New stage of Muslim Disempowerment by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam June 24, 2019

One of the less examined and analysed aspects of the recent Lok Sabha elections is the stark fact that the old dream of the Sangh to do politics without Indian Muslims has been fully realised. BJP has won an absolute majority in Lok Sabha, the House of People, without fielding a single Muslim candidate. Even though 27 Muslim members of Lok Sabha have been elected from non-ruling parties the fact remains that Muslims have effectively been sidelined from power and rendered politically irrelevant.

Democracy is about people’s representation in law-making and policy decisions regarding their well-being and participation in governance. It is a strange site that about 15 per cent people of the country (the size of India’s Muslim population) have been just ignored by the ruling party. In a situation of such sweeping disempowerment of such a huge population (the third largest Muslim population in the world) the reassurance doled out to minorities–almost as an afterthought–by the Prime Minister does not cut much ice.

He added to his last term’s slogan sabka vishwas (everyone’s trust). The last slogan was Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas (everyone’s involvement, everyone’s progress). Adept at making such rhyming slogans, the PM seemed to be addressing the international press (which had been featuring reports and analyses of India’s slide into chaos and anti-minorities hysteria) than the hapless religious minorities, Dalits and tribals of India. The fact that even while the PM was reassuring the minorities, lynching and assorted violence was going on against them. This made the rhymed reassurance sound hollow.

The point for all of us to consider is, if we have no representation in the corridors of power, how can we make our voice heard by the government of the day? The carefully-crafted exclusion ensures that there is not much recourse left to us. Also, what kind of a democracy is that 15 per cent of the demo (an entire faith community) is left out of the cracy?

This reminds me of the ingenious reply of a devious Muslim politician who has gone through all major parties, including BJP, to a journalist’s question. Today, he is not part of any party, but looks with hope at BJP. In a recent interview, as he was constantly taking pro-BJP position and closing his eyes to the spate of lynchings and anti-Muslim hysteria, the journalist asked him why BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate. He said that Muslims did not have “winnability”, or something to the effect. He could have taken care to explain why did Muslim not have “winnability”.

The fact remains that in the poisoned environment only Hindu candidates of BJP would win. It was clear. BJP and its Sangh affiliates had been reportedly showing video cassettes which portrayed all rapists (the victims being young Hindu women) as Muslims. They also showed videos of Muslims ruthlessly slaughtering gow mata (mother cow). This and other assorted venomous propaganda material set the Hindu blood on the boil. As if that was not enough to curdle Hindu-Muslim relations and polarise them they showed clips of a Deen Bachao (save religion) rally organised by a Muslim grandee on the orders of powers that be.

BJP workers and Sangh volunteers told Hindus that if hundreds of thousands of Muslims across caste lines could unite to save their religion why could not Hindus also unite across caste lines to save Hinduism? Anybody can see that in such an environment created by BJP-Sangh no Muslim will have winnability. After all, the stage was set against them only.

The Election Commission, charged by the Constitution to conduct elections impartially, did not turn out to be true to its constitutionally mandated responsibilities. As if to complete the picture with an additional stroke of intimidation of Muslims with clear threats of a civil war there were reports thousands of swords being distributed in Bihar (like in Gujarat 2002).

Large swaths of the country where BJP has won have been poisoned with anti-Muslim hate that will not go away for years. In an environment like that how can the PM win the vishwas of the minorities who have been so consistently demonized, vilified and othered over weeks of intense propaganda at such astronomical expense? Is the PM really serious about the vishwas slogan?

The atmosphere has been so deeply poisoned that when the PM announced some progressive steps like madrasa modernisation (an idea already formulated by UPA government) Modi bhaktas bitterly castigated him for “appeasement”. Another bhakta asked on social media, if Modi had become a Muslim from within why did not he get himself circumcised?

The PM finds himself facing a high wall of blind anti-Muslim hate, which is largely his own creation. Any reassurance to minorities coming from him should be seen realistically in that light.

Muslims have to sit together and think what they can do about their political exclusion and disempowerment. Many of us readily think of proportional representation that will theoretically give us over 70 seats in Lok Sabha. But we will never get it, because powerful caste groups with much smaller population bases than Muslims, have considerably larger representation than their numbers warrant. They will never allow it.

How else do we address the issue of anti-Muslim hate mongering and falling Muslim representation in our democracy? Let us sit together, join our heads and think over it. We at the Institute of Objective Studies have done valuable work on representation in the past, often led by the late Prof. Iqbal Ahmad Ansari. Let us revive the effort in earnest.

As far as the present scenario is concerned the entire left, liberal, centre and left-of-centre has been blown away by the hate storm, which was particularly focused on Muslims. It will take time for the progressive, integrative forces to regain the lost ground. Meanwhile, we should not stop working to improve our own, and other sections’ situation.

(To be continued)

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