and voted for BJP.
These elections are a clear indication that Muslims too wanted change and a break from rhetoric. The fear being spread didn't find any resonance amongst the community.
Despite 2002's Gujarat riots being a major election issue, Muslim votes didn't strategically consolidate against BJP — can you explain that?
Muslims, like any other Indians, need a sense of security. This gang of secular parties played on their insecurities — and they got rejected by Muslims. Just by raking up one Gujarat riot, they hoped thousands of other communal riots under their rule would be forgotten.
Take Uttar Pradesh — it has skilled Muslim weavers, locksmiths, brass workers. Their industries died due to government apathy. Can they be expec-ted to vote for a party just in the name of religion while being totally ignored and deprived?
If these parties were committed to secularism, there shouldn't have been any riots ever under their rule. The community realised that while elections were being fought in their name, they never got their due. These elections should be a lesson for these parties. This verdict is a clear message — the community doesn't want to be taken for granted anymore.
The winning party doesn't have a single Muslim MP — is that worrying?
For the last 66 years, Muslims were treated like mere vote banks and constantly urged to vote for various parties or else BJP would come to power. Muslims rejected this call — now it's for Modi to deliver on his poll promises and belie the fears propagated by these parties for decades.
As for no Muslim MP, BJP fielded seven candidates from the community. Everyone lost. The party also has to look at its poll prospects.
But does zero representation worry the community?
This is exactly the perception Modi needs to clear now. He has the numbers. He needs to reach out to the community which will definitely reciprocate.
The biggest outcome of these polls has been that Muslims' apprehension of BJP has gone. One of the first steps now would be fixing the representation issue by fielding members of the community in elections.
The government needs to understand that a Muslim, like any other citizen, needs education, employment, economic growth for businesses, central assistance to set up new ventures and a riot-free environment. We can't have madrassas and Wakf policies only on paper. We need implementation.
How do you anticipate members of the community responding to this regime?
Well, the community needs to reach out to the new government. There should not be negativity or pessimism. Overcome feelings of victimhood. Appraise the government of pressing issues and judge it for the next 60 months.
We need to be open-minded and open-hearted about this new development. We shouldn't be swayed into rash decisions. Our focus should be Modi's promise — not his past.