Mandate 2019: Missing Muslims and their Representation in India

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Muslims offering Namaz at Tajul Masajid in Bhopal (Photo – Prokerala.com)

DEBATE

In the unending struggle between secularism and communalism, Muslims, who always stand and have stood on the secular side, have always been duped by the forces which practice soft Hindutva

SADIQ ZAFAR | Caravan Daily

DECEMBER 6, 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya is considered to be the foundation of the divisive, communal politics in India, especially in the cow-belt. And the way Hindutva forces have been violently infilling fear in the minds of minorities especially Muslims since 1992, Muslims have been silently choosing any political party, at the regional or the national level of electoral politics to stop the majoritarian hate wagon which was once headed by LK Advani, right-wing Hindutva leader.

So, in any political setup, Muslims, the coolie of secularism, have been forced to carry the burden of defeating the communal forces. In this tactical voting which is not even acknowledged by mainstream political outfits, Muslims have lost their own political representation, the voice and face in this struggle. And this can easily be observed through a series of incidents which Muslims have been witnessing since May 2014, Narendra Modi’s escalation to power.

With the rise of despotism and the attack on dissenting voices, in the name of nationalism and the attack on the marginalized and weaker sections of the society, definition of authoritarianism holds true for the present Indian state under the rule of the right-wing BJP and its leader Narendra Modi.

The year 2018 ended with a high note for the Congress party as it regained three major states of the cow-belt, in the second week of December. But, to combat the divisive hate-filled politics of polarization of the BJP, Congress contrary to Nehru’s idea of modernism took the soft Hindutva path which not only has weakened the pluralism and diversity in the Indian electoral politics but also questions Nehru’s liberal, socialist and progressive approaches. It may be said that with the rise of Hindutva forces and Narendra Modi’s escalation, political space has been shrinking since then for Muslims, but the irony is that the liberal space too has been shrinking for Muslims in India, just to pacify the majoritarian outrage.

In 2018 Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) election, where United Left, Chhatra Rashtriya Janta Dal (CRJD), BAPSA, NSUI were contesting for office bearers’ posts, all with the aim and claim to defeat the right-wing student body, ABVP. No student organization blamed any other student outfit as being a stoop of the ABVP and an agent facilitating the split of votes. This makes JNU an exemplar of student politics where dissent and dialogue are considered pivotal to any political canvassing. The campus which gives space, voice, and representation to each section of the student fraternity is the ideal space even for mainstream politics.

But unlike JNUSU, in the mainstream politics earlier in the year 2018 during the Karnataka state assembly elections, Owaisi and Mayawati, who were canvassing for Janata Dal (Secular) as an ally of the regional political party against the two national parties, the Congress and the BJP, both were blamed to be the agents of BJP the right-wing political party, as if Congress is the lone warrior of secularism in this country. This reminds of the state when George Bush called for a coalition to attack and invade Afghanistan in the name of waging a war against terror in 2001. And in that Bush said that those who’re not helping USA are with the terrorists. The same binary has been applied in the majority of the cases across the globe and this phenomenon has been crushing many independent dissenting voices.

Those who were blaming the Janata Dal (Secular), Owaisi and Mayawati as the agents of BJP, are now insisting on the formation of a coalition for the 2019 general elections. But this should be kept in mind that with the formation of any great coalition, regional politics will definitely weaken itself, as its politics lies on ground issues which connect it with masses at the grassroots. Thus, a coalition at the national stage may change the seat of power but with any such coalition hope of revolution on the ground is very minimal.

Thus, the Karnataka case has very much clarified the need for regional political parties and their importance in order to walk the road to the power corridors of Delhi. And this regional equation can be said to be a tested case as seen in the Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana by-elections in Uttar Pradesh. This equation also demolished the communal political fortress and very clearly stated that when regional parties go for an alliance, it is the caste which becomes a prominent and deciding factor rather than any religious or communal issue.

For the 2014 general elections, politicians who left the secular parties joined the right-wing BJP and won the parliamentary election in the mirage of nationalism and development, in the heat wave of Hindutva. At a time when coalition seems reality and is now a tested case, these politicians will once again embrace the secularism on top of their existing right wing, hyper-nationalism image and the voters looking for a change in regime will be compelled to choose them again. Just by switching over from the right wing side to the liberal – secular political side, some of them will again become the Member of Parliament and masses will remain at the grassroots struggling with their physiological needs.

The possibility of any great coalition will push the democracy into a two-party electoral system, right versus the rest. It is very clear to understand that such a coalition against the BJP will make Muslims the untouchables in Indian politics. In this ‘right versus rest’ contest, knowing the BJP’s anti-Muslim image, the only thing for which each political section will be competing would be on the extremities of being a hardcore Hindu, just to appease the majoritarians in the democracy. In such a ‘right versus rest’ situation, Muslims will inevitably stand with the group other than the right and then no political party would be interested in taking up the Muslim issues, wasting their time and their pro-majoritarian image.

This fear of detachment from the majoritarians in the political class can be understood in the light of 19th-century political thinkers Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill who popularized the tyranny of majority notion. This tyranny of majority notion which refers to a situation, in which the majoritarians enforce their will on the disadvantaged minority through the democratic process, can very well be understood in the current political dispensation in India and the reason behind treating Muslims as the untouchables in Indian politics.

