By Aishwarya P. Sharma
April 14, 2014
From Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari to Maulana Kalbe Jawad, Muslim leaders across India are seeking a public role once again. It is no longer a question of secularism, communalism or any other "ism", rather these elections are being fought for bread and butter. Muslims are fighting for their rights that have so conveniently been denied to them. They are fighting for a better livelihood and prospects of a better future. The problems across communities are the same, everyone is fed up of corruption and false promises. The massive turnout of voters in the first two phases of polling shows that people are going out to vote for change. Then why do we assume that Muslims will feel any different?
It is certainly not the case that Muslims have chosen to stay "separate", or are not emotionally integrated after 67 years of Independence. In reality, the whole country is to blame for perceiving them as a "separate community", or, if I may go further, a separate nation. The national media also share the guilt of presenting "Muslims" as a separate community, or the "other". The last 67 years have shown that certain political parties and groups have a stake in keeping Muslims backward and divided. A discussion on Muslim society assumes importance only at the time of elections. Otherwise, we conveniently forget them. Political parties do not discuss Muslim backwardness, their lack of jobs, detention of young Muslims without trial, encroachment of their graveyards or Waqf land.
Political parties that claim to represent them and their interests have compromised on the development of Muslims at every stage. Stereotypes about Muslims have been entrenched in the system. Some persons have a stake in promoting these stereotypes, one of them being that Muslims vote en-bloc, that they are communal and overtly religious and that they have extra-territorial loyalty. The question we need to ask ourselves is how a religious and god-fearing Muslim is different from a religious Hindu. Why are we hell-bent on dividing the country? Have we not understood that this is only pushing us back by several decades while the world laughs at our inability to set our house in order? Our focus should be on the dismal state of our economy, on the frustration of the youth due to their inability to get jobs and security, than speculating on the direction in which the Muslim vote will tilt. Such questions only reinforce our deep seated prejudice and our inability to develop an inclusive nation.
These elections are an opportunity for the nation. It is an opportunity for us to reject those who want to divide the country and each vote has the power to do that. For Muslims, these elections are an opportunity to reject the politics of the last 67 years and vote for candidates who they believe will work for a better future for themselves and their children. They should vote for parties who will not suspect their loyalty or patriotism every time there is trouble with our neighbours. The nation also has a responsibility in understanding that Muslims made their choice 67 years ago and that they are Indians first and then Muslims. Being Muslim is the religious freedom they enjoy and being Indian a birthright.