The Puzzle of the BJP’s Muslim Supporters in Gujarat

Raheel Dhattiwala examines a political phenomenon in Gujarat: the support of Muslims for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that many Muslims perceive as responsible for the brutal violence in the State in 2002 when at least a thousand Muslims were killed. The findings are based on 23 months of ethnographic fieldwork — in periods spanning three elections in 2010, 2012 and 2014 — and an analysis of 101 polling booths in Ahmedabad city.
The following article is a summary of a policy report by the author.

BJP Muslim

Image credit: Hindu Centre

Are Muslims shedding their resentment for the BJP and voting for it? The potency of this question is greatest in context of Gujarat where it gained significance soon after the BJP’s political rapprochement with Muslims in 2009. This report attempts to answer why Gujarat’s Muslims would support the BJP, a party that many continue to acknowledge as having perpetrated violence against Muslims in the State less than a decade ago. In doing so, it examines the profile of the BJP Muslim supporter and what ‘support’ actually means.

Findings of this report are primarily based on in-depth fieldwork evidence spanning three election periods in Ahmedabad city (2010 to 2014). Indeed, interview evidence suggests an unprecedented surge in public support of Muslims for the BJP in this period. Motivations of support varied for those Muslims who had joined the party as members, from those who were supporters/campaigners for the party. For Muslim party members, political patronage of a party deemed to stay in power in the State was a strong incentive to vocally support the BJP as opposed to value rational incentives for the supporter/campaigner (“to get rid of our anti-national image we have to be with the BJP”). Common to both groups of supporters was the effect of personal experience of the violence. A Muslim with direct experience (e.g. death of a family member) of the violence in 2002 was least likely to voice support for the BJP.

At the same time, inferences drawn from 101 polling booths in seven assembly constituencies in Ahmedabad highlight a distinction between public and electoral support: more Muslims were likely to have supported the BJP in public only, than going out and voting for it as well. This is plausible given that anonymous referendum implies the possibility of public behaviour being distinct from electoral behaviour. The sample booth analysis suggests not more than 10 per cent votes were cast by Muslims for the BJP. This figure is not very different from Muslim voting for the BJP in Gujarat in the years prior to 2009. Of course, making ecological inferences from booth-level data has its own set of caveats, which further highlights the uncertainty of claims— “over 30 per cent Muslims voted for us”—made by the BJP from constituency-level aggregate figures.

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