Yesterday once more?

Courtesy: Reuters

As Muslim voters begin to return to the Congress after 20 years,a recap of the friends and foes they met

Having been here, there and everywhere, seen everyone, is it going to be yesterday again for Indian Muslims? Remember the era when election after election the Congress was the natural party for governance riding the Brahmin-Muslim-Dalit rainbow coalition? Recall the 1984 Lok Sabha elections when, in its most stunning nationwide performance ever, the Congress bagged 83 out of 85 seats in Uttar Pradesh. Just five years later, as Brahmins gravitated towards the BJP and Muslims towards the Samajwadi Party, Maulana Mulayam Singh Yadav took charge of UP in 1989. Now, 20 years of banvaas later, with the Congress in UP emerging as the biggest story of the recently concluded polls, there are clear signs of Muslim readiness to embrace the Congress again. But its a different India now and one thing is certain: both the Congress and Muslims will need to discover new terms of endearment, for neither tokenism nor the good old patron-client equation will work.

Following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 and the pogrom against Mumbais Muslims under Congress rule in New Delhi and in Maharashtra, Indian Muslims described the party as their hidden enemy. Mulayam in UP, Lalu Prasad in Bihar, the Left in West Bengal and the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh were the Muslims new friends. Their estrangement from the Congress led to the first, and so far only, defeat of the party in the 1995 assembly polls in Maharashtra.

But the experience of the last two decades has taught them that there is little to choose between the hidden enemy and the new friends. Undoubtedly, the new friends reassured insecure Muslims and proved with their riot-free regimes that communal carnages are only possible when the political bosses want them to happen. But how long can one live on gratitude alone? What about education, employment, access to credit, civic amenities? The report of the high-powered Sachar Committee (released in end-2006) was a real eye-opener for Muslims. It provided incontrovertible evidence of institutionalised and rampant discrimination against Muslims. What is worse, the report showed that on bread and butter issues the track record of the communists in West Bengal was worse than that of the Hindu communalists of Gujarat. The performance of the socialists, Lalu and Mulayam, was not much better.

And who says the Congress is any different? In response to persistent demands post-Gujarat 2002 for a new law on mass crimes, on coming to power the UPA government produced the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005. It was sharply criticised for good reason.

Instead of making strict provisions for the prosecution and punishment of state agents found guilty of dereliction of duty failure to ensure the rule of law it envisaged even greater powers to them. A second draft, not much better than the first, was then prepared but nothing has been heard on the subject for nearly three years now. This means that India still does not have any institutional arrangement to prevent future genocides and the security of Indias minorities remains subject to the electoral calculation of politicians.

If anything, the Sachar Committees report is a damning account of institutionalised anti-Muslim discrimination over the decades for most part of which the Congress was the party in power at the Centre and also in many states. The report recommended numerous short-term and long-term measures acting on which the Congress could atone for its shameful record. Yet, only the Congress knows what, if any, corrective measures have been taken. Setting up an equal opportunities commission was among the committees major recommendations. In 2007, the Union minority affairs minister, A.R. Antulay, appointed an expert committee to work out a route map for the proposed commission. In February 2008, the expert committee submitted its report that included a draft bill. The same has been gathering dust in who knows which office.

The litany of legitimate grievances can be multiplied. Whether on the question of security of life and property or that of due share in the developmental cake, the Congress has had little to offer to Indian Muslims. Why then should they be looking in its direction again? The answer I think lies in the persona of Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and her two children.

If anything,the Sachar Committee’s report is a damning account of institutionalised anti-Muslim discrimination over the decades for most part of which the Congress was the party in power at the Centre and also in many states

On December 9, 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared: Plans for minorities, particularly Muslims, must have the first claim on resources so that benefits of development reach them equitably. This outraged the BJP and the Sangh Parivar who thundered in unison that the UPAs communal budgeting would be their major plank in the next elections. In early June 2007, Dr Hanif Mohammed, of Bangalore origin, was held on suspicion of his involvement in the aborted bombing of Glasgow airport. (He was later absolved of the charge.) A few days after his arrest, the prime minister publicly said he could not sleep through the night on seeing the anxiety and apprehension of Dr Haneefs Bangalore-based family on television. Islamic terrorism and the UPA governments role, or lack of it, would be the other major poll plank, fumed the Sangh Parivar.

The Indian electorate has now spoken. The BJP has discovered to its great cost that for most Indians Manmohan Singh is a decent human being, a man of integrity and a silent worker. To Muslims it is also evident from the above examples that he feels the minorities pains. Sonia Gandhi and her children are no strangers to suffering and pain. And which Indian does not know the meaning of tyaag and balidan? For Muslims, as for other Indians, they seem like a unique reluctant royalty capable of amazing grace.

True, the Congress has failed Indias Muslims time and again. Yet, they seem inclined to hitch their hopes and repose their trust in Manmohan Singh, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. This trust will, hopefully, not be betrayed. For now, in any case, lets salute the sagacity of our aam Hindustani. As usual, the merchants of hate and rage did what they could to promote their us vs them divide. But cutting across caste, community, ethnicity and region, the aam Hindustani has sent out a strong signal of mutual fraternity which when decoded would read: You are us and we are you. Call it a balm to soothe a million hurts,aid the healing process.

(This article was published in The Indian Express on May 21, 2009)





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