Getting the Wrong Signal (May 21, 2011)

News Analysis

Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam on the meaning of Assam and Kerala assembly poll results.

Over the last few days we have witnessed something of a storm in a tea cup over the assumed meaning of Assam and Kerala assembly election results. To some, who like to jump to conclusions, it is a matter of “great concern” because it allegedly shows a drift towards Muslim communalism.

One commentator goes right back across six and a half decades to the days of Partition to make his point about a putative drift towards Muslim communalism.

In his eagerness to blame Muslims, he has forgotten the massive drift towards “Hindu communalism” (if we can call it that) since 1989, especially after 1992 when a string of BJP or BJP-led governments have ruled some of the states and the Centre.

If a couple of extra seats for Muslim League in Kerala Assembly and a total of 18 seats for AIDUF means Muslim drift towards communalism then how do we explain BJP and NDA rule for so long? Is that Hindu communalism? But no mention has been made of this. Such talk is “fantastic nonsense”, to use a Nehruvian expression.

Instead, what has happened is entirely different. It is a response to the continuous marginalisation of Indian Muslims in politics and their falling representation in assemblies and Parliament.

This is nothing more than the Maharashtra Dalits trying to combat political disempowerment by forming Republican Party, UP Dalits forming BSP, Bihar and UP Yadavs having SP and RJD. All of them have members from social and caste groups other than their core caste.

It is a means of consolidation rather than communal or sectarian politics. We must remember that all these parties are conducted with a clear commitment to the Constitution. Such commitment is not going to come from BJP or AVBP as they are under the thumb of RSS, whose commitment to secularism has always been doubtful.

As it stands today, Muslim representation in legislatures is extremely low compared to their representation in population. They have been able to get a few extra seats in Kerala and Assam, not because they have resorted to some malpractice, but simply because they have played their cards well.

One must remember that Kerala and Assam are not the only states where Muslims live. Despite every imaginable atrocity committed against them, they have consistently voted for secular parties. A Trinamool victory would not have been possible without them in West Bengal nor an NDA victory in Bihar could be imagined.

However, we must remember that like other social and religious groups in India they are constitutionally free to vote whosoever they like.

After all, we have parties like Akali Dal and Asom Gano Parishad which have ruled Punjab and Assam with their clearly ethnic identity and programme. DMK, AIDMK, SP, BSP, RJD and JDU – all have their core support group and their caste-based agenda. Above all, we have BJP with a clearly visible Hindutva agenda with an anti-Muslim, anti-Christian edge.

Instead of launching a blame game, we should begin to address the issue by stopping gerrymandering (reserving areas of Muslim-concentration for SCs-STs and redrawing the boundaries of constituencies with Muslim concentration to dilute their voting strength) and other tactics to politically marginalise Muslims. Secular parties have also to ensure that Muslim presence in legislatures reflects their numbers in the population.

These steps, not blame game, would help us create a secular climate.


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