IN­SIDE THE MUS­LIM MIND ANGST & IN­SPI­RA­TION

NO TO VOTE BANK POL­I­TICS WANT GREATER OP­POR­TU­NI­TIES

India Today - - FRONT PAGE - By Ku­nal Prad­han and Kaushik Deka

The old-world charm of the sprawl­ing Aligarh Mus­lim Univer­sity, with wide roads and flo­ral di­viders, stands out from the rest of this over­crowded Ut­tar Pradesh city. A small li­brary on the sec­ond floor of the Fac­ulty of Arts has been con­verted into a makeshift class­room, in which post­grad­u­ate stu­dents are gen­tly milling in for a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence lec­ture. They are a cu­ri­ous mix. There’s a girl in a straw­berry-pink head­scarf. An­other is car­ry­ing a bub­blegum-pur­ple hand­bag. Two boys are wear­ing flashy Nike jack­ets and stone-washed jeans. This splash of colour is ac­cen­tu­ated by white kurta py­ja­mas and black burqas. Their lec­turer Ar­shi Khan steps in, wear­ing a sher­wani and a topi, to com­plete the sur­real sketch. Over the next two hours, the con­ver­sa­tion veers from po­lit­i­cal the­ory to po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity. They talk of fun­da­men­tal­ist Is­lam and the need to em­brace mod­ern ideas. They speak an­i­mat­edly about shared democ­racy but more som­brely about pos­si­ble voting pat­terns in the Gen­eral Elec­tions start­ing on April 7.

Mus­lims con­sti­tute 13.4 per cent of In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion. Apart from Jammu & Kash­mir, which is the only Mus­lim­ma­jor­ity state, their num­bers are par­tic­u­larly high in pock­ets of West Ben­gal, As­sam, Andhra Pradesh, Ut­tar Pradesh, Ker­ala and Bi­har. Forty-six of the 543 Lok Sabha con­stituen­cies have more than 30 per cent Mus­lims, and es­ti­mates sug­gest that the com­mu­nity can make a de­ci­sive im­pact on the out­comes of about 110 seats. A mass swing in any di­rec­tion can dra­mat­i­cally al­ter In­dia’s com­plex po­lit­i­cal arith­metic. Par­ties across the land are fall­ing over each other to of­fer them sops and prom­ise them greater par­tic­i­pa­tion. But there are only 30 Mus­lim MPs in the Lok Sabha, or 6 per cent of the House’s to­tal strength. As many as 20 states did not elect a sin­gle Mus­lim MP in 2009. And al­most half the 832 Mus­lim can­di­dates in the last Lok Sabha elec­tions were In­de­pen­dents.

Ar­shi Khan’s lec­ture room in Aligarh is a win­dow into the com­mu­nity’s con­fu­sion. “Not just se­cu­rity, free­dom and wel­fare, the im­pres­sion among Mus­lims is that their iden­tity it­self is un­der threat,” Khan tells IN­DIA TO­DAY. “There is a deficit in the power-shar­ing sys­tem. They feel a sense of be­wil­der­ment about who to vote for be­cause their vote doesn’t re­ally mat­ter. I some­times feel my stu­dents are pray­ing for a mir­a­cle.”

The In­dian Mus­lim is still so­cially, eco­nom­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally back­ward. The 2006 Sachar Com­mit­tee re­port re­vealed that 25 per cent of Mus­lim chil­dren in the 6-14 year age group have ei­ther never at­tended school or have dropped out; only 3.4 per cent of the to­tal grad­u­ates in In­dia are Mus­lims; only 13 per cent of Mus­lim work­ers are en­gaged in reg­u­lar jobs; and the over­all per­cent­age of Mus­lims in bu­reau­cracy in In­dia is just 2.5. In 2007, the Ran­ganath Misra Com­mis­sion sec­onded this view, find­ing that one-third Mus­lims live in kuchha houses with­out ba­sic fa­cil­i­ties such as drink­ing wa­ter and toi­lets. These num­bers, the lat­est avail­able, high­light a need for Mus­lims to be treated dif­fer­ently, and given a gen­uine boost, rather than hol­low as­sur­ances.

The sense of fore­bod­ing stretches across the land­scape: From As­sam to Ut­tar Pradesh to West Ben­gal and from Ma­ha­rash­tra to Andhra Pradesh to Ker­ala. As re­li­gious vi­o­lence in­creases and po­lit­i­cal par­ties fol­low an agenda of po­lar­i­sa­tion for elec­toral gains, the Mus­lim com­mu­nity feels hemmed in. It feels that its at­tire and its way of life are be­ing held against it. That it is sus­pected of be­ing anti-na­tional, dis­crim­i­nated against, and ex­ploited ev­ery elec­tion cy­cle as a vote bank no one cares about.

