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Mainstream, Vol LII, No 15, April 5, 2014

Muslims and the Indian Election 2014

Sunday 6 April 2014

by Imtiaz Ahmad Ansari

The 16th Lok Sabha elections for the world’s largest democracy, India, will be held in nine phases from April 7 to May 12, 2014. The total number of voters for this election is 814 million. This election is important in many respects. But one single figure who has captured the centre-stage is the BJP; prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi. It is more because of his involvement, direct or indirect, in the ghastly 2002 anti-Muslim communal riot in Gujarat and his subsequent rise as the Indian growth model. In India, Muslims form the largest minority, constituting about 13.4 per cent of the total population. Other important minorities are Christians, Sikhs, and Buddhists. Being numerically the largest minority, Muslims occupy the centre-stage in the agenda of all political parties. Muslims, as a rule, vote en masse. Naturally, their support is important for the political fortunes of all the parties.

The irony of this country is that there are only two types of political parties: secular and communal. But the question is: how to measure the secular or, for that matter, the communal component of a party? Is there any objective yardstick? Communalism and secularism are two opposite poles of any political structure. If we go by the incidence of communal riots in a State as one expression of the secular or communal character of the ruling party, almost all major political parties would appear to be tilted, by varying degrees, towards the communal pole. Second, by simply not having any communal riot in a State does indicate that the ruling party is more secular. These are problematic formulations. But, unfortunately, as a minority, Muslims tend to think along these lines. Before the riots broke out in Muzaffarnagar in September 2013, the Samajwadi Party, the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh, was considered a champion of the secular ethos, a protector of Muslims in the State. However, that image of the Samajwadi Party has certainly taken a downward slide after the Muzaffarnagar incidents.

With the appointment of Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP, the fear psychosis among the community has just taken a forward leap. And even the BJP is well aware of this developmet. As a corrective, the BJP is trying to woo them and is ready to say sorry. But even if they accept the truth of Gujarat 2002, what good will it serve to the Muslims? The only remedy is that the culprits of not only 2002 and 2013, but every riot should be punished and a more inclusive environment must be created for the victims.

Communal riots are not isolated incidents. The consequences of a communal riot are not limited to one region. The ramifications are much widespread. The Sachar Committee notes: “Communal tension or any untoward incident in any part of the country is enough to make Muslims fear for their safety and security.”

What are the challenges before the Muslims as a minority in this country? Muslims of this country are not an alien community, transported from some outer world. The problems which they face are similar to the problems faced by any other weaker section of the society. Poverty, rising gap between the rich and poor, unemployment is common not only to Muslims but a significant population of the country.

The question of equity is the most pricking problem which the community faces. Be it in the private or public sector, their representation remains low. The NSSO data reveals that the percentage of Muslims in regular-waged employment witnessed only a marginal increase from 13 to 13.5 per cent between 2004-05 to 2009-10. Literacy rate among the Muslims is far below the national average. The situation is more deplorable in the urban areas. The Muslim majority areas continue to suffer from the lack of basic civic amenities. Political representation of the community is not very encouraging either. Despite being a huge minority, they have not been able to translate it into proportional representation. There are only 30 (six per cent) Muslim MPs in the Lok Sabha. In 2009, 20 States did not elect a single Muslim MP. (India Today, March 17, 2014) A deep sense of powerlessnes rules the Muslim psyche. Added to this, a sense of mistrust towards the political parties is apparent.

Security is another area of concern for the community. The various communal riots in post-independent India put a deep stain on the very idea of democracy. These riots still go on unabated in different parts of the country. The data released by the Home Ministry shows that the year 2013 was worse than 2012 in terms of communal violence. In 2012, the country witnessed 640 incidents of communal violence in which 93 people died whereas the year 2013 witnessed 479 riots in which 107 people lost their lives. Similarly, the arrest of innocent Muslims on the pretext of terrorism has added to the fear psychosis. In recent months, many cases have come to light reflecting the biased attitude of the security agencies. This new phenomenon of terrorising Muslims in the name of counter-terrorism should stop.

Debates and discussions of the last few months give rise to the impression that the only solution to India’s current crisis lies in the hands of Modi. But one thing we as citizens of this great country should not forget; and that is that the same Modi was responsible for the killing of thousands of innocent people. We should not discuss whether a Modi-centric BJP is good or bad for the minorities. The question is whether a Modi-centric BJP is good or bad for the secular, democratic and plural character of India. The aspirations of the Muslims are no different from the rest of the country. They also want to move ahead, leaving behind the history of violence. They also want to live with peace, free of fear and uncertainty. The beauty of this country is its diversity. Therefore, any attempt which is inimical to this diversity should be rejected. As rightly said by Mahatma Gandhi, “no perfect democracy is possible without perfect non-violence at the back of it.”

The author is associated with the Department of Sociology, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He can be contacted at: imtiaz.ahmad01@gmail.com.