India Today - - FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF - (Aroon Purie)

The forth­com­ing Lok Sabha elec­tions, which will run over nine gru­elling phases from April 7, will be his­toric for sev­eral rea­sons. This will be the first time a large num­ber of vot­ers, born af­ter the Babri Masjid de­mo­li­tion in 1992 and still young when Gu­jarat burned in 2002, will ex­er­cise their fran­chise. These young men and women, who have no di­rect bag­gage of the events that have di­vided the coun­try for over two decades, should ideally have a world of choices in front of them.

But the ground re­al­ity is that po­lit­i­cal par­ties have used the pol­icy of di­vide and rule to fur­ther widen the gap be­tween Hin­dus and Mus­lims for their own po­lit­i­cal gains, trap­ping In­dia’s two big­gest re­li­gious groups into po­lit­i­cal straight­jack­ets. By promis­ing a pol­i­tics of ap­pease­ment to Mus­lims, these par­ties have cre­ated a wedge be­tween the com­mu­ni­ties while giv­ing no real ben­e­fits to the mi­nor­ity com­mu­nity they claim to up­lift. De­spite years of prom­ises, In­dian Mus­lims still have fewer jobs, less money, and worse ed­u­ca­tion than any other re­li­gious group in the coun­try.

The com­mon Mus­lims have usu­ally been of­fered two choices—sops and as­sur­ances by politi­cians who want to use them as a vote bank or the ghetto men­tal­ity of their own lead­ers who want to alien­ate them from the rest of the coun­try so that they can con­trol them. In­stead of dis­solv­ing with the pas­sage of time, the phys­i­cal di­vide be­tween Hindu and Mus­lim lo­cal­i­ties is get­ting more pro­nounced, even in met­ros such as Delhi, Mum­bai and Kolkata.

I am of­ten asked how In­dia can sur­vive all the chaos that lies within it—the par­a­lytic govern­ment, the cor­rup­tion, the crony cap­i­tal­ism, the eco­nomic di­vide. My re­ply is that this seem­ing chaos is In­dia’s bois­ter­ous democ­racy at work. In­dia’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is rock solid in spite of decades of pun­ish­ment by some di­a­bol­i­cal politi­cians. In­dia has not fallen apart as pre­dicted by many doom­say­ers. We’ve never had a coup, like all our neigh­bours have, since the repub­lic was formed 63 years ago. We had the Emer­gency for 21 months but that was an aber­ra­tion. I be­lieve the big­gest dan­ger to this coun­try is the pos­si­bil­ity of sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence. If 190 mil­lion are at odds with the state, the very idea of In­dia will be un­der threat.

Our cover story, writ­ten by Deputy Edi­tor Ku­nal Prad­han and As­so­ciate Edi­tor Kaushik Deka, delves into the Mus­lim mind ahead of the elec­tions. A cross-sec­tion of Mus­lims talks about their fears, sus­pi­cions, and frus­tra­tion at be­ing treated as a vote bank. Many pro­gres­sive cler­ics and schol­ars ac­cept that the com­mu­nity must em­brace mod­ern ed­u­ca­tion, and get bet­ter in­te­grated with the rest of the coun­try, in or­der to keep pace with a chang­ing world.

Our pack­age in­cludes spe­cial re­ports on the Mus­lim com­mu­nity from key ar­eas to high­light their as­pi­ra­tions in lo­ca­tions across the coun­try. It con­nects us to a range of Mus­lim voices that are ea­ger to break out of the mould. “I don’t care what hap­pens to Babri Masjid. All I need is that when I go to a govern­ment of­fice, I must get my work done quickly and with­out pay­ing a bribe,” says a 55-year-old teacher from As­sam. “The politi­cians cre­ate a bo­gey of vic­tim­hood. If you be­have like a vic­tim, you will be treated like one,” says a woman post grad­u­ate stu­dent from Hy­der­abad.

The Mus­lim com­mu­nity wants the same ameni­ties and the same op­por­tu­ni­ties as the rest of the coun­try but has been held back due to vested in­ter­ests. It now seems that they can no longer be taken for granted by vote-hun­gry politi­cians and re­li­gious hard­lin­ers. There are signs that Mus­lims are grad­u­ally free­ing them­selves from their clutches and join­ing the main­stream. When that hap­pens to­tally, In­dia would have truly ar­rived.


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