By Sagarika Ghose
April 24, 2019
Rampur town wears a poignant air. Its
magnificent Raza library whose elegant minarets are decorated with a gurdwara,
church, mandir and masjid, seems forgotten in the scorching political and
religious divisions of western UP. Once Maulana Azad’s constituency, today
caught in a fierce electoral contest, plural Rampur is now polarised Rampur.
Rampur’s past and present are a metaphor
for the Muslim predicament: individuals who once laid claim to subcontinental
plurality and linguistic and cultural commonalities are today caged in
exclusively mono-religious identities. A Muslim is now defined exclusively by
the minority tag.
This assault is apparently happening in the
name of ‘Hindu’ assertion. Yet Hinduism has always upheld diversities. In fact,
it gives centrality to the freedom of the individual (the ‘atma’) and primary
importance to the individual’s own search for salvation. Hindutva, by sharp
contrast, is an authoritarian political doctrine that relies on overweening
state power to crush individual diversities, thus subduing the essence of
Hindutva not only cannot recognise the
Muslim, it also can’t recognise the atheist, humanist, monist or theist, or
anyone who does not follow the state-sanctioned version of majoritarian
Today Hindutva’s overwhelming dominance
which promotes state-imposed group identities, has meant that Muslims can only
be seen as the ‘other’. This approach has also infected ‘secular’ parties which
field Muslim candidates only in constituencies where Muslims comprise 30-40% of
the vote because they feel putting up a Muslim candidate immediately polarises
the electorate on religious lines and it is only in those constituencies that
Muslim candidates can win. What a contrast from Maulana Azad who once fought
with Nehru about contesting from Muslim-majority Rampur.
Citizens of India who happen to follow
Islam are being systematically shut out of the political system. Social
scientist Christophe Jaffrelot shows in 2014 BJP fielded 7 Muslims out of 428
candidates and none got elected. In the 16th Lok Sabha there were no Muslim MPs
from UP, Tabassum Hasan was elected only in 2018 in the Kairana bypoll.
Congress fielded 31 Muslims in 2009, 27 in 2014. In this election the SP-BSP
gathbandhan has fielded only 10 Muslim candidates.
When BSP chief Mayawati or Congress leader
Navjot Singh Sidhu urges Muslims not to divide their vote, when Sonia Gandhi at
a media conclave last year lamented that BJP has managed to convince people
that Congress is a ‘Muslim party’, when some Congress spokespersons initially
refused to speak on Pragya Thakur – terror suspect, who is now BJP candidate
from Bhopal – it shows that ‘secular’ parties are not only unsure about how to
stand up to the Hindutva juggernaut, but are playing the same game.
Thus the Muslim is trapped: she is the
permanent enemy of Hindutva, the target of mob violence and sanctioned
discrimination, and the captive vote bank of the seculars. Maneka Gandhi’s
shameful statement that if Muslims do not vote for her she will not work for
them is akin to creating an officially imposed apartheid.
Neither seculars nor Hindutva have any
stake in creating a positive agenda for reform of intercommunity relations or
in creating governing structures that put the individual and local communities
at the centre of policy making. Neither side wants to do away with
state-created monolithic groups. India’s Big State – perpetually seeking to
maximise its own power – and politicians who want to seize the power of this
Big State through patronage of group identities and by leveraging hate and
anger, are responsible for the terrible condition India’s minorities find
How many Congress leaders today have
visited the grieving relatives of lynching victims Pehlu Khan or Mohammad
Akhlaq? While Rahul Gandhi as Congress president can wear religion on his
sleeve, declare his gotra and that he’s a Janeu Dhari Brahmin, AIMIM leader
Asaduddin Owaisi’s Sherwani and cap serve to obscure that he’s an informed and
articulate parliamentarian. Congress’s soft Hindutva has only normalised BJP’s
hard Hindutva, creating a situation where successful Muslim politicians today
must stand forth as ‘Dabangs’ of their community, like Azam Khan or Owaisi.
Muslims, indeed all minorities, must be
defined chiefly by fear and grievance. In Maharashtra, the Dalit-Muslim
alliance forged by Prakash Ambedkar and Owaisi, rising on the back of Dalit
alienation post Koregaon Bhima violence is a reactive mobilisation to Hindutva
dominance, not an alternative manifesto for change in both communities. Do
Muslims matter anymore as individuals who worry about jobs, health, justice,
children’s education and security for business? The Muslim has been
de-humanised by Hindutva and de-individualised by seculars. The state which
expands its power by patronising a range of groups and their ‘sole spokesmen’
(Maulanas and priests of various hues) is the chief creator of identity
politics based on religion.
What’s the way out? The liberal solution is
to empower diverse local communities (what Vaclav Havel called the “parallel
polis”) and roll back the Big State. Excessive state patronage alienates
everybody: those who have it want more, those who feel left out become violent
and trigger a backlash. A Rampur resident said: “Hindutva people torment and
attack us, seculars herd us into vote banks. What we want is to be left alone
in an environment of rule of law where we get justice and opportunities.”
For Hindutva, the Muslim is the perfect
‘enemy’ in the overall project to destroy the diversity of Hinduism itself. For
seculars, once the Muslim vote has been secured, nothing more needs to be done.
Modern India needs new definitions: not ‘Hindus’ and ‘Muslims’ but citizens who
freely follow Hinduism, Islam, humanism, atheism, communism, et al, their
freedoms recognised by politicians and guaranteed by rule of law.