The Mus­lim Ques­tion

The 16th In­dian Lok Sabha has the low­est num­ber of Mus­lim MPs ever. What does this sig­nify for the future of In­dian Mus­lims?

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Ta­hera Sa­jid

Will the BJP gov­ern­ment suc­ceed in re­peal­ing Ar­ti­cle 370?

An ex­er­cise con­ducted ev­ery five years, the In­dian gen­eral elec­tions were held in nine phases from April 7 to May 12, 2014, to elect the 16th Lok Sabha from 543 par­lia­men­tary con­stituen­cies of the 28 In­dian states. In a coun­try of 1.237 bil­lion, 814.5 mil­lion peo­ple were el­i­gi­ble to vote, mak­ing this the big­gest-ever elec­tions in the world.

The re­sults were his­toric in many ways. The two ma­jor po­lit­i­cal forces in the con­test were the Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the United Progressive Al­liance led by the In­dian Na­tional Congress. While the NDA won a to­tal of 336 seats in a house of 543, the BJP won 282 – or 51.9 per­cent. This clear ma­jor­ity al­lowed the BJP to form its gov­ern­ment with­out sup­port from other par­ties. The UPA won 58 seats, of which the Congress won 44 (8.1 per­cent), fac­ing the worst po­lit­i­cal de­feat ever in a gen­eral elec­tion.

This clear man­date for the BJP is un­prece­dented and, on face value, shows the voter’s con­fi­dence be­hind the po­lit­i­cal force or the dogma rep­re­sented by a party known for its na­tion­al­ist agenda. Many crit­ics con­sider the mea­ger rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Mus­lims in the Lok Sabha at 4.2 per­cent (23 out of 543) to be a blow to in­clu­sive­ness, es­pe­cially when seen in the con­text of the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion rep­re­sen­ta­tion in In­dia – 13.4 per­cent. This stands out even more in states like Ut­tar Pardesh where the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion is more than 18.5 per­cent, and which has elected 45 Mus­lim MPs to the Lok Sabha since in­de­pen­dence but has of­fered no Mus­lim can­di­date this time. The 23 Mus­lim MPs be­long to eight states and 11 par­ties and of­fer a scat­tered and di­luted pres­ence at best for In­dia’s largest mi­nor­ity com­mu­nity. As Christophe Jaf­fer­lot ob­served in The In­dian Ex­press, this sit­u­a­tion “will not help them to build a co­he­sive pres­ence in the House nor to weigh much within their own par­ties.” Even the in­duc­tion of Na­jma A. Hep­tulla, the lone Mus­lim in Modi’s cabi­net, who holds the port­fo­lio of Min­is­ter for Mi­nor­ity Af­fairs, is seen as more of cos­metic than func­tional value. What does such a sweep­ing vic­tory of a Hindu na­tion­al­ist party say about In­dia’s plu­ral­ism and sec­u­lar­ism? More im­por­tantly, what does this vic­tory pre­dict for the future of In­dian Mus­lims?

There are two strong opin­ion camps on this is­sue. The first is of those

Mus­lims who fear and fore­see fur­ther marginal­iza­tion, un­fair so­cial treat­ment and hin­dered so­cial devel­op­ment, threat to life and prop­erty, pass­ing of con­tentious and con­tro­ver­sial laws and se­lec­tive ap­pli­ca­tion of jus­tice in cases of com­mu­nal vi­o­lence.

The sec­ond camp be­lieves that while the po­lar­iza­tion of Mus­lim and non-Mus­lim vot­ers due to ri­ots af­fected vot­ing trends in ar­eas like western UP, an­other ma­jor rea­son is the dis­ap­point­ment of In­dian Mus­lims with the Congress’s fraud­u­lent sec­u­lar­ism based on ‘all talk and lit­tle ac­tion’. Syed Ubaidur Rah­man, the au­thor of Un­der­stand­ing the Mus­lim Lead­er­ship in In­dia, sup­ports this idea, “The av­er­age Mus­lim's re­frain is the same as that of the 'aam aadmi', that the Congress lost be­cause of ris­ing food prices and cor­rup­tion.”

For decades, the Congress promised jobs and ed­u­ca­tional quo­tas to Mus­lims but failed to de­liver on its prom­ises. So­cial in­di­ca­tors place Mus­lims as per­form­ing so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally be­low na­tional av­er­ages, even when rec­og­nized as ed­u­ca­tion­ally, eco­nom­i­cally and so­cially dis­ad­van­taged un­der Other Back­ward Class (OBCs) by the In­dian Con­sti­tu­tion, and deemed el­i­gi­ble for tar­geted up­lift­ing schemes. They con­tinue to have the low­est literacy rates among all mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties in the coun­try, at 67.6 per­cent in 2012, as against the na­tional rate of 74 per­cent. They also re­main un­der-rep­re­sented in busi­ness and the pro­fes­sions, such as medicine and law, etc.

