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Narendra Modi pausing North East victory speech on hearing azaan is part outreach to Muslims, part parley

For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, stopping his speech on the BJP's performance in North East polls at party headquarters for a few minutes so that azaan (prayers) from a nearby mosque could be completed, didn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary. Some of his party workers, who were in a jubilant mood — saffron had splashed across three North East states and red faded into virtual oblivion — could not grasp why their leader had stopped speaking.

 Narendra Modi pausing North East victory speech on hearing azaan is part outreach to Muslims, part parley

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Modi, indicating the importance of azaan, waved at them and asked for complete silence. For three minutes, the only thing that was heard at the venue and through the live TV broadcast was the sound of azaan. This is the third time Modi has abruptly stopped his speech at a public meeting on hearing azaan. The first was in 2016, during an election rally at Kharagpur in West Bengal. Modi stopped his speech for around four minutes. Then, in November 2017, at a Navsari rally, Modi once again paused on hearing azaan. 

His action on Saturday evening attracted greater attention for two reasons: First, it occurred when the entire party and Sangh Parivar was in a celebratory mood after pulling off a major victory. The results extended Holi festivity for the BJP and Sangh Parivar's rank and file. Second, the speech was telecast live to supporters, sympathisers, rivals and detractors. But the significance of what Modi did lay elsewhere, possibly with a far-reaching political impact.

Apart from the fact that BJP just achieved what was considered impossible: It vanquished CPM’s 25-year rule in Tripura with over two-thirds majority, from zero seats in last polls to 43 seats (including 8 seats for ally Indigenous People's Front of Tripura) in 60-member Assembly, increasing its vote percentage from around 1.3 percent in 2013 to 43 percent (50.5 percent including ally IPFT).

In Nagaland, where BJP contested only 20 seats and its ally Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) contested 40 seats, the party delivered a striking performance by winning 12 seats (NDPP won 17 seats). Remember, Nagaland is a Christian-dominated state (as per 2011 census, Christians comprise 87.93 percent of population and Hindus make up only 8.75 percent). In both Tripura and Nagaland, the BJP rose from scratch, more impressive because in the latter, the Church openly and aggressively came out against BJP. But the results make it clear that people didn’t adhere to the diktat of Church leaders and favoured BJP. The Naga People's Front, which won 27 seats and emerged as the single largest party in Nagaland, is a BJP ally at the Centre.

In Meghalaya, another Christian-majority state, BJP is set to form government with allies NPP, UDF and PDF. Christians make up 75 percent of the populace and Hindus account for merely 11.53 percent. The Congress, playing the Christian card, ruled the state for past 10 years. Much like in Nagaland, the Church aggressively campaigned against BJP.

These poll results allow BJP to counter its critics' charge that it is a “Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan” party. The Congress and its sympathisers have been making this charge against the BJP in Karnataka where elections are due in the next two months. Modi and Amit Shah both mentioned in their speeches the challenges that lie ahead for the party in Karnataka, Kerala, West Bengal and Odisha and the confidence these victories give them to overcome any hurdles.

And herein lies the significance of Modi pausing for azaan: He is conveying to the Muslim population that he respects their religion and practices. As prime minister, Modi has to oversee that Muslims are party to development as much any other community. Modi was criticised by detractors, political rivals and Muslim community leaders for refusing to wear a skull cap given to him by a cleric during his sadbhawana fast in Ahmedabad in 2011. That controversy was kept alive even in the run up to 2014 parliamentary elections.

Ahead of that election, Modi clarified in an interview: "If by wearing a cap, one becomes a symbol of unity then nobody has ever seen Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and Pandit Nehru wearing this kind of a cap. Actually, a kind of deformity has come in Indian politics where anything can be done for appeasement. My job is to respect all communities, respect the values of all communities but I have to accept my own values. I live with my values. Hence, I don't bluff people by wearing a cap, or getting clicked. But I believe that if somebody shows disrespect to another person then he should be given the strictest punishment."

In that interview, he added that his vision of a Muslim is that he may be wearing a cap and have a Quran in one hand, but there should be a computer in his other hand. Modi made headlines a few days ago when he reiterated that position at an official function in New Delhi in the presence of King Abdullah II of Jordan.

With his Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojna (supply of LPG gas cylinders) to poor and his stand on triple talaq, Modi has already entered into minds of a substantive section of Muslim women. There have been instances of sections of Muslim women voting for BJP in Uttar Pradesh. With his Quran and computer statement, Modi is trying to enter minds of progressive Muslim youth. By pausing for aazan he is trying to convey a message to the larger Muslim population that they should give him a chance, judge him on merit and open a dialogue.


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Updated Date: Mar 05, 2018 18:01:03 IST

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