Con­cerns of marginal­i­sa­tion are be­ing voiced by Mus­lims in var­i­ous parts of the coun­try. A 22-year-old stu­dent from Kup­wara in Kash­mir, for ex­am­ple, talks about how he is scared

ev­ery time he en­ters a train be­cause he feels he will be sin­gled out in case of a crime. In Kis­hanganj, Bi­har, 36-yearold den­tal sur­geon Shadab Rehman was aghast when he found some neigh­bours were mak­ing dis­creet in­quiries about how he had paid for his new SUV, sug­gest­ing that he may have re­ceived ter­ror funds. In Meerut, 67 Kash­miri stu­dents of a lo­cal univer­sity were sus­pended for cheer­ing for Pak­istan dur­ing a cricket match against In­dia on March 2. In Mum­bai’s up­mar­ket Ban­dra area, Cap­tain Zainul Abidin Ju­vale, a Marathi Mus­lim lo­cal hero who saved the lives of 722 In­di­ans evac­u­ated from the first Gulf war in 1990, gave up his search for a flat in the lo­cal­ity. Most build­ings in the vicin­ity do not ad­mit Mus­lims. As the Sachar Com­mit­tee re­port put it, “Mus­lims carry a dou­ble bur­den of be­ing la­belled as ‘anti-na­tional’ and as be­ing ‘ap­peased’ at the same time.”

A ma­jor­ity of Mus­lims, there­fore, are torn be­tween or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the New Delhi-head­quar­tered Tab­lighi Ja­maat, which ad­vo­cates a re­li­gious resur­gence to fight against “de­te­ri­o­rat­ing val­ues” and “neg­li­gence of the tenets of Is­lam” as a way of pre­serv­ing their iden­tity, and more pro­gres­sive Mus­lim thinkers, such as the Luc­know­based Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, who call for ed­u­ca­tion and whole­some in­te­gra­tion to keep pace with the chang­ing re­al­i­ties. An­other frac­tion is swayed by ex­trem­ist groups.

“There is a dan­ger­ous game of cre­at­ing di­vi­sions be­ing played all around us,” says Sadiq, 74. “Un­for­tu­nately, Mus­lim cler­ics are adding to this by teach­ing people about com­mu­nal­ism and em­pha­sis­ing ar­chaic sym­bol­ism, rather than the true mean­ing of Is­lam. Ed­u­ca­tion and aware­ness are the only hope. If we’re caught up in prov­ing who is more ra­bid than the other, how can there be progress?” The sher­wa­niand-skull cap-wear­ing Sadiq, who is vice-pres­i­dent of the All In­dia Mus­lim Per­sonal Law Board, had re­cently ad­vo­cated that as­tro­nom­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions be used to de­ter­mine Eid, rather than hu­man sight­ings, which were ob­so­lete and of­ten in­ac­cu­rate. His sug­ges­tion raised the hack­les among the more con­ser­va­tive cler­ics.

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, the Kash­mir in­sur­gency, the Gulf war and the Babri Masjid ag­i­ta­tion co­in­cided to cre­ate a new politi­cised Mus­lim, to go along with the re­gional iden­tity cre­ated by the im­ple­men­ta­tion of reser­va­tion in govern­ment jobs as sug­gested by the Man­dal Com­mis­sion. This was not long af­ter the 1986 Shah Bano case, in which the Congress nul­li­fied a Supreme Court al­imony rul­ing, to ap­pease Mus­lims by up­hold­ing their Per­sonal Law.

Such fac­tors pro­pelled an Age of Dishar­mony, and the de­mo­li­tion of the mosque in 1992 was a huge dent to the Mus­lim psy­che in In­dia. “There was al­ways so­cial back­ward­ness and po­lit­i­cal ex­clu­sion, but raz­ing the mosque was a dent on Mus­lim iden­tity,” says Ar­shi Khan. “When people start feel­ing that their iden­tity is un­der threat, the le­gal se­cu­rity pro­vided by the Con­sti­tu­tion starts to feel ten­u­ous as well.”

