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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 37 New Delhi September 5, 2015

Decoding the Grammar of Minority Politics

Saturday 5 September 2015

by Arun Srivastava

The following article was sent sometime ago but could not be used earlier due to unavoidable reasons.

It is now being belatedly published as its contents retain considerable relevance.

After 68 years of independence any call from senior Muslim clergy to celebrate the national day with a spirit of patriotism would undou-btedly give rise to some amount of anxiety. The leading Islamic seminary, Darul Uloom, Deoband, has asked Muslims to put up the national flag on their houses and other establishments on Independence Day and also appealed to the members of Muslim community to celebrate the national day with spirit of patriotism. It is not that they have not been celebrating the Independence Day. But this time they have come out with an edict-like advice.

This advice came just a day ahead of the Independence Day. There is little doubt that at some level it reflects the sense of alienation and scare gripping the community.

It is quite deplorable that Muslims even after being citizens of independence India, like ordinary Hindus, have to exhibit their nationality through such programmes. The communal and funda-mentalist forces have vitiated the atmosphere to such an extent that a common Muslim is feeling endangered. This reiteration of the allegiance, commitment and dedication of Muslims is an attempt to ward off such forces. It is really a sad commentary on the functioning of the Indian polity that the communal forces have been trying to dictate the life of an ordinary citizen.

Who does not know—and moreover it is a part of the history—that Muslims played a prominent role in the freedom struggle and sacrificed a lot for the country. In fact the seminary spokesman, Ashraf Usmani, was politically correct in his assertion that Ulemas (religious leaders) of Darul Uloom played a prominent role in the freedom struggle. The call for complete independence, which later turned into the ‘Poorna Swaraaj’ movement, was first given by Hussain Ahmad Madani and Maulvi Ahmadulla Shah of Deoband and they were among a long series of freedom fighters who laid down their lives for the independence of the motherland.

Yet another seminary leader, Maulana Arshad Qasmi, said: “We have advised all madrassas across the country specially to hoist the tricolour and enlighten students about India’s freedom struggle and the country’s original spirit of unity in diversity.” Hafiz Akhlaaq Ahmad Latifi, who runs a madrassa in Ayodhya, observed: “The Muslim community has always been the target of communal forces. They always question our patriotism. In madrassas we always teach love for motherland and patriotism. In the past too, we have celebrated Independence and Republic Days, and will continue to do so.”

Nevertheless the Muslim religious and political leadership ought to explain why the communal forces were targeting the community? From where do they get the ammunition to target the Muslims? The leadership cannot deny that there are some fundamentalist elements inside the Muslim community who have given a bad name to the community. The religious and political leadership should have to take these elements head-on. Else they would continue to be suspects and the fundamentalists would exploit their helplessness.

While the common Muslim has mustered courage to fight the anti-national sentiments and elements, the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, must stand by them in this period. It would not be an exaggeration to say that for the first time in the history of independent India Muslims have been facing the threat of identity crisis. Had it not been the case they would not have come out with this appeal. Modi must rise above the sectarian view of the Sangh Parivar and extend his moral support to the 22 crore Indian Muslims.

A couple of months back Modi had assured a delegation of Muslim leaders that he would be available even at midnight to address the concerns of the minority community. He must not use it as a mechanism of image-building exercise; instead he should send a strong message that he does not believe in the divisive politics that divides people on communal lines.

To be true to Modi, his gesture appeared akin to a medieval monarchical diktat; the gate of the palace is open for the commoners. Instead of asking the minorities for a midnight knock at his door, Modi should have reached out to them. No doubt Modi discussed social, economic and educational issues related to Muslims with the delegation led by the chief imam of the All India Imam Organisation; but he did not lay bare the mechanism to involve them in the decision-making process. He did not spell out how he intends to mitigate their problems and miseries.

With his entry into the second year as the PM, Modi has become more restive to get the Muslims on his side. Though he has taken his slogan ‘saal ek shuruat anek’ seriously, he is not clear how to win over the confidence of the minorities. The task has become difficult for the reason that he does not intend to go against the official line of the RSS; but at the same time he is conscious of the political importance of Muslim support. He knows unless he succeeds in giving an image makeover he cannot aspire to rule India for more years. The fact of the matter is that no can aspire to rule India by ignoring the Muslim question.

