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Mainstream, VOL LV No 34 New Delhi August 12, 2017

How Muslims became the ‘Other’ in India

Saturday 12 August 2017


by Ahmad Zaboor

Being the Other, the Muslims in India by Saeed Naqvi; Publication: Aleph; 2016; 239 pages; Rs 599.

Beyond any description India is scripting a fast economic growth, that may be a solace for the corporate class including the government but the bare truth is that the growth process has simply bypassed India’s largest religious community of Muslims, as has been vindicated by the government-appointed Sachar Committee Report. Muslims also suffer from political marginalisation in the political process of India. The Bharatiya Janata Party, the national party, has not even one Muslim as a member of the Lok Sabha. The animus against Muslims has forced the other parties to leave the Muslim candidates in the election process.

Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist and television commentator who has traversed different parts of the world for the collection of different stories. Being the Other is partly a memoir and partly a disquisition into the various deliberate and inadvertent acts taken by post-independence India that has contributed to the othering of the 180 million Muslims in this country. It is a lament for the vanished syncretic Hindu-Muslims culture.

The othering of Muslims has to be viewed against the backdrop of the weakening of the firewall of secularism. Naqvi peeps into this phenomenon and remarks that in the run-up to the independence and its immediate aftermath, some of the big guns, ranging from Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel to the present dispensation, have served only to drive the communities further apart. This has been partly by design and partly by the bulging of political and religious leaders. The fallout has been alienation and insecurity for Muslims. But those who profited from it have been hardcore Hindu fundamentalists.

Who can be held responsible for this? His attack is scathing, he blames both the Congress as well as the BJP for this. Hindus and Muslims have been living in the “state of institutionalised apartheid” for decades, even centuries.

During the post-partition pogroms in 1947 in Jammu and Hyderabad a pattern was established: the police and the armed forces would side with the Hindus in Hindu-Muslim conflicts. (p.117) Every riot, communal incident leaves several unanswered questions which are never probed. The truth somehow remains hidden and allegations of guilt are often directed at the victims. The perpetrators, almost always, get away.

Immediately after partition, Muslims realised that politicians, officials, and the largely Hindu police force are working in tandem progressively against them in communally charged situations. Those Muslims who decided at the critical juncture of the partition to stay back in India gave the first death blow to the two-nation theory.

But simply living in India has not been enough for Muslims. None other than the first Home Minister of India, Sardar Patel, asked them to prove their credentials as Indians and since then Muslims are repeatedly bracketed as traitors. The earliest accusation against the Muslims was that they were appeased at the cost of the majority; they are now being described as anti-nationals. Most of the Chief Ministers in North India have been Brahmins, belonging to the upper caste. It has only been in the 1990s that Dalits and Yadavs have become Chief Minsters.

As Brahmins felt that Muslims were in alliance with the lower class, the largely intra-Hindu tussle has worked to the disadvantage of Muslims. A thought took root in the Brahmins: target the Muslims ‘as the other’ to affect greater Hindu consolidation. The growth of the RSS in North India would not have been possible without the support of the Congress. (p. 98)

After the destruction of the Babri Masjid, the covert dislike has become a lot more open and frequent. The destruction of the mosque shook the confidence of Muslims in the political class, especially the Congress.

The author laments that the abolition of the Zamindari system has exacerbated the division between Hindus and Muslims. As long as Muslims were affluent, they accepted the aspects of Hindu culture. As the lower middle class, always more religious in every society, gained upward mobility, groups like the Jamaat-i-Islami, Tableegi Jamat gained a foothold. All of them sprouted from a Sunni sect of Islam; not a single Shia has joined them. He mentions various terrorist organisations but not even a single Shia. His deliberate failure to mention those militant organisations associated with Shias becomes all the more glaring.

Muslims since Partition have been treated as the other in India. He mentions that the Nehru-Jinnah personality clash was not a negligible factor when it came to events that led to Partition. One of the taunts that Indian Muslims have to repeatedly hear from the Hindu community is that they vivisected India. Maulana Azad remarked that Nehru was impatient and wanted to become the Prime Minster. For Nehru, British rule was to be replaced with Congress rule, which the Maulana described as ‘undiluted Hindu Raj’. When Mahatma Gandhi made the suggestion that Jinnah should be asked to form the government, both Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru opposed it vehemently, and in fact forced Gandhi to withdraw the suggestion.

