February 20, 2018

What was Tariq Ramdan the rape accused islamist doing in Dec 2017 at Al Jamia al-Islamiya of Santapuram, Kerala India

Le dernier pèlerinage de Tariq Ramadan

India: Amid tensions with BJP and a row within, Hindu Yuva Vahