POLITICS OFTHE USEFUL OTHER
They are still different, and even after more than six decades of freedom and all the platitudinous bunkum about the equal nation, they are beyond the mainstream, marked forever as the “useful” community. Now that we have a historical election at hand, their usefulness has of course multiplied, as you might have already gauged from the fever pitch of the campaign. The Muslims, whenever they appear in the stump speeches of the main protagonists in the battle for India, are an item so fragile that it requires delicate handling. Rahul Gandhi said at a rally that he was told by an intelligence officer that some Muslim victims of Muzaffarnagar were contacted by That was news, and Rahul proved to be better than your average investigative journalist. In that piece of explosive information lies the reaffirmation of a stereotype: The brutalised Indian Muslim is a Pakistani cause. It tells more: India has consistently failed the Muslims (who are called “Indian Muslims” though we hardly hear about Indian Hindus or Indian Christians or Indian Sikhs), and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is historically bound to take care of them. So, even if it was wonderful to see Rahul breaking news, the news itself was not all that new. The angry Muslim youth who lives outside the Indian story of growth and glitz is an easy recruit for ISI— haven’t we heard this before?
It was a variation of this stereotype that Narendra Modi played out when he said that Muslims and Hindus should fight together against poverty, the common enemy. What he didn’t say was: They are so incompatible that they are only capable of fighting against each other. This makeover line from Modi too tells more: The ghettoised Muslims have all along been waging someone else’s war, and their patriotism is suspect, and now, even at this belated hour, they have the chance to battle for their own betterment. Both Rahul and Modi are feasting on stereotypes, and both are trying not to be weighed down by their political inheritance. The Congress Rahul is still struggling to inherit has secularism as its core. In its original Nehruvian version, religion was a bad word in politics; it was detrimental to the creation of the scientifically tempered New Man. For the Congress after Nehru, secularism needed a victim, a useful victim. The Muslim fitted the bill. In retrospect, the successive Congress governments’ policy of appeasement has only contributed to the politics of alienation. The healing hand of secularism needs the wounded Muslim. The Muslim leadership and the Congress secularists made the wound deeper. Rahul’s healing touch has a hoary history.
For Modi, now that he has become the transformative figure of Indian politics, a rewriting of the back story is necessary for building a bestselling future. The past is steeped in an overwhelming narrative of Hindu exceptionalism. Before the cult of the development man, there was the raging Hindu nationalist whose worldview was defined by the and when Gujarat burned in 2002, it was the latter who was in charge. Modi 2013 has already made Modi 2002 redundant. Modi of the moment wants to make the legend of the unifier the motif of General Elections 2014. So he says: Indians want more toilets, not temples, and Hindus and Muslims are not made for killing each other but for the nobler cause of development. Well, Muslims need to be told about that; they are different. Clerics in Lucknow and Deoband have put this difference on the negotiation table. Socialist-secularists in Patna and elsewhere, masters of the politics of fear, continue to harvest this difference. The Muslims deserve to be more than a useful item in the slogans of redeemers from politics as well as religion.
They are not different.
MUSLIMS, WHENEVER THEY APPEAR IN THE STUMP SPEECHES OF THE MAIN PROTAGONISTS IN THE BATTLE FOR INDIA, ARE AN ITEM SO FRAGILE THAT IT REQUIRES DELICATE HANDLING. BOTH RAHULAND MODI ARE FEASTING ON STEREOTYPES, AND BOTH ARE TRYING NOT TO BE WEIGHED DOWN BY THEIR POLITICAL INHERITANCE.