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Islam and Politics ( 30 May 2019, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Amidst a Majoritarian Turn, Indian Muslims Need to Rethink Their Political Strategy

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

30 May 2019

The verdict is unanimous; India has elected BJP with a resounding verdict which has broken the barriers of caste and in many instances, even region. It is as if there seems to be a deep crisis within the Indian psyche to which the electorates have responded, reposing their faith once again in Narendra Modi.

Those arraigned against the BJP fundamentally misread this national mood which earned for a leader who was understood as decisive, bold and best suited for national development.

It is however, important to underline that Muslims voted overwhelmingly against the BJP, for reasons which are historical as well as constructed by the opposition. It is also important to underline that the opposition was very careful this time not to talk about Muslim issues but despite this, Muslims voted overwhelmingly in their favour. It was as if the opposition was constantly making efforts to distance itself from the Muslims, but the Muslims themselves were hell bent on voting for them.

How have things come to such a pass that the single largest party in the country, the BJP, has no need for Muslim votes, and the opposition parties have taken the Muslim votes for granted? Moreover, amidst the resounding victory of the BJP, which has a distinctly pro-Hindu plank, how should the Muslim community respond to such a political situation?

Amidst the all-round dejection within Muslim community regarding the verdict, it is important to remind ourselves that this is not about us alone. It is not because of Muslims that the BJP has won. The party has won because there is a fundamental shift within the consciousness of the Hindu population.

Thus, if there is anyone who needs to think about the nature of this ‘new politics’ it is the majority community. After all, it is the majority who makes the nation state; minorities have always played a peripheral role. In India too, Muslims have been peripheral to the national imagination and they will continue to be so now also.

However, now, more than ever, Muslims need to do some deep thinking as to how things have come to such a sorry pass that even their votes have stopped mattering. Despair and self-loathing are not the solution. Perhaps this is the right time to script a different political strategy by the community.

The received wisdom within the community has been to vote for political parties who promise to look after the Muslim interest. Within the last seventy odd years, these Muslims interests have been narrowly defined as protection of their symbolic assets like mosques, language and the personal law. Again, it were the so called secular parties who were the perceived champions of protecting minority rights. However, let us not forget that these so-called secular parties also have their hands dripping with Muslim blood. Whether it was Maliana, Bhagalpur, Meerut or Moradabad or Nellie, the secularism of the Congress never became a hindrance when Muslims were to be killed, often with the full complicity of state agencies. In recent memory, the Muzaffarnagar anti-Muslim pogroms could not have taken place without the active connivance of the ruling Samajwadi Party, again a so-called secular party and for whom Muslims have voted overwhelmingly in this election in Uttar Pradesh. It is equally true that the BJP did similar things to Muslims in Gujarat and other places.

But the important question to ask is that if the community can forgive the Congress and the SP, then why is it reluctant to forgive the BJP for a similar offence? Part of the reason has been the actions of the BJP itself, but it is equally true that this perception of Muslim antipathy towards the BJP has been created and fostered by the so the called liberal and left parties for their own political benefit.

Despite supporting these so-called secular parties, Muslims have not benefited in any substantial manner over the years. They remain one of the most backward communities in terms of education and employment. For long, these secular parties have only treated Muslims as a vote bank. One would have expected that in lieu of their support, the least that these parties could have done was to ensure that Muslims do not get killed in communal riots directed against them. Even this did not happen in many places; worse at times, these parties themselves have been directly or indirectly involved in the killing of Muslims to instil fear in them and get their votes. Today, after becoming politically irrelevant, Muslims feel that they have been cheated by these parties. Those who vouched for secularism such as the communists in Bengal have seen their cadres wholesale shifting towards the BJP. Muslims have been left in the lurch and now face an uncertain political future. They were marginalised economically and educationally, now they don’t even matter in matters of forming any government.

However, Muslims need to think that even when their votes used to matter, the community did not get anything in return. Some families might have benefited from such political alliances, but the community as a whole continued to be deprived. This was because Muslims never bargained with these parties for their own development. Muslims never demanded either education or employment. For them it was sufficient that their votes were enough to defeat the so-called communal forces. Muslims unwittingly became an ideological force in this secular versus communal struggle.

Muslims now need to realise that this secular versus communal divide was essentially different articulations within a majoritarian discourse. Muslims should never have become party to this ideological battle rather they should have looked after their own interests primarily. Now perhaps is the time when they should realise that from being an ideological force, they should become an interest group. As an interest group, they should be able to bargain with all political parties and should ideally go with that political formation which gives them the most favourable material returns. No political party should be untouchable for them. However, this kind of shift will not make a fundamental difference to the extant Muslim politics. In this case also, Muslims will be transferring their votes to some political party but once that party comes in power, there will be no guarantee that they will listen to Muslim voices or that they will fulfil the demands put to them by the Muslim community.

The other alternative, which will take much more time but will perhaps give better returns in the long run is that Muslims should think in terms of forming their own political parties. However, they should desist from forming an all India Muslim party as that will lead to further Hindu consolidation, not to mention the additional charge of trying to revive a separatist sentiment which the Muslim League did years ago. Muslims must form their own political parties at the regional level. Such regional formations should be steeped into the cultural traditions of the region. The going will be tough initially as Muslims are still loyal to various so-called secular formations.

Like most subaltern groups, Muslims also possess a dominated consciousness and it require years of hard work to convert them into a mode of dominant consciousness. Eventually, they will realise that only a share in power can save them from political oblivion. These regional Muslim parties must be open to all kind of political alliances, including the BJP. The only thing that should matter is who is giving them a better deal.

If such Muslim political formations succeed in capturing the imagination of people, Muslims will see rapid socio-economic development in states like Assam and West Bengal where their votes will matter to every political party aiming to form the government. However, even in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where Muslims are relatively less in numbers, this strategy will have a positive impact. After all, Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh are only seven percent, but they have the ambition of become chief ministers. If Muslims, who are much more than the Yadavs, have ambitions to share power, who is going to stop them? It is only through a sharing of power structures that Muslim lives will be secure. If a government is dependent on the support of a Muslim party, then it will be extremely difficult for the government to target Muslims.

We all know that the police play partisan at the behest of the government. If a Muslim political party is part of the government, the police will not be able to play partisan. It is only when the lives of ordinary Muslims are secure can they think in terms of education and employment. It is high time that the community starts a debate on the possibility and consequences of having their own political parties.

Arshad Alam is a columnist with


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