Why Modi’s outreach to the Dawoodi Bohra community isn’t a surprise
PM Modi has been a popular leader among the Dawoodi Bohra community. Perhaps, the only BJP leader who has been accepted by the community.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today attended Ashara Mubaraka, an event organized by the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community of Madhya Pradesh. As was expected, it raised a lot of eyebrows. Especially, at a time when the Modi government is tainted with the rising incident of violence against the minorities, PM Modi attending the event definitely raised the bar of political curiosity.
Addressing the participants, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the community’s patriotism towards the country as a prime example. He said that the community has always been committed to peace, goodwill, and insistence on truth. PM Modi even recalled his relationship with the Bohra community of Gujarat during his term as a Chief Minister of the state. “My relationship with the Bohra community is an old one. It is my good fortune that I have received the affection of the Bohra community. There is hardly any village in Gujarat where a Bohra trader cannot be found. The community assisted me during my tenure as Gujarat’s chief minister. It is a sheer affection of you people that have brought me here today,” said PM Modi.
Attended Ashara Mubaraka, to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husain (SA) in Indore. Here are some moments from the programme. pic.twitter.com/FlhnPgbHPb
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 14, 2018
Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and crucial Madhya Pradesh Assembly polls, the move is also being seen as a political move to carefully erase the anti-Muslim image of PM Modi or that of his government. However, contrary to the popular perception that Modi is hated by the Muslim minority, he has in fact been a popular leader among the Dawoodi Bohra community. Perhaps, the only leader from the hard-line Hindutva BJP, who has been widely accepted by the community. But why is it so?
Dawoodi Bohra Community:
The Dawoodi Bohras are a sect within the Shia Islam. The largest populations of Dawoodi Bohras reside in India, Pakistan, Yemen, and East Africa. There are also significant numbers living in western countries. According to the estimates, the worldwide population of the community is close to one million. They trace their origin to the Arab community Qaum-e-Bawahas who settled in Surat and Kheda districts.
Dawoodi Bohra Population in India
In India, the most of the Bohra community is concentrated in Gujarat, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. Gujarati is their main language and most of them work as traders. Traditionally they are weavers and cloth-painters. Now they are engaged in the cloth trade. The community prides itself on being elite and progressive. However, it has also come under severe criticism for a practice of Female Genital Mutilation.
Bohra Community and Modi:
According to the Joshua Project, the estimated amount of the Bohra community in India is 11,02,000. Over the past few years, the Bohra community has been seen with PM Modi on several occasions. The community also holds significance for PM Modi. In 2014, 100 Bohras were specially invited by the Indian High Commission in Australia at PM Modi’s event at Olympic Park Arena in Sydney. The community which is considered very close-knit was seen praising Modi for promoting development and inclusive growth. Same was the case when Narendra Modi addressed a Madison Square Park event during his visit to New York.
One of the main reason why the community shows a strong support for Modi taking a detour from popular perception is Modi’s promise to focus on the development of the economy. However, it does not mean the 2002 riot stain on Modi did not affect the Bohras. But it was overshadowed by the slew of infrastructure and business development in the state.
Dawoodi Bohra community supporting PM Modi at the New York event
The Bohra community, as mentioned earlier, has been integrating with different communities despite strictly following conservative ideals. The community follows a spiritual guru called Dai’s. For the community, Dai’s words are considered as the paramount. The late Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin-the former spiritual guru had cordial relations with a number of national and world leaders. His successor son Mufaddal Saifuddin, the current Syedna, also has close ties with Modi. Even in the run-up to 2014, he ensured that the Bohra community members support Modi.
According to Aziz Poonawalla, a US-based Bohra blogger in his blog after Modi’s event in New York wrote, “Bohras, in particular, are apolitical and have a strong sense of civic identity; Modi was elected PM by the Indian electorate, so Bohras’ support for him is an expression of the community’s belief in India’s democracy and a genuine desire to move the country as a whole forward. The PM is also keenly aware of the optics of having widespread Muslim support, as an immunization against his human rights record – so in an odd way, supporting him also ensures that he keeps issues affecting Muslims in India on his agenda.”
He also mentions that the major driver for widespread Bohra support for Modi is the economic growth under Modi. “With policies of economic inclusion for Muslim groups and a real sense, Modi has made an effort to hear Muslim voices,” he says.
PM Modi at Ashara Mubaraka event in Indore
Modi’s outreach to the Muslim community began with the launch of “Sadbhavana Mission” during his tenure as Gujarat CM. A large group of Shia Muslims also joined BJP during this period. Modi used to have regular meetings with these people in order to hear and solve their grievances. He had fruitful discussions with their religious heads like Syedna or prince Karim Agha Khan. After assuming the PM post, Modi has developed cordial relations with the Shia government of Iran.
Considering the infamous “skullcap” incident of that had caused a massive uproar, PM Modi appearing for Muslim community events was bound to raise many eyebrows. With the rising discontent among minorities against the Modi government, it needs to project a positive picture to the minorities who constitute a significant chunk of voters in India. PM Modi’s cozying up with the Shia community serves the same purpose.