Mumbai: On February 10, Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Dawoodi Bohra community’s Arabic Academy in Marol and share the dais with community leader Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin. The PM’s visit to the city less than a month after he inaugurated a slew of infrastructure projects here is seen as part of the BJP’s outreach program ahead of the forthcoming civic polls and the general elections.
After wooing Pasmanda or backward-class Muslims a few months ago, Modi more recently instructed his partymen to reach out to the minorities, including Muslims, “without expecting votes”. At the party’s national executive meet three weeks ago, he asked party workers to meet Pasmanda Muslims and Dawoodi Bohras as well as professionals from the Muslim community.
A BJP leader said that Modi’s inaugurating of the Arabic Academy sent out a “loud and clear” message. “The next parliamentary elections are crucial for us, and an inclusive approach is vital for victory,” he said. “The Bohra community is an influential one, hence the gesture.”
According to a rough estimate, the Bohras account for 10 percent of the total Muslim population in India. The community, which hails from South Asia, has ancestral ties to Gujarat.
Maharashtra BJP vice-president Madhav Bhandari said that Modi had “very cordial relations” with the community. “I witnessed it first-hand during the community’s global conclave held in 2012 in Surat,” he said. “The data from Muslim-dominated booths in Gujarat clearly shows that the Bohra Muslims stand by us there like they do in Mumbai.”
Shabbir Ansari, president of the All India Muslim OBC Organisation, was of the opinion that the BJP needed to support the Muslim backward classes rather than an elite community like the Bohras. “Being a mercantile community and having a strong base in Gujarat, Bohras have always been close to the BJP and Modi,” he said. “The PM has been speaking of the upliftment of Pasmanda Muslims, and he should stand by them instead of wooing the Bohras.”
Mumbai-based political analyst Prakash Akolkar said the BJP had strategically chosen the most elite class from the Muslim community for its outreach programme. “After the abrogation of Article 370 and the ongoing construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya, the BJP’s next aim is to implement the common civil code,” he said. “For this, the party will need Muslim support, and it has thus chosen the most elite from the community. This will help them in the civic polls and general elections.”
Sarfaraz Arzoo, editor of Hindustan, the Urdu daily, said the Bohra community was peace-loving and kept out of controversies. “It is a minority within a minority and has always remained close to the establishment to be ‘politically correct’,” he said.
A spokesperson from the Bohra community, however, denied that Modi’s visit was politically expedient for the community. “We have no inclination towards any political party,” he said. “If Modi is attending our forthcoming function, Manmohan Singh had also inaugurated Saifee Hospital in Mumbai in 2005. Our centres in Pakistan and Kenya were also inaugurated by heads of state.”