Ap­pease Be Upon Them

Three big up­com­ing assem­bly polls can be seen as ‘25%-plus Mus­lim elec­tions’

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Out­side of Lak­shad­weep and Kash­mir, the per­cent­age of Mus­lims is highest in As­sam (34%), fol­lowed by West Ben­gal and Ker­ala (both 26%). The up­com­ing assem­bly polls can, there­fore, be called the ‘25%-plus Mus­lim elec­tion’ in a polity where there is both mo­bil­i­sa­tion against the na­tion’s sec­ond-largest re­li­gion-based com­mu­nity even as there are Mus­lim blocs in par­tic­u­lar ge­o­graph­i­cal zones.

Two of these zones are spe­cific Mus­lim-based par­ties: the In­dian Union Mus­lim League (IUML) in Ker­ala and the All In­dia United Demo­cratic Front (AIUDF) in As­sam. What is hap­pen­ing in As­sam is pos­si­bly the most in­trigu­ing. The sup­port for the AIUDF led by busi­ness­man-cleric-politi­cian Badrud­din Aj­mal is be­ing ques­tioned and greater num­bers of Ben­gali Mus­lims seem in­clined to­ward the Congress.

Aj­mal can be de­scribed as ar­guably the most suc­cess­ful prod­uct of the Deoband sem­i­nary in In­dian pol­i­tics. What­ever he may or may not do for his elec­torate, he fits into a cer­tain stereo­type of the Mus­lim leader.

Which makes a re­think­ing in a sec­tion of his elec­torate in­ter­est­ing. It partly comes from the cal­cu­la­tion that his ar­tic­u­la­tions are po­lar­is­ing in an elec­tion where the BJP is a ris­ing force, mak­ing it more sen­si­ble for many to vote Congress.

It’s also worth not­ing that the BJP has put up as many as nine Mus­lim can­di­dates in As­sam. None of them is a likely win­ner, but the sym­bol­ism is com­pelling: sup­port­ing ‘in­dige­nous’ Mus­lims against mi­grants. Given the com­plex ma­trix of As­sam, that in it­self is not a ‘com­mu­nal’ po­si­tion. The nu­ances are very dif­fer­ent in the state where a distinc­tion must be made be­tween As­samese Mus­lims and Ben­gali Mus­lims. The lat­ter are over­whelm­ingly poor.

God’s Own State

In Ker­ala, the IUML has for decades had ma­jor­ity con­trol over one of the rich­est Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties in In­dia in the Mal­abar re­gion. The way things have panned out, that means Mus­lims are ac­tu­ally rep­re­sented in the state assem­bly, where 33 MLAs of the cur­rent 140 are from the com­mu­nity, 20 be­ing from the IUML.

Com­pare that with the na­tional fig­ure: Mus­lims make up 14.5% of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion but have 4.4% rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the cur­rent Lok Sabha. In this elec­tion, the IUML will mostly hold its bases. But the as­cen­dant Left Front would get a sec­tion of Mus­lim votes in Tirur and Pon­nani.

Yet, it can also be said that in Ker­ala and West Ben­gal, the two states where the Left is a player, Mus­lims could be more in­clined to­wards the ‘al­ter­na­tive force’. Some would, of course, vote for the com­mu­nists, but most would not.

Down the decades, the Congress and var­i­ous re­gional par­ties have de­lib­er­ately and in­ad­ver­tently propped up the con­ser­va­tive forces in the Mus­lim com­mu­nity. In a cli­mate where the com­mu­nity feels threat­ened, or­di­nary peo­ple seek­ing phys­i­cal pro­tec­tion gets en­meshed with the goals of those who also seek pro­tec­tion for a dis­tinct re­li­gious iden­tity.

Siva Dattu

If vot­ers think they can get devel­op­ment by vot­ing for the mem­bers of their own caste, In­dia should have been No. 1 in devel­op­ment. Hope the un­con­scious mis­take will not be com­mit­ted again and again.

Munna M

Be it the Congress’ po­si­tion on per­sonal laws or Ma­mata Ban­er­jee an­nounc­ing a monthly stipend for imams, it’s ba­si­cally pan­der­ing to, and le­git­imis­ing, such fig­ures as the many ‘sole spokesman’ of a com­mu­nity. In­deed, there al­most seems to be a con­sen­sus among all sec­u­lar par­ties that moder­nity for In­dian Mus­lims is sim­ply not on the ta­ble.

So, it’s a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion of the ar­gu­ment to sug­gest that ‘god­less com­mu­nists’ can’t re­late to the na­tion’s largest mi­nor­ity com­mu­nity for whom re­li­gious iden­tity, along with the sym­bol­ism of skull caps and chad­dars, is what pol­i­tics has be­come.

Yet, gen­er­al­i­sa­tions about such a large and di­verse com­mu­nity can be risky. For in­stance, the IUML and other forces that claim to speak for Ker­ala’s Mus­lims are so­cially con­ser­va­tive. But the state has clocked up im­pres­sive fig­ures for ed­u­ca­tion among Mus­lim women, who have been known to per­form bet­ter than men of all com­mu­ni­ties in some exams.

In West Ben­gal again, we re­turn to an over­whelm­ingly poor and back­ward pro­file of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity. Like most other res­i­dents of the state, for decades, Mus­lims voted for the Left with a size­able chunk pre­fer­ring the Congress. The Left can be cred­ited with main­tain­ing com­mu­nal peace in the state even as they should con­cede fail­ure in de­liv­er­ing on bi­jlisadak-paani-school-hospital.

Didi Did It

To its credit, the pre­vi­ous CPI(M)-led Left Front gov­ern­ment did not pan­der to the mul­lah brigade in the man­ner in which the cur­rent gov­ern­ment has, some­thing that will have con­se­quences in the fu­ture. But in the im­me­di­ate present, Ma­mata Ban­er­jee can be as­sured of more Mus­lim sup­port than the Left had in its twi­light years in power.

That is one voter bloc most en­thu­si­as­tic about Didi con­tin­u­ing in power. But that’s al­ways how the polls go down in all parts of In­dia: ev­ery voter in pretty much ev­ery com­mu­nity is also search­ing for the win­ner.

There, I’m wear­ing a skull cap, peo­ple!

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