This sit­u­a­tion of sus­pi­cion and fear was still fes­ter­ing when the Global War on Ter­ror fol­low­ing the 9/11 at­tacks in the US in 2001 in­ten­si­fied the ten­sion. In In­dia, the Gu­jarat ri­ots fol­lowed soon, deep­en­ing the in­jury, fur­ther push­ing Mus­lims into ghet­tos where their women and chil­dren were largely dis­con­nected from the world. Now, with the me­dia pro­jec­tion of Mus­lim ter­ror sus­pects, and by what is seen in A MA­JOR­ITY OF MUS­LIMS ARE TORN BE­TWEEN hard­line cler­ics and pro­gres­sive lead­ers who push for ed­u­ca­tion and in­te­gra­tion. In­dia as a vi­o­la­tion of the con­sti­tu­tional con­tract of se­cu­rity and equal­ity, the strings of at­tach­ment are get­ting weaker—be­tween Hin­dus and Mus­lims, and con­se­quently be­tween Mus­lims and the State. Sev­eral Mus­lims see the re­cent Muzaf­far­na­gar ri­ots and the rise of the con­tro­ver­sial Gu­jarat Chief Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi as the BJP’s prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date as fur­ther ev­i­dence of this changed re­la­tion­ship.

“How would a mi­nor­ity feel in a Mus­lim coun­try where a ra­bid Is­lamist is on the verge of com­ing to power? We feel the same way in In­dia when people speak of the Modi wave,” says a 23year-old as­pir­ing civil ser­vant from Ro­htas, Bi­har, who asks not to be named. But Maza­hir Mithi­bor­wala, a res­i­dent of Godhra in Gu­jarat, sums up the sense of frus­tra­tion when asked about Modi, whose govern­ment is blamed for not con­trol­ling the 2002 vi­o­lence in the city. “Un­for­tu­nately the choice be­fore Mus­lims is be­tween evil and lesser evil. Congress, too, never gave us de­vel­op­ment and used us as a vote bank,” he says. Not for him the re­cent photo-op with the Gu­jarat riot vic­tims and per­pe­tra­tors or the en­dorse­ment of Modi’s ‘de­vel­op­ment for all’ slo­gan by Mus­lim lead­ers.

In or­der to break vote banks, one dis­cus­sion rag­ing among Mus­lim schol­ars is that In­dia should re­peal its first­past-the-post ( FPTP) voting sys­tem and opt for pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion ( PR) in­stead. In FPTP, the elec­tion is won by the can­di­date re­ceiv­ing the high­est votes. If a can­di­date has polled 30,000 votes in a small con­stituency, he could still lose to a can­di­date who has polled 30,001. The crit­i­cism of this sys­tem is that it forces vot­ers to pre­dict who is most likely to win, even if they would pre­fer an­other can­di­date, be­cause a vote for any other can­di­date will be “wasted”. Sev­eral an­a­lysts con­sider this a rel­a­tively flawed sys­tem when there are more than two par­ties at play.

In the PR sys­tem, on the other hand, the num­ber of seats won by a party is pro­por­tional to the num­ber of votes re­ceived. So, for ex­am­ple, if 30 per cent of vot­ers sup­port a par­tic­u­lar party then roughly 30 per cent of seats will be won by that party. Mus­lim schol­ars in In­dia, such as Ar­shi Khan, feel that this would break the cur­rent sys­tem where their com­mu­nity is rep­re­sented poorly in city coun­cils, state As­sem­blies and in Par­lia­ment. As­sam has a 30.9 per cent Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion but only 2 of its 14 MPs are Mus­lims. Ut­tar Pradesh has an 18.5 per cent Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion but only 7 of 80 are Mus­lim MPs. And Kar­nataka, which has 12.23 per cent Mus­lims, doesn’t have a sin­gle Mus­lim MP. The PR sys­tem is used in sev­eral Euro­pean and South Amer­i­can na­tions, in­clud­ing Brazil, Ar­gentina, Ger­many, the Nether­lands and Rus­sia.

The fear of their vote be­ing wasted is prompt­ing sev­eral young Mus­lims to say they will not par­tic­i­pate in the elec­toral process be­cause their can­di­dates do not get elected any­way. But older

thinkers, such as Kalbe Sadiq, are un­cer­tain. “It’s a strange co­nun­drum,” he says. “If you vote, some­one you do not sup­port will come to power. If you don’t, you are re­mov­ing yourself from the en­tire process, which could be even worse for our com­mu­nity.” Sup­port­ers of FPTP, how­ever, point out that it is the sys­tem in sev­eral ma­jor democ­ra­cies, in­clud­ing the US and UK, and that a sim­ple plu­ral­ity is the only lo­gis­ti­cal mech­a­nism for a coun­try as large as In­dia where the next elec­tion will have an es­ti­mated 814 mil­lion vot­ers.

