New Age Islam
Fri Dec 09 2022, 06:55 PM

Islam and Politics ( 16 May 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Secularism wins in Indian elections

Why Muslims returned to Congress?

By Sultan Shahin, Founder-Editor, New Age Islam


Indian National Congress-led UPA government has come back to power at the centre in the recent general elections. One of the most important contributing factors from all accounts has been the return of the Muslim vote to the India’s grand old Congress party.


The most heartening news is the decimation of all exclusivist trends among Muslims. Muslims have sealed the fate of almost dozen-odd Muslim outfits in this election. Not one of them has been able to even make a mark. Muslims have given thumbs down to the politics of exclusion, negativism and denial of our own shortcomings. Many of them were created just before the elections and tried to incite Muslim sentiments over what they claimed was "targeted harassment of the minority in the name of terrorism", thus seeking to deny the fact that some of our youth are indeed turning to terrorism under the influence of so-called Islamist terrorist outfits and their ideology of radical Jihadism in the name of Islam. The growing influence of Wahhabis in the community is helping the process. But instead of addressing these issues and making amends, some Muslims, notably some so-called ulema, sought to simply blame the government and try their hand at exclusivist politics. It is gratifying that the community has not heeded them and has instead returned to inclusive politics and has largely voted along with other communities for the greater good of the country, keeping the nation’s best interest in mind.


Indian Muslims have clearly returned to the Congress fold. But how have Sonia/Rahul/Manmohan wrought this magic? 


Muslims have voted for the Congress party since independence. They have been considered a Congress vote-bank. But they had virtually stopped voting for the party gradually since 1971, except in pockets where their only adversary was the communal-fascist BP or its ally the Shiv Sena. This had given rise to and sustained in power in several states left front parties as well as lower caste parties like RJD, SP, BSP, LJP, JD (U), JD (S), etc. Wherever there was a secular alternative to the Congress, they would go for it. This process started with Indira Gandhi/Sanjay Gandhi rule and continued to strengthen through the Rajiv Gandhi and Narsimha Rao’s stewardships of the party.


Things, however, started to change under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership. Rahul Gandhi’s strenuous efforts to bring the community back to the fold, supported by Manmohan Singh government’s over-all endeavour to provide an atmosphere of communal harmony in the country after the horrific Gujarat massacres of the Vajpayee-Advani era, as well some Muslim-specific measures, have finally brought the community firmly into the Congress fold.


Several factors have contributed to this phenomenal change in the Muslim attitude? Some can be listed here:


  1. Rahul Gandhi’s persistent visits to Muslim areas including madrasas and his down-to-earth attitude free from the hubris of power have endeared him to the community. He is seen as a worthy inheritor of Nehruvian ideas and commitments of the party to the poor and deprived of India. As the Muslims’ self-image, strengthened by the Sachar report, is that of a dispossessed community, some sections are beginning to see in him a messiah in the mould of Nehru.
  2. Rajinder Sachar Committee recommendations: Though most of these recommendations are yet to be implemented, the very fact that the government got prepared and made public such a fair report has acted as a major scoring point for the Congress. One of its immediate impacts was on the Left-ruled West Bengal which the report said was the worst state in terms of giving Muslims a share in government jobs. Muslims realised that the Left simply wanted to continue to garner Muslim votes on a show of anti-Americanism and the fact that it had not allowed any anti-Muslim pogrom to take place in its several-decade long rule. But that was clearly not enough.
  3. Muslims could also see that their condition was no better in RJD-ruled Bihar and SP/ BSP-ruled U P. These parties too had come to power on the strength of Muslim votes, but apart from claiming to have provided a massacre-free government, they had nothing to show for their long rule. This was clearly not enough. The report went against the Congress too as it showed Congress-ruled states too had given inadequate share in government jobs to Muslims. But the very fact of the availability of such a credible report that can be used to demand a fair share in power at all levels went in favour of the Congress.
  4. Martyr Hemant Karkare-led ATS exposing Hindutva terror group: The fact that the Congress-led government at the centre and in the state of Maharashtra allowed the late Hemant Karkare to expose and proceed against Hindutva terrorist outfits responsible for terror attacks at Malegaon and several other places went a long way in cementing Muslim support for the Congress. This forced even Hindutva parties like the BJP to say that terrorism has no religion.

    As Union Minister Sharad Pawar pointed out during the election campaign, since the exposure of Hindutva terrorist outfits, the string of systematic bombing of our cities and towns has come to a complete stop, thus letting Muslims off the pressure they used to be under after every terrorist attack. They no longer live in dread of being picked up by the police and interrogated, many a time leading to innocents losing their livelihood, even marriage, and of course, their social standing. Even fellow Muslim neighbours and relatives used to boycott them once they were picked up by the police as a suspected terrorist. Even if they were let off as innocent after some time, this would not change their altered circumstance.

  5. The fact that Shiv Sena/BJP stalwarts like Bal Thackeray,  L K Advani and Rajnath Singh expressed sympathy and support for the alleged terrorists brought out the links of Ms Pragya Singh Thakur and others with major communal outfits of the country and solidified Muslim resolve to defeat them in the elections and bring Congress back to power.
  6. Varun Gandhi’s rise to the level of a HIndutva icon on the strength of anti-Muslim speeches: Sanjay Gandhi’s son Varun’s hate speeches allegedly threatening to kill Muslims after elections inspired a groundswell of support for him at the mass level in and around Pilibhit and sympathy even from the higher judiciary after his arrest under NSA. Election commission’s recommendation to the BJP not to give him ticket for Pilibhi fell on deaf ears and instead he started getting invitations from other constituencies to appear as a star speaker. This terrified Muslims and forced them to stop even a tepid consideration of exclusivist Muslim parties or support for casteist formations like SP and BSP in UP, RJD, LJP in Bihar or communists in West Bengal, that were seen as getting in the way of the Congress endeavour to provide a stable government at the centre. They did vote for these casteist and leftist parties in quite a few areas but only where Congress did not have a candidate who could win even after receiving Muslim support.
  7. Declaration of Narendra Modi as a potential successor to Advani as prime minister further strengthened this line of thinking and helped strengthen the pro-Congress trend among Muslims.


In any case all is well that ends well. India can now look forward to a stable, secular, progressive government at the centre for the next five years. This is a major source of satisfaction for all Indians and our well-wishers around the world. Indian voter in general appears to have realised that in the sea of uncertainly that surrounds India, we just had to have a tried and tested and stable government. Let us hope the Congress party makes good use of this opportunity, builds upon its strengths and removes its weaknesses to emerge as a party with a majority of its own in the next general elections.