Head-on | How Muslims have been locked into a regressive embrace
The under-representation of Muslims in the BJP is a symptom, not the cause of the malaise
No more Muslim BJP MPs in the Rajya Sabha, wrote anguished op-ed commentators. The three MPs whose six-year terms in the Upper House ended recently and caused the anguish are MJ Akbar, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Syed Zafar Islam. None of them could convince the BJP high command to give them another term.
What about the BJP’s 303 Lok Sabha MPs? Not a single Muslim among them. And Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet? Again, no Muslim following the exit of Naqvi.
The BJP shrugs away the criticism: Muslims don’t win elections for it. The party fielded six Muslim candidates in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. All lost.
Who’s to blame? Most analysts miss the wood for the trees. The under-representation of Muslims in the BJP is a symptom, not the cause of the malaise.
For over 70 years, political parties that wear a secular and liberal mask during the day have treated Muslims as merely Muslims. That is a fatal error. By placing them in a separate silo, they have successfully “othered” the Muslim community.
The “othering” of Muslims is blamed on the BJP. But the othering began decades before the BJP was formed in 1980 and came to power in 1998.
For Congress and regional parties that seek Muslim votes, Muslims are just that: votes. Through the five-year electoral cycle they are ignored. At election time they are lionised.
But the attention is short-lived. That is why both the Sachar Committee and Misra Commission reports severely reprimanded the political class for making Muslims the most impoverished and educationally backward community in India over the past seven decades. Dalits have over the years progressed. Muslims haven’t.
Underneath the secular and liberal mask political parties wear lies electoral self-interest. By creating a fear of “communal” parties targeting Muslims, these “secular” parties have succeeded in ensuring a large and loyal vote bank. In the process they have also ensured that Muslims remain poor and backward.
If academics and journalists had a less shallow understanding of Indian political history — or if they were more honest — they would recognise that Muslims have been othered not only in politics but elsewhere too.
A business newspaper recently published a list of the top 100 Indian startups. They included well-known names like Zomato and Paytm as well as relative newcomers like UpGrad and Nykaa. What stood out was the absence of even a single Muslim founder among the 100 startups. Other smaller minorities like Parsis were represented. But not one Muslim entrepreneur.
This is what the othering of India’s 210 million Muslims, treating 15 per cent of India’s population as a separate group, has achieved: failure in politics and failure in business.
At the other end of the spectrum are our jails. While there are no Muslim founders in the top 100 Indian startups, they comprise nearly 35 per cent of India’s prisoners. Caught in a pincer between political parties that wear secular masks but impoverish them and the BJP that ignores them, Muslims find low-paid jobs as car mechanics, air-conditioner repairmen and food delivery boys.
Those who don’t get even those jobs end up in bad company: hawala, smuggling, petty theft and contract killing. The jail statistics are a grim proof.
The villains in this tragedy are political and religious Muslim leaders. They encourage radicalism and back shadowy Islamist terror outfits like the Popular Front of India (PFI).
Instead of helping bright Muslim boys and girls to study for JEE and NEET, they are packed into madrassas. Many are hotbeds of radical Islam. A glance through the toppers in entrance exams for the IITs and medical colleges show a visible absence of Muslims.
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The most insidious enablers of Muslims’ misery are “secular” and “liberal” Hindus who profess to stand up for them. They fight for them in courts and write fierce op-eds commiserating with their plight.
Why are these secular and liberal pretenders part of the problem and not part of the solution? Two reasons: one, they are shallow thinkers and haven’t analysed the root of the problem, just its symptoms; two, they are aware of the root of the problem but are compromised. Instead of speaking truth to power, they speak fabricated truth to power.
India’s 210 million Muslims could be assets in India’s rise. Many are today simply not part of the mainstream. This feeds their resentment. Among some, it leads to radicalisation.
By harping on irrelevant religious issues like azaans on loudspeakers, namaz on public property and burqas in classrooms, Muslim leaders are doing their community great harm.
The BJP is not blameless. Instead of nominating the progressive Arif Mohammad Khan, currently the governor of Kerala, as its vice-presidential nominee, it chose Jagdeep Dhankhar, the former governor of West Bengal, to please Jats in Rajasthan.
Its obsession with winning elections clouds the BJP’s judgement. It must be more inclusive. Muslims may not vote for it but one day they will. The electricity, toilets, water on tap, gas cylinders, bank accounts, health insurance and food subsidies reach India’s Muslims too. Digitalisation has eliminated communal discrimination just as it has eliminated corrupt middlemen.
To convert Muslims into assets from potential liabilities, all have to understand the cause, not just the symptoms. The villains who have “othered” Muslims for seventy years must be hoisted on their petard.
The writer is editor, author and publisher. Views expressed here are personal.
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