FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
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.
OUR AUGUST 2006 COVER