Politics of Faith

Muslim leaders take another shot at religion-based politics


Who or which social group in this country does not have a political party? The Hindus have it. The Yadavs have it. The Dalits have it. The Kurmis have it. The Tamils have it. The Maharashtrians have it. The Assamese have it. Name a social group, a region or a caste and you have a political party bearing their tag. The era of Gandhi, Nehru and Indira is an old story wherein a national leader worked for the country and promoted the interests of Indians without ‘caste, colour or creed’ discrimination. Those were times when leaders of stature, with a single national political party called the Congress, ruled the roost – both at the national and the provincial level. Those were times when Indians thought of and for India and not for caste, community or creed. It was an era of the politics of service for the nation.

We now live in different times. We live in an age when politics is largely the game of pygmies who win elections promoting a caste interest or a community interest and no national interest whatsoever. They indulge in less people service and more self-service. Politics is now like any other trade or commerce where politicians jump onto one political bandwagon or other political front and make hundreds and thousands of crores as people are left waiting for the next election so as to punish them.

Gone is the era of Big Dads in politics. And the time for national parties is over. We live in an era of alliances when politics is no longer national. It is not even provincial any more. Indian politics is fragmented and is increasingly becoming caste and community oriented. So in this competitive era of caste and communal politics even Muslims have begun to think of forming their own political party. The logic being, if Dalits can have it and Yadavs can have it, why can’t Muslims have it too? After all, in terms of the population ratio Muslims are the second largest group in the country. They played a crucial role in unseating the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from power in 2004, after the Gujarat massacre, and threw out the Congress party in 1996, after Narasimha Rao failed to protect the Babri Masjid in 1992. No political party can govern India for long unless it enjoys Muslim support. Muslims have emerged as kingmakers of a sort in Indian politics.

But even 57 years after independence their time in Indian politics is yet to come. They have very genuine grievances. Muslims complain that they are used as a ‘vote bank’ by various political formations and once an election is over, no one cares for them. They are left with the sole option of voting out a party in self-defence. Muslim politics does not move beyond the game of survival wherein you vote out one party only to protect your very identity. This is indeed shocking and frustrating for the Muslim community. Not only are Muslims in India victims of the worst kind of communal violence but they are also at the lowest rung of development in the country. Their literacy rate is abysmal. Their job representation in both the public and private sector is shockingly low. Their representation in legislative bodies is also dwindling. They have genuine complaints against Indian politicians who have taken them for a royal ride a little too long. They are no longer willing to vote for their security alone. They now want growth and development as well.

The post-partition Muslim generation is impatient to catch up with others in terms of development. It does not suffer from the partition complex. It has contributed no less than any other community or caste to the national development index – in every walk of life. Yet it suffers from all manner of problems ranging from security to unemployment. This generation of Muslims wants empowerment and is rightly disappointed with all political parties. After all, it has been two years since they came to power and even the Manmohan Singh government has done little to solve Muslim problems.

Taking advantage of the general Muslim disenchantment with traditional secular parties and the growing political fad for communal and caste parties in the country, a group of Muslim politicians thought of starting Muslim parties at the provincial level. The first man who sensed the Muslim mood and cashed in on their growing disappointment with secular politics was Badruddin Ajmal of Assam where Muslims living in different pockets amount to more than 30 per cent of the population. Ajmal along with the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind had backed the Congress party in the last assembly and the last parliamentary elections. But the Gogoi-led Congress government did exactly what other governments have done with Muslims in the past. Once the elections were behind them, they did nothing to tackle the problems facing the Muslim community.

Communal Muslim players are once again hawking aggressively for a Muslim party. Such a move will only help revive Hindu communalists. It is time for ordinary Muslims to be cautious of such Muslim players. Else every Indian province could produce at least one Modi to ‘teach Muslims a lesson’ as indeed happened so tragically in Gujarat

Ajmal is a successful post-partition merchant who has made it big in the perfume business. This apart, he was backed by the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, which has considerable influence among Assamese Muslims. With the Jamiat’s backing, Ajmal took the plunge and formed an ostensibly secular party (the Assam United Democratic Front – AUDF) for the Muslims of Assam, managing to win 12 seats in the legislature, two of these being won by non-Muslims. He has been gloating over his success and claims to have made it big for the Muslims of Assam. A dubious claim indeed as his bête noire, Gogoi, is in fact back as Assam’s Congress chief minister and Muslim representation both in the state legislature and in the new government is lower than the last time. Besides, both the Assamese Hindus as well as the tribals feel threatened by a Muslim party. This may generate a backlash against the state’s Muslims and may revive both the BJP and the Asom Gana Parishad, (AGP), which have so far played the anti-Muslim card in Assam.

The success of Ajmal’s political experiment in Assam though dubious in real terms has generated a ripple effect in Muslim politics, especially amongst the Muslims of Uttar Pradesh. Muslims constitute a large chunk of the votes in numerous assembly segments in Uttar Pradesh. If they vote as a united bloc, they can be the deciding factor in many elections. Encouraged by the Assam experiment, two Muslim outfits have been formed in Uttar Pradesh recently. Maulana Kalbe Jawwad of Lucknow leads one, the People’s Democratic Front (PDF), and Imam Ahmed Bukhari of Jama Masjid, Delhi, heads the other, the Uttar Pradesh United Democratic Front (UPUDF). The PDF brings together the All India Muslim Forum, National Loktantrik Party, Momin Conference of India, All India Muslim Majlis, Parcham Party of India and the All India Muslim Mushawarat among others. According to newspaper reports, soon after both fronts were announced, they merged under the PDF banner. Both Jawwad and Bukhari swear by the Muslim cause. Both blame secular parties for the ills befalling Indian Muslims and both come from a religious background.

