By Sidharth Bhatia
April 26, 2015
The Muslims are a vote bank for the Congress, says the BJP. But all blocks based on caste, community, religious and language are vote banks too and the BJP, as much as any political party, draws upon them during elections
The Hindu Council UK has prepared its own “manifesto”, a list of demands submitted to political parties ahead of next month’s elections in the United Kingdom. These include, inter alia, more government funding for temples, ending “forced conversions” and inclusion of Ayurveda in the National Health Scheme. The manifesto also seeks the repeal of a clause that forbids discrimination on the basis of caste, which is included in Britain’s equalities legislation. The manifesto prepared by Sikh community organisations asks for an end to discrimination in employment and also that the British government support the Khalistani demand for self-determination. Both Sikhs and Hindus want to be excluded from the omnibus term “Asian”, subtly signaling they don’t want to be lumped together with the Muslims.
There are two Muslim manifestos doing the rounds, which say that the community’s “distinct cultural identity be preserved” and strict action be taken against hate speech. There is also a demand to “guarantee the Muslim community the opportunity to evolve independently”, seen by some commentators as a cover for introducing parallel legal systems.
Other faith-based groups, such as the Church of England and Jewish organisations, have also come up with similar manifestos. This in a country which a survey has shown to be among the least religious in the world. At the same time, religious groups have become more vocal after the government shifted from the stated policy of multiculturalism to multi-faithism, thus reshaping minority populations along religious lines. Earlier minorities were seen as cultural groups — Indo-Brits, etc. now that has been changed to religious groups — Sikhs, Hindus, etc. Since then, entire communities are being represented not by moderate voices but the more aggressive, radical ones, which is not surprising at all. They are the ones who take charge of speaking for large numbers of people and get the most patient hearing from politicians eager to get bulk votes from communities, especially in minority dominated areas. Thus we see pictures of politicians such as David Cameron in temples, gurudwaras and mosques.
In other words, this is classic “minority appeasement”. This is the kind of pandering — pampering, some might call it — that majorities criticise, arguing that minority groups should be more in consonance with the national ethos and legal structure and not be given special rights.
In our own country, the term minority appeasement was first popularised, if not coined, by the Bharatiya Janata Party stalwart Lal Krishna Advani. The party used it, and has continued to use it as a way to attack the Congress for bending over backwards to please the minorities — mainly the Muslims — in all kinds of ways, small and big. From iftar parties during Ramzan to Haj subsidies to the biggest complaint of them all, not bringing Muslims within the ambit of the common civil code, the BJP found several instances of minority appeasement. This fed into the majority’s perception, often prejudice, that the Muslims had it good in the country never mind if the facts proved otherwise. At the very least, it painted a picture of a community constantly asking for, and getting, special rights from a soft government — the Congress — that they did not deserve. By extension, the “majority” also resented reservations for dalits but it is not politically correct to say so in public. Besides, no political party would risk angering the dalits; so the finger pointing is done in the direction of the Muslims.
Why would the Congress indulge in “minority appeasement”? Simple. Vote banks. The Muslims are a vote bank for the Congress, says the BJP. But all blocks based on caste, community, religious and language are vote banks too and the BJP, as much as any political party, draws upon them during elections. For Mayawati, the dalits are a vote bank, as much as Muslims are for the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. Do people vote according to their caste, community or religion? This is a complex question. Certainly candidates of a particular caste do find favour, especially in constituencies where one or the other caste is dominant, but often such affiliations offer no advantage, especially if every party puts up a candidate from the same caste. The point is that all political parties — barring the left — do make caste and community calculations while selecting candidates.
Vote bank is not a concept limited to India. In the US, there is the Hispanic vote, the blue collar vote and now, even the Indian-American vote. During the 2012 elections, analysts discovered that President Barack Obama had been backed by the gay vote. US politicians go out of their way to woo such groups and “pander” to them by promising to address their concerns. Is that minority appeasement? Most certainly, since those issues matter most only to specific groups and not to all.
A Shiv Sena leader recently demanded that Muslims be disenfranchised. His argument was that this would put an end to them being used as a vote bank. Putting aside the convoluted logic of blaming the victim, and also the troubling fact that no action was taken against him, the logical reply to his point is: So what if they are being used as a vote bank? The Sena has its own vote bank (and, on occasion, woos Muslims), as does the BJP and the Congress. It’s not illegal or immoral — it is politics at its most normal.
Minorities do need to feel that their rights are protected and they will not get overwhelmed by the majority. The Hindu, Sikh and Muslim groups in the UK have anxieties not totally dissimilar to the ones of Muslims and Christians in India. Yet, some level of assimilation must be encouraged; ghettos, in which they live a life disconnected with the rest of society, should be avoided. It is a balancing act for every political party, every government. No party can afford to dismiss the legitimate concerns of minority groups. It’s time we buried these bogus arguments about minority appeasement.