Mus­lims of In­dian ori­gin liv­ing over­seas largely sup­port the same nar­ra­tive. Hamida Hi­rani, an In­dian Mus­lim liv­ing in the U.S., has called the vote "less pro-Modi and more an­tiCongress". She em­pha­sizes that “the Congress party has not de­liv­ered on prom­ises it made un­der the ban­ner of sec­u­lar­ism and the con­di­tion of Mus­lims has not im­proved de­spite decades of Congress rule. Things might get worse be­fore they get bet­ter but since Modi is a known hard­liner, his poli­cies and ac­tions will be un­der more scru­tiny and that might help Mus­lims in the long run. Peo­ple are des­per­ate for change.”

Modi has been widely con­demned for the 2002 Gujarat mas­sacre of Mus­lims and was not al­lowed to en­ter the U.S. and the U.K. for years. How­ever, the suc­cess of his economic poli­cies in Gujarat is also a well-ac­knowl­edged fact. The vot­ing trend in ar­eas where Mus­lims are a sub­stan­tial part of the pop­u­la­tion has shown that many young peo­ple are des­per­ate for economic op­por­tu­nity and seem will­ing to over­look the BJP’s anti-Mus­lim his­tory to fo­cus on Modi’s strengths in gover­nance and devel­op­ment. In choos­ing the BJP, they are sim­ply re­ject­ing economic de­pri­va­tion to wel­come economic pros­per­ity. The anal­y­sis by Si­mon Denyer in the Wash­ing­ton Post also sup­ports this mindset: “The prom­ise of Mr. Modi and the rea­son for his wide lead in the polls is clear: a tough, prac­ti­cal and cor­rup­tion-free record of economic man­age­ment, though he never apol­o­gized for the mas­sacre of 2002. As chief min­is­ter of the Gujarat state, Mr. Modi has over­seen growth av­er­ag­ing 10 per­cent a year over the past decade, sig­nif­i­cantly higher than for the coun­try as a whole.”

Modi also ap­pears to be ris­ing to the oc­ca­sion and adapt­ing to the role of a na­tional leader. Dr. Syed Zafar Mah­mood, Pres­i­dent of the Za­kat Foun­da­tion of In­dia, has writ­ten about Modi’s de­sire to of­fer “in­clu­sive growth op­por­tu­ni­ties” to Mus­lims, quot­ing Modi’s re­marks at the joint ses­sion of the par­lia­ment in his write-up. “We will have to un­der­take fo­cused ac­tiv­ity and ini­ti­ate spe­cial pur­pose schemes. I do not con­sider such schemes as ap­pease­ment; rather I see th­ese as an in­stru­ment of ame­lio­rat­ing the life of Mus­lim com­mu­nity," he wrote.

How­ever, Dr. Mah­mood has also cau­tioned that words must be fol­lowed by ac­tion. He points out that con­trary to the BJP’s man­i­festo which prom­ises to en­sure a peace­ful and se­cure en­vi­ron­ment where there is no place for ei­ther the per­pe­tra­tors or ex­ploiters of fear, the BJP gov­ern­ment has not taken effective ac­tion on the re­cent mur­der of Pune res­i­dent Mohsin Shaikh or the Muzaf­far­na­gar ri­ots. The per­pe­tra­tors of the ri­ots con­tinue to threaten and ha­rass Mus­lims while the de­feated BJP can­di­date Naresh Tikait even went so far as to de­clare that the ri­ots “were a trailer; we can even throw you (pre­sum­ably Mus­lims) out of the coun­try.”

In con­clu­sion, al­though In­dia is a na­tion com­posed of many di­verse eth­nic and re­li­gious groups, with their own com­plex group dy­nam­ics, one thing com­mon to all is their as­pi­ra­tion for a bet­ter life. Hence, in the elec­tions, In­dian Mus­lims ap­pear to have dis­re­garded re­li­gious af­fil­i­a­tion of can­di­dates, re­jected po­lit­i­cal op­por­tunism of false sec­u­lar­ism and opted for change. It is now up to the BJP to prove it­self wor­thy of their trust. As prime min­is­ter, Modi must honor his role as a na­tional leader and de­liver on his prom­ise of devel­op­ment for all, dis­card­ing the man­tle of a na­tion­al­ist leader with a di­vi­sive agenda. The ball is in his court, and the world is watch­ing. The writer is a free­lance colum­nist based in Mas­sachusetts, U.S.A. Her writ­ings and vol­un­teer work fo­cus ex­ten­sively on so­cio-economic is­sues, in­ter­faith di­a­logue and U.S.-Mus­lim re­la­tions post-9/11.

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