Are Muslims in India Politically Isolated?
Picture used for representational purposes only. 
Picture used for representational purposes only.  (Photo: iStock)

Are Muslims in India Politically Isolated?

A few weeks ago, former Congress President Sonia Gandhi said that the BJP had managed to “convince” the Indian masses that the Congress was a “Muslim party”.

Speaking at the India Today Conclave held in Mumbai, Gandhi had said: “The BJP has managed to, I don’t say brainwash because that is a rude word, but it has managed to convince people, to persuade people that the Congress party is a Muslim party. In my party, the great majority is Hindu. Yes, there are Muslims too. So I fail to understand this branding us as a Muslim party.”

Several authors well-versed in both politics and the history of India, have reacted to Gandhi’s statement, in polarizing tones.

While some have called out her statement, saying that it has given further confirmation to the Indian Muslim community that they are not welcome to any political party, others have contradicted that stance and said that the matter was more about “liberalization”, rather than secularism or communalism.

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Muslims Are Now Considered ‘Politically Untouchable’: Harsh Mander

Harsh Mander, a well-known social activist and Director of the Centre for Equity Studies had written an opinion piece labelled “Sonia, Sadly”, that was published in The Indian Express, where he said that reacting to Gandhi’s statement, many Muslims now “felt their expulsion to the political wilderness was complete”.

Muslims in Indian politics have been rendered politically irrelevant. Worse, many consider that they are now politically untouchable.
Harsh Mander, in his piece “Sonia, Sadly”

Mander argued that in the current political climate, the Muslim community was reproached from being associated with any political party and the ones it did associate it with, had the party’s members fearing the loss of the Hindu vote as a consequence.

Political parties are unwilling to field Muslim candidates, to speak of issues of violence and discrimination that afflict large Muslim populations, even to openly seek Muslim votes.
Harsh Mander, in his piece “Sonia, Sadly”

Mander said that the fact that the BJP is the first ruling party since Independence without a single Muslim MP in the Lok Sabha, and the fact that it did not field a single Muslim candidate for the UP and Gujarat elections of 2017, just go on to prove his point further.

He says that the BJP has now also showcased its political ambitions in building up a social alliance of all Hindu castes, Adivasis, and even Christians in North-east India, all except the Muslim community.

However, as he says, this is a practice which has been picked up by other political parties as well. The Congress, AAP and other independent leaders have adopted the policy of keeping the Muslims out of the political functioning of the country, with a Dalit leader even saying: “By all means come in large numbers to our rallies. But don’t come with your skullcaps and burkas.”

“The poisons released by the RSS into the veins of Indian social life are powerful, addictive and heady. But India is not, cannot be, divided into Muslim people on the one side, and all others on the other,” Mander concludes.

Modern Liberalism Is the Way Forward: Ramachandra Guha

Historian Ramachandra Guha however seems to disagree with Mander’s opinion on the the Muslim community being “politically alienated” in India. In a counter op-ed piece titled “Liberals, sadly” again published in The Indian Express, Guha said that discrimination, based on gender and caste, was present within the Muslim community as well.

Mander says that Muslims “need no one’s permission to choose their leaders, campaign for those they support, and indeed to lead.” Sure, but by the same token, would he also disallow Muslims from criticising Hindus who are led (or mis-led) by the likes of Pravin Togadia and Yogi Adityanath?
Guha, in his piece “Liberals, Sadly”

According to Guha, since the time of Independence, there have only been three prominent Muslim leaders, who "had the potential to take their community out of a medievalist ghetto into a full engagement with the modern world”.

These were Sheikh Abdullah, Hamid Dalwai and Arif Mohammad Khan. Quoting Dalwai, Guha said that communalism was a two-way street and that while Hindu revivalism was a factor that needed to be checked, there was pressing need for Indian Muslims to adopt to the ways of the “modern” and elite world.

To him, as it was for Dalwai, the solution to the problem lay in forming an agreement between all liberal intellectuals to create a non-political movement against all forms of communalism, contradictory to Mander’s take on how the Muslims should be protected from political exclusion.

Citizen Rights Cannot Depend on Our Being Liberal Or Progressive: Apoorvanand

Countering Guha’s take on the issue, Apoorvanand, a professor at Delhi University said: “It is ironic that while Muslims are asked to modernise, Hindus are being flogged for moving away from tradition.”

Keeping in tone with Mander’s arguments, Apoorvanand in his counter op-ed piece “Liberally blinkered”, also published in The Indian Express, cited several examples of cases where the Muslim community were consciously secluded by Indian political parties.

Both in the 2014 general elections and during the sectarian violence in Trilokpur in 2017, AAP members had turned away from the support of the Muslim community, in fear of retribution from their Hindu voters, he says.

Referring to the Rajsamand case, he said that Muslim leaders were too afraid to address the communal hatred and their Indian counterparts chose to spoke about violence against members of other communities, instead.

Countering Guha’s statement that only three Muslim leaders had emerged as “potentially liberal” since Independence, Apporvanand cited several names that are well associated with having “liberalised” the face of politics, cinema and music in India.

As a final dig at Guha’s take on Muslims needing to be “liberalized”, Apoorvanand said: “We need to emphasise that citizenship rights should not depend on our being liberal or progressive. A traditional, fundamentalist Hindu, Christian or Muslim has the same rights as an atheist, liberal or progressive.”

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