On the face of things, in this age of caste and communal politics, a Muslims-only party sounds both logical and appealing. After all, even nearly 60 years after independence, no secular party is willing to work towards the uplift of Muslims. So what do Muslims do? But the problem with Indian Muslims is that they are not Yadavs or Dalits. They are a community that carries the baggage of history. It is a community that has in the past played the communal card and carved Pakistan out of the Indian subcontinent. Indeed, Muslims who live in India have nothing to do with Pakistan. They played no role during partition nor do they have any lingering sympathy for Pakistan.

But history, as TS Eliot wrote, has ‘cunning passages and contrived corridors’. Those cunning passages and contrived corridors of history are essentially the collective neurotic memory of a tragic past that generates a false sense of siege amongst a large group even long after the actual threat has disappeared. Hindu communal forces led by the RSS and the BJP take advantage of those ‘contrived and cunning passages’ of history to transform Indian Muslims into the ‘Hindu enemy’ working to carve out another Pakistan.

Over the past two decades all of us have seen how successfully the sangh parivar worked on this Hindu siege mentality and managed to build a Hindu vote bank as also to marginalise Indian Muslims in Indian politics. So deep-rooted is the post-partition Hindu sense of siege that Narendra Modi could successfully paint Gujarati Muslims as ‘Mian Musharraf’, managing even to win an election on hate politics in December 2002. No amount of secular cajoling, even by liberal Hindus, could persuade the Gujarati majority to shed their sense of siege and defeat Modi who masterminded the most cynical and worst ever massacre of Muslims in independent India. Gujaratis saw Modi as their defender and voted overwhelmingly to bring him to power to defend them from the ‘terrorist Pakistani Muslims’ living in their midst.

Among Hindus this false sense of siege is based on the collective memory of the formation of Pakistan. Once tickled, it revives the partition trauma when some Muslims led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah had ‘worked against the Hindus’ and partitioned their motherland – the ultimate refuge for the security of a nation. This neurotic memory is revived only when Hindus perceive Muslims as coming together to promote ‘their cause’ much as Jinnah had done for them once before. At once, the Muslims among them become the enemy within and those who stand up against the Muslims become Hindu heroes.

These tactics surface only when Muslims come together on a common platform and start indulging in the politics of cacophony. It has happened in recent times between 1986 and 1992 when India’s Muslims first came together under the All India Muslim Personal Law Board to protect their personal law after the Shah Bano judgement. Soon after, once the gates to the Babri Masjid were unlocked in 1986, the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee was formed to protect the mosque. Both the Muslim Personal Law Board and the Babri Masjid Action Committee ostensibly worked to defend the Muslim cause but in actual terms they only indulged in the politics of cacophony using high decibel Muslim rhetoric. This tickled the Hindu sense of siege and it was the BJP that soon became the Hindu hero.

The rest is recent history. We have been witness to how one-time political outcasts, the BJP, turned overnight into a party of Hindu heroes and grabbed power, leading eventually to the massacre in Gujarat. If there had been no Muslim platform, there may well have been no Hindu platform either. This is a crude historic and psychotic factor that Indian Muslims have had to live with it.

Now let us put aside the debate about the pros and cons of a Muslims-only party and take a look at the current political scenario. The BJP lost power in 2004 and has since been undergoing the worst kind of crisis; it is divided down the middle and its credibility is at its lowest. The average Hindu priority is growth and development, not identity. There seems to be little chance of the BJP coming to power or its leadership sinking its differences to revive the party in the near future.

Amidst this politically hopeless scenario for the BJP, if Muslims start indulging in the politics of cacophony as they did in the 1980s and 1990s, there are bright chances of the Hindu sense of siege being revived. The formation of not one but many Muslim political parties under a traditional conservative leadership with demands such as reservations for Muslims in legislative bodies, etc. is bound to reawaken the Hindu fear. It will undoubtedly encourage the RSS parivar to use every trick in its kitty to revive the BJP as an alternative to a Muslim platform. Besides, various Muslim formations in different states will undoubtedly split a united Muslim vote bank, much to the advantage of the BJP, which then, even with minority Hindu backing, would manage to corner power for itself as it did until recently – by splitting the secular and the Muslim voters. So forming a Muslim political party today means serving the BJP and its actors like LK Advani and Narendra Modi.

But for how long should Muslims put off working towards the interests of their own community, and this merely out of fear for the BJP? Well, a sensible and mature community would or should first like to finish off its principal enemy to ensure permanent security. If Muslims vote unitedly in yet another election and the BJP loses power for another term, Hindu communal forces could well be marginalised for a long, long time to come. But if the Muslims are divided as they were in Assam, with their own parties working for them in most states, the BJP may soon be back with a bang. It is for Muslims to decide whether or not they should first work for their security, which must, ultimately, lead to their progress and development as well. Or whether they should, as in the 1980s, commit the blunder of forming their own platforms and lose both security as well as the little progress that security necessarily brings.

Backing Muslim parties in the prevailing scenario could only mean hara-kiri for the Muslim community. One hopes and prays that better sense will prevail amongst Muslims, who have committed too many mistakes in the past and have had paid dearly whenever their leaders have indulged in the politics of emotional hyperbole rather than the mature politics of good sense. Communal Muslim players are once again hawking aggressively for a Muslim party. Such a move will only help revive Hindu communalists. It is time for ordinary Muslims to be cautious of such Muslim players. Else every Indian province could produce at least one Modi to ‘teach Muslims a lesson’ as indeed happened so tragically in Gujarat. n

Archived from Communalism Combat, June 2006. Year 12, No.116, Cover Story 1



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