It was not without reason that Modi promised to the delegation not to ever speak the communal language. Undeniably after becoming the Prime Minister; Modi has indeed shunned these phrases. But this certainly is not a guarantee that he has undergone a psychological and temperamental transformation. While he is silent on these sensitive issues, his saffron comrades-in-arms have been often resorting to such words. Only a couple of days back his Lok Sabha member, senior Hindu religious leader, Sakshi Maharaj, emphasised that Ram Mandir would be built and it was on the agenda of the BJP. In this backdrop how can anyone, not to speak of the Muslim, rely on the words of Modi?

These cynical communal elements have virtually destroyed the social ambience and scared the Muslims. They ought to realise that this nature of politics and religious exercises are often counterproductive and give birth to fundamentalist elements.

The least Modi could have done coinciding with the occasion was to send a strong message to his saffron friends that in a secular India their nonsensical utterances and actions would not be tolerated. He could have even spoken about reviewing the cases of false and wrongful implication of Muslims and also some infamous cases of encounters.

Since Modi came to power with a sweeping majority, several saffron groups aligned with the BJP and RSS have targeted Christians and Muslims. Some of these groups have targeted Muslims through their ‘ghar wapsi’ (conversion) and ‘Love Jihad’ campaigns. It was a coincident that while Modi was assuring the Muslim leaders of his changed attitude and perception and keeping open his gate till midnight for them, the Muslims of Ballabhgarh in Rajasthan were still not sure whether they would be rehabilitated and given protection.

 Peace talks between the Jat community and Muslims at Ballabhgarh failed again amid the growing outcry from Opposition political parties criticising the BJP-led Haryana Government for lack of action. The district administration had organised a meeting of Muslim community leaders, senior police officials and local legislators but it failed to yield results. “Nothing could come out of the meeting. The status is exactly the same. The district administration has offered to make arrangements for them (Muslims who fled attacks in Atali village) at a school. But they didn’t accept that,” said Subhash Yadav, Commissioner of Police for Faridabad, after attending the meeting. Explaining the reason for their rejection of the proposal, Muslim leaders said: “Our immediate demand remains the same—the arrest of the accused and police protection while we build the mosque. But the administration fears that doing either can lead to further violence which is why they’re delaying the process.”

Meanwhile the report of the Aam Aadmi Party’s fact-finding team on the violence at Atali village in Ballabhgarh blamed the BJP for vitiating peace in the area. The report said the villagers had “never seen trouble before” and that the tension spread a week after Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar held a rally at neighbouring Mona village. The report said: “After a court order, the (Muslim) community took permission from the panchayat and began building their religious place. There was no tension and one floor was even built. But, Chief Minister and RSS leader Manohar Lal Khattar held a sabha at Mona village on May 18 after which there was widespread tension in the area.” The report accused the police of not acting in time and claimed that those who burnt down the houses of the Muslims were still “roaming freely”.

There is no denying the fact that Modi has been quite indifferent to the Muslims and their problems notwithstanding his assertion that the “politics of majority and minority had caused a lot of damage” to the country. Since he knew the malaise, he should have acted. Instead he preferred to look towards his mentor, the RSS, for the guidelines.

Modi has been pursuing a very shrewd strategy to administer. Usually the Leftists and Marxists look at the human behaviour from the economic angle. But now Modi has been resorting to the same tactics. He knows that it is the issue of employment and development that weighs on the minds of the youths. Obviously with this in view Modi told the delegation that employment and development are the solutions to all problems, and he is focused on delivering them. Modi assured the delegation that he is responsible for every Indian. Modi spoke of his government’s initiatives in skill development and the work done by him as the Chief Minister of Gujarat in education of the girl child and reviving the kite industry.