So Muslims, their issues and their political representation, who get someplace in regional politics somewhere, the formation of such a major political coalition will shut down all the doors, those voices and the faces will be silenced that talk about the interests of Muslims, their empowerment and upliftment.

The 2018 amendment approved by the Parliament to overturn a Supreme Court judgment on the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act can be seen as a political tool of appeasement just before the General Elections by the upper castes. Yogi Adityanath calling himself a friend of Dalit, Amit Shah praising his political party for electing Ramnath Kovind, a Dalit to the seat of the president of the welfare state, lunch with Dalits should have been creating a stir in the secular parties. It is inescapable because in 2014 in the General Elections and in 2017 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Dalits have enjoyed being a Hindu, which is against the Dalit intellectual and thinker, architect of the constitution Dr. B.R Ambedkar’s views on religion.

Similarly, the way in which the Backward Classes were mobilized in the elections from 2014 to 2017 for the BJP, it is also worrisome for these secular parties. Thus, regional leaders like Mayawati, Tejashwi Yadav, Mamta Bannerjee become important figures in strengthening the idea of coalition against the BJP. Especially Mayawati whose Dalit vote bank was seen shifting towards BJP since 2014, has an important role to play in getting back the base vote bank of her party from the BJP and she’s influential across the nation.

But, in such a situation, where do Muslim votes and their share in the electoral politics stand. Anyway, whatever work is being claimed today through the great coalition to stop the communal forces and keep the BJP out of power, Muslims in India have been voting on the same line since the demolition of the Babri mosque. In spite of this, this viewpoint of Muslim voters has never been appreciated by these secular political fronts which are today seen distancing themselves away from Muslims. In the name of secularism and by creating an environment of fear around the Muslim voters, these secular leaders have been restricting Muslims’ political representation. Later in their political career, the majority of these faces have been seen playing either in the sphere of soft Hindutva or playing communalism politics by joining BJP.

Justice Rajinder Sachar, the man who left for his heavenly abode last year in his report, Sachar Committee Report exposed the realities of the Muslims in India. Sachar Committee Report describes the political, economic, social and academic turmoil of Muslims. Today, can’t it be said that it would have been the compulsion of the last government when it was in power at that time to not work on that report.

Today the main opposition party, the style, and language of the Indian National Congress are indicating the same politics on which the BJP came to power. Rahul Gandhi’s target of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the assembly elections from Gujarat to Karnataka, the statement of Salman Khurshid at Aligarh Muslim University that the Congress’s hands are painted with the blood of Muslims and Sonia Gandhi’s statement of clarification on the party’s Muslim image and tilt towards the Muslims, the Congress has cleared the air about what politics it is going to practice in the coming 2019 General Elections.

Why would the party when it was in power, which had retracted from developmental work for marginalised and deprived Muslims as claimed in the Sachar Committee Report, would talk about Muslim issues when it is now in opposition. Yet, the blame is on the Congress party that it does the politics of Muslim appeasement. The falling presence of Muslims in schools and colleges and the growing figures of Muslims in prisons may perhaps be the result of some appeasement politics.

In this whole political gambling of distancing Muslims, it is not easy to understand for whom and what message does it carry, but it is said that the Sangh Parivar, to whom it lends its support, corporate lobby promotes the same. Corporate Deal is actually easier with a single authority headed political party. Then the same corporate lobby which owns media houses works in image makeovers and creations for some while spoiling and ruining others’.

Salman Khurshid himself had said this for the Congress that it has good Sanghis (members of the right-wing RSS). This may be the reason why Congress, the main political party of the great coalition is so relentlessly working to create a Hindu image of its own. Thus, any secular front which gets formed other than the Congress party alliance; it would be accused of being a BJP agent. Though the Karnataka case has demolished this hypothesis and focuses on the need and importance of this kind of political front to stop the communal and divisive wagon of right-wing politics.

Besides all these political aspects, keeping in mind the issues of social concerns, including poverty, hunger and public health and education, things which were never part of the corporate interests, thus, the electoral process may change governments and the head of the state but in such a scenario there is no hope of any change in the situation on the ground. This can be seconded with the lynching incident which happened even with the change in government in Rajasthan.

In view of the atmosphere which is being created for the political coalition, the contest is between those who backed or kept silent on the attack on Muslims in the name of cow protection and those who targeted Muslims in the name of the Indian Mujahideen and fake terror cases. So it’s basically a contest between mob lynching and witch hunting.

Despite the impoverishment of the lives of innocent Muslims in jails, it seems a compulsion for Muslims to choose good sanghis. This can be understood in the light of the statement made by the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat, who overturned the teachings of Golwalkar for Muslims in India and cleared the air for Muslim inclusion and safety at an international event but in the latest event of Vijayadashami, fueled the communal debate around Babri Mosque and Ram temple, in which Nobel Peace prize winner Kailash Satyarthi was the chief guest of the event organized by this radical right organization.

So the picture which is being framed for the coming 2019 General Elections, has no place for Muslim representation, and this can be seconded by the styles and the statements of the senior Congress leaders, thus, inevitably putting a picture that Muslims are the new untouchables in the Indian politics, at least for 2019. Congress may come in power and replace the right-wing BJP, and but the way Muslims have been treated in this authoritarian regime it seems almost impossible to defeat the BJP-RSS in their agenda of hate, polarization, and majoritarian outcry.

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Sadiq Zafar is an architect, activist and author based in New Delhi. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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