So in a sit­u­a­tion where they have to pick from what is avail­able, the burn­ing ques­tion is which way the Mus­lim com­mu­nity will swing. Thirty-six per cent of all Mus­lims had voted for Congress in 2009 as op­posed to only 3 per cent for BJP, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Elec­tion Study 2009 done by Cen­tre for the Study of De­vel­op­ing So­ci­eties. But the flurry of sops be­ing of­fered to them comes from a wide po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, stretch­ing from the Hindu na­tion­al­ist BJP, which re­mains the party they are least likely to sup­port, to the Sa­ma­jwadi Party, which has been at the re­ceiv­ing end of se­vere crit­i­cism from Mus­lims for its han­dling of the 2013 Muzaf­far­na­gar ri­ots.

In Fe­bru­ary, BJP Pres­i­dent Ra­j­nath Singh said that the party was ready to apol­o­gise to Mus­lims for past mis­takes, hint­ing at a pos­si­ble apol­ogy from Can­di­date Modi for the Gu­jarat ri­ots. Modi, on his part, praised the en­trepreneur­ship of Mus­lim youth and women at a con­clave or­gan­ised by Mus­lim busi­ness­men in Ahmed­abad on Fe­bru­ary 7. The UPA Govern­ment has of­fered reser­va­tions in govern­ment jobs for Gu­jarat riot vic­tims for a five-year pe­riod and set up the Equal Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion to check dis­crim­i­na­tion of mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties in jobs, ed­u­ca­tion and hous­ing. But the Congress suf­fered a huge set­back when it failed to ta­ble the Com­mu­nal Vi­o­lence Bill in Par­lia­ment.

Over in Ut­tar Pradesh, SP and BSP are locked in a tus­sle for Mus­lim votes. Though SP has tra­di­tion­ally en­joyed greater sup­port from the com­mu­nity, BSP is sens­ing an op­por­tu­nity. “Only BSP can give an equal share in power to the

Mus­lims,” party chief Mayawati said in a rally at Luc­know. Akhilesh Ya­dav, mean­while, is con­fi­dent that the com­mu­nity, though an­gry at the mo­ment, will even­tu­ally side with SP. “We have a long-stand­ing re­la­tion­ship. We have ad­dressed all their is­sues raised af­ter the Muzaf­far­na­gar ri­ots,” he says. “This is Ne­taji’s party. Our Mus­lim broth­ers will al­ways be a part of it.” SP got 30 per cent of the Mus­lim vote in the state in 2009, a drop of 17 per­cent­age points from 2004, but still com­fort­ably ahead of the 18 per cent Mus­lim vote share that went to BSP.

In West Ben­gal, Chief Min­is­ter Ma­mata Ban­er­jee has been mak­ing a se­ries of sym­bolic ges­tures. On March 5, she an­nounced that seven of her 42 MP can­di­dates, or 17 per cent, would be Mus­lims. She de­clined to meet US Am­bas­sador Nancy Pow­ell in Kolkata, af­ter sev­eral Mus­lim lead­ers protested. A TV show based on a story by Taslima Nas­reen was taken off by a Bangla chan­nel in De­cem­ber last year. And Sa­tanic Verses au­thor Sal­man Rushdie was not al­lowed to visit the Kolkata Book Fair in Fe­bru­ary 2013.

As this po­lit­i­cal ping-pong continues, Mus­lims find them­selves at the cen­tre of at­ten­tion once again. Un­sure of whom to be­lieve, un­cer­tain who is telling the truth, afraid of be­ing tar­geted by a pos­si­bly hos­tile govern­ment, and ner­vous that they will be ig­nored un­til the next polls come around.

In­side the lay­ers of the pol­i­tics of di­vi­sion lie muf­fled voices that need to be heard, and re­pressed sen­ti­ments that are beg­ging to be ac­knowl­edged. Only then will the so­cial in­di­ca­tors start telling a dif­fer­ent story. Only then will the fences of “us” and “them” be up­rooted for growth for “all”. Only then will the idea of a mod­ern, vi­brant, sec­u­lar In­dia gen­uinely hold true.

Pho­to­graph by VIKRAM SHARMA

Pho­to­graph by PANKAJ NAN­GIA

MAN­MO­HAN SINGH, SO­NIA GANDHI AND RAHULGANDHI IN­TER­ACTWITH RIOT VIC­TIMS ATARELIEF CAMPATBASSI KALAN IN MUZAF­FAR­NA­GAR

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