On Monday, Rashid Patel did something that until recently would have been unthinkable for almost any Muslim. He voted for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindu nationalist party that built its rise to power on the destruction of an ancient Muslim mosque and its promise to assert India’s majority Hindu identity.
“There are some people in the Muslim community who think it’s time to try out a new party,” said Patel, 65, a retired insurance salesman and longtime supporter of the secular Congress Party of India’s independence hero, Mahatma Gandhi. “Congress has been neglecting Muslims for a long time, and although it is true that the BJP is a Hindu fundamentalist party, [Prime Minister] Atal Behari Vajpayee is a good leader and he is strong enough to control the party.”
Patel is by no means typical of the Muslims turning out to vote in this city of high-rises and shacks, wealthy businessmen and slum dwellers. In 1992 and 1993, Bombay also was the scene of some of the worst anti-Muslim riots in India’s history. Hindus, prompted by the destruction of the Babri Masjid mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya by a Hindu mob, turned on their Muslim neighbors in a rampage of burning, beating and stabbing.
The destruction of the mosque, encouraged by BJP leaders, was a defining moment in Indian history, one that accelerated the BJP’s ascent to power and accentuated the polarization of India’s Hindus and Muslims. The Gujarat state riots in 2002, in which about 1,000 Muslims died in violence partly blamed on local BJP authorities, seemed to affirm the worst fears of Indian Muslims that the party’s rule would turn them into a persecuted minority…