Nehru and Sardar Patel rejected it because Jinnah would have reiterated his demand for a federal government. But for Nehru, the country divided by deep chasms would encourage fissiparous tendencies and without Muslims, they could plan out a strong Central Government. The suggestion for an ‘impartial army for peace during partition was overruled by a majority of Congress leaders’. (p. 64) The animus of Sardar Patel against the Muslims was so much that he is said to have called Hyderabad, the Muslim Princely state, a ‘cancer in the heart of India’.

One of the remarkable campaigns by the Right-wing forces over the past few years in India goes under the startling name of Love-Jihad. It argues that Muslim men are waging jihad in India through love marriages. Muslim fundamentalists lure Hindu-Christian girls into their fold, thus swelling their number in an ongoing demographic war. The Hindu Janajagruti Samiti in Karnataka claimed that 30,000 young women had been duped by Love birds. But the Karnataka Police claimed that they have been able to trace only 332 girls and a majority of them were Hindu girls who had eloped to marry Hindu men of their choice.

Whipping up anxiety about the common enemy has proved juicy as it has unified the Hindu castes. Politics in post-independence India made “Hindu consolidation an imperative: targeting Muslims made an electoral expedient”. (p 144) The perceived Muslim threat is being raised even after the Census Commissioner has made it clear that the growth rate of Hindus had been high than the Muslims. The creation of virulent masculinities is a part of the nationalism of Hindus directed at Muslims.

Lal Bahdur Shastri, who became the Prime Minster of India following the death of Nehru, requested the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) godfather Golwalkar to post RSS hooligans at city squares in north Indian cities for civil defence in the wake of the 1965 war, which surprised many Muslims, but there was not even a murmur against it in the Congress party. Following the end of the Emergency in 1977 and collapse of the Janata Government in 1979, Indira Gandhi found her constituency in religion, she became more religious and used her newly discovered religiosity in 1983 in Kashmir where she launched a vitriolic attack on the invasion of Muslims in Jammu city, and it yielded rich electoral dividends to the Congress party. The assassination of Indira Gandhi in the wake of the attack on a Sikh holy shrine in Amritsar resulted in the consolidation of Hindu majority against the decade-old Sikh insurgency and brought back the Congress to power.

The Congress always looked at the Muslims and their problems through the prism of electoral politics; any overture to Muslims is believed to haemorrhage the Hindu vote. The Congress Party also devised a strategy of soft Hindutva to win Hindu votes, as Rajiv Gandhi kicked off his election campaign in 1984 by promising Ram Rajya. The slogan was not convincing but backed indirectly the BJP’s core ideology of a Hindu Rashtra. P.V. Narasimha Rao, brought a Special Provision Bill of 1991, to maintain status quo on all disputes over places of worship as they existed in 1947 sans Ram temple. The BJP initially didn’t launch an agitation against it; it showed its displeasure by abstaining from voting to ensure its safe passage.

Saeed Naqvi posits that India-Pakistan, Hindu-Muslims problems are essentially one set of issues and based on the ‘law of triangle’: if any angle is addressed it will affect the other two. Therefore the need is to understand it and address all the angles comprehensively.

Atal Behari Vajpayee made a real bid to improve ties with Pakistan, as he was the senior leader of the Sangh Parivar. Modi hails from the same Parivar but would not transgress the red lines on Pakistan, Kashmir and Hindu-Muslims issues drawn by the Parivar. While the former was Brahmin, Modi is Ghanchi. This will continue so long caste remains a determinant in the social and political life of India.

Manmohan Singh, the former Prime Minister of India, made the decision to assuage the hurt of Muslims by appointing the Sachar Committee to look into the socio-economic conditions of Muslims; it has portrayed a dismal picture of Muslims in India and their condition has deteriorated even below that of the Dalits. Nothing was done to improve their lot except a few steps which were piecemeal.

Narendra Modi is taking advantage of the global mood, which post-9/11 turned angrily upon Muslims. Hindutva will continue to be the blueprint whenever convenient. The lot of Muslims in India has not improved and ironically deteriorated after Partition.

In retrospect, Naqvi notes that Muslims are unlikely to progress given the clerical leadership which strikes deals with the political class and keeps the community mired in religion in enclaves distant from modernity. The backwardness of the Muslims is not only due to the clerical control over the masses but the institutionalised discrimination being practised against Muslims as shown by the Sachar Committee.

The book is pithy, cogently argumentative and absorbing. However it does not present a comprehensive view of the conditions of Muslims in India, but surely provides an exhaustive narrative about the role of the Indian state and throws light on the various unknown issues which the author had himself observed while working as a journalist.

The reviewer, hailing from Anantnag in J&K, is a Lecturer in Political Science, He can be contacted at e-mail ahmadzaboor[at]gmail.com

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