I wrote the following article “This Too Shall Pass” for the iDEAS SERIES: The Minority Space but couldn’t get it published in that debate. Discussed with another portal but without success. Today both Ramchandra Guha and Harsh Mander have written concluding articles in the above debate. Themorningchronicle.in has kindly agreed to publish this article, which I had sent to The Indian Express on 29th March 2018.
This Too Shall Pass
Harsh Mander’s article about the shrinking space for Muslims on the current Indian political canvas, was inadvertently or deliberately steered into a different direction by Ramchandra Guha in his article reacting to Mander’s. It was much like a TV debate where participants respond to pertinent and difficult questions by going into a different tangent with their stock pre-decided answers thus altogether avoiding the disturbing questions.
Some of the issues raised by Ramchandra Guha must be pondered over by the Muslim community internally and all liberals generally at length, but here I would like to take the debate to the original point raised by Harsh Mander.
In 2014 the Congress was booted out of the Centre because of corruption in high places – infamously, scams like 2G, Commonwealth, etc. Four years later, corruption in high places goes by Rafale, Nirav Modi, Choksi, etc.., the only difference being that the larger media is less vocal about these. Some more problems have got accentuated, i.e. agrarian distress, lack of funds inflow from foreign investors, economic slowdown and unemployment due to the untimely and arbitrary decision of demonetisation.
The only major change that has taken place in the country is the rank polarisation along religious lines. Even established parties are afraid to claim the support of Muslims openly. So let’s discuss politics, Muslims and political parties.
In the wake of its total rout in the parliamentary elections in 2014, Congress established a committee under the leadership of A K Antony to look into the causes of its defeat and suggest remedial actions. As per media reports it observed that Congress was being perceived as a Muslim-centric party and that was making Hindu voters shrink from it.
It is difficult to know the methodology adopted by the Antony committee to arrive at this conclusion but it is common knowledge that this was not the reason for the Congress defeat. It lost because it was perceived to be a corrupt party. The Anna movement supported by team Kejriwal in the front, the Sangh organisations in the background, and an overwhelmingly supportive media created an anti-Congress atmosphere, which led to its massive defeat.
However, in light of the recommendations of the Antony committee, Rahul Gandhi today needs to publicise his visits to temples, Sonia Gandhi talks about Congress shedding its image of being a Muslim-centric party, and Shashi Tharoor sees immense benefit in endorsing the Hindu religion as the basis of his mortal being. Congress wanted to keep the bare minimum number of seats for Muslims in Gujarat for fear of Hindu backlash. While BJP takes pride in the fact that without fielding a single Muslim in the entire country it could get majority in parliament. Without fielding a Muslim candidate, it could win 326 seats in the UP Assembly. Have the minorities’ votes lost their utility or been rendered useless as claimed by the BJP? The answer is big ‘no’. True, there is polarisation at the grassroots level. But the bigger failure is on the part of Congress and other “secular” parties as they are both unable and reluctant to counter the propaganda storm unleashed by the RSS-BJP combine.
Muslim votes have not become irrelevant, as is evident from the atmosphere of heightened emotions of artificial hatred being kept alive by the Sangh because Muslims still constitute 15-18 % votes in the country. The Congress still harbours the illusion that Muslims have no other option than voting for them. Both these parties are fooling the people and the Congress is fooling itself too. It has even now not realised that it is the Muslims’ departure from it that cost it UP, Bihar, Bengal, Assam, Telangana, Delhi and Andhra. It ought to realise that when Muslims abandoned it, others followed suit. They must also realise that it is the absence of any alternative in the states of Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, etc. because of which it continues to get Muslim votes in these states. It is the politics of Congress that is nudging Muslims away from it in Maharashtra and now in Karnataka and providing opportunity to the likes of Owaisi and SDPI to garner support among Muslims. When will the power-hungry Congressmen realise that Muslims, along with Dalits and the backward classes, will be the root cause of ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat’ and not the upper caste Hindus, who remain in high places whether it is the Congress or the BJP.
What is direly needed today is a party with a clear conscience and a committed secular outlook and conduct too. A party unafraid to clearly state that it will repeal the draconian and unconstitutional laws passed by various state governments in the name of the cow. A party that respects human liberty and restores the fundamental rights of individuals of right to religion of their choice or of converting to another without coercion from the state. A party that will not allow fabricated history to be taught to impressionable minds in schools. A party that upholds the constitutional mandate of developing scientific temper in the country, instead of equating mythology with ostensible advances in science that our forefathers had the brilliance to achieve and practice, but somehow lacked the intelligence to preserve and pass it on to the next generations. A party that recognises that it is only an all-inclusive pluralistic approach that can keep India together as a nation. A party that is serious about bringing a uniform civil code as per good jurisprudence, rather than using it to interfere in the personal laws of Muslims. A party that provides equal status to women in all spheres of life.
Today there is no political party that can fulfill the above space. BJP is deeply committed to its regressive old agenda of winning principally through creating fear psychosis among the majority Hindus. Which, it must be admitted, it has done incredibly systematically and thoroughly.
The Congress has become a party without ideology. The only binding force among Congressmen is power. All other parties have survived by just being in the opposition for long durations. The Congress, though, now bereft of the lofty ideals it began with, crumbles whenever it sits in the opposition. Most of the states where Congress has survived in the opposition for long time are the ones where there is no third alternative be it Gujarat, MP, Rajasthan, HP, Uttarakhand or Chhattisgarh. To top it, it has developed cold feet in even offering the traditional lip service it used to for minorities, specially Muslims.
No other political group is strong enough at this time to take on the BJP at a pan-India level. The regional parties alone in many of the states will pose a challenge to BJP and fortunately, so far they are not shying away from enlisting the minorities’ support and talking about their safety, security, welfare and empowerment.
Muslim men don’t have to wear ‘democratic’ trousers and shirts to be accepted in elected and selected positions in the country. Muslim women don’t have to shed their burqas in fear of persecution and from fear of being called communal by historians. Sikhs don’t have to take their turbans away. Christians don’t have to hide their crosses. Hindus don’t have to remove or replace veshtis, sarees, pyjamas, salwars, chudidars, kurtas, angavastrams, shervanis, tilaks, vibhutis and bindis to be considered liberal. Secularism is about growing beyond the demand for everyone to look robotically uniform. It is about having the largeness of intellect and human consciousness to accept and celebrate diversity. As is the case in most other countries, if the minorities are allowed to live peacefully, India will remain peaceful.
(Nawed Akhter is a filmmaker and political analyst based in Gurgaon. Views in this article are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)