The communal riots and violence, which have been urban phenomena, have now spread to the rural areas, and they occur on a smaller scale, but with much greater frequency. A look at the recent riots in Uttar Pradesh and some other States underline that the BJP, backed by the cadres of the Sangh Parivar, holds an advantage in this communal game in the State, while the other parties are forced to play it for fear of further losing their voter base. This trend is only going to harden by the time the Assembly elections take place in UP in 2017

A day after Modi met with a 30-member delegation of the All India Imam Organisation, a news report claimed that as many as 30 lakh Muslims have joined the BJP in a recent membership drive. In Delhi alone 2.5 lakh Muslims got enrolled. But the BJP could get only three Assembly seats. Why? Obviously it implied that even the Muslim members did not come out to vote for the party. Naturally enrolment of membership is a vague statistics. If Muslims enrolling as the members of the party is being used to reinforce the impression that the party has changed, it is no more under the thumbs of the RSS, the fact is that it has been purely a tactical move to erase the stigma of being communal. It is also a wrong notion that Modi’s statement should be construed as a warning to the members of the Sangh Parivar who have mired the government in multiple controversies in its first year in power.

The basic argument must not be missed that the Modi Government will be judged by fulfilling its promises of inclusive development and good governance, that it will treat all Indians equally and take care of the minorities and weaker sections. Modi must rope in the Muslim leaders and organisations to cooperate with this govern-ment in the implementation of the inclusive and equitable agenda.

The electoral compulsion to coexist in a pluralist society has pushed the Sangh Parivar and Narendra Modi into a bind. They are unable to make out whether to dump the ideological commitment to Hindutva or opt for the aggressive marketing of secularism and uphold the political line of pluralism. The dualism was so acute that so far, till the sixth phase of the Lok Sabha elections, neither the Sangh Parivar nor Modi came out with a clear political approach. Modi meeting the Muslim religious leaders is a manifestation of this thinking. Even today leaders and members of the allies of the Sangh Parivar have been targeting Muslims but it is an irony that Modi did not do anything specific to keep these elements under check and dispel the threat of communalism in the minds and hearts of the Muslims.

The threat of communalism is not merely a bogey, and the Muslims’ ‘sense of alarmism’ does not exist in a vacuum. During the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate tried their best to entice the Muslim voters, but they could not succeed in their mission. Barring one or two Muslim leaders or clerics, by and large the Muslims were averse to support Modi. It is an open secret that Modi has been a Hindutva fanatic. He was even described as “Hindu Hridaya Samrat” by a section of the Sangh cadres. However, his recent posture of liberalism is simply a mechanism to deceive the Muslims and secular forces.

Modi meeting Maulavis and Maulanas is not the guarantee that the government programmes would automatically reach to the common and poor Muslims. Modi has been following in the footsteps of the Congress. He has been treating them as vote-banks. There is little doubt that the Maulanas and Maulavis have turned the Muslims into captives. They are impediments to the liberal transformation of the society. The lack of education and growth also flow from this phenomenon. They should realise that the world is changing and Muslims should also change. These religious leaders motivate the common Muslims to donate for construction of mosques, but they never impress upon them the necessity to have more modern schools.

These people lament and accuse the government of not doing anything for them. But in reality they have neglected their own community. Maulanas and clerics should give enough space to the liberal and emerging new middle class of Muslims. Muslims may send their kids to Madrassas but at the same time must realise the importance of competitive studies. Maulanas need to answer why the level of matriculation education among Muslims, both in the rural and urban areas, is lower than even among SCs and STs? The participation of Muslims in higher education too is poor as Muslim OBCs are much behind Hindu OBCs, SCs and STs.

The threat of communalism is not merely a bogey, and the Muslims’ ‘sense of alarmism’ does not exist in a vacuum. It may be exaggerated by some parties to get Muslim votes, but it is a real threat. The BJP leaders have a common refrain that the Muslims should understand them. But this is not a one-way traffic. Modi, instead of keeping open his gate, should reach out to them through plans and programmes. Hindutva and Hindu supremacy is so deeply ingrained in the saffron DNA that the all-pervasive attempts by Modi to project the facade of a Centrist face would not be enough to erase the element of suspicion from the minds of the Muslims and win over their trust. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate tried to reach out to Muslims by promising them “inclusive” economic development. The time is ripe for spelling out the philosophy of inclusiveness and implement the programmes. Modi’s attitude towards Muslims ought to be viewed in a holistic perspective. Modi has also to ensure that he reaches out to the poor and backward caste (pasmanda) Muslims and his efforts are not merely confined to the rich and elite Muslims who so far have been the ultimate beneficiaries of all the government’s policies and programmes.

The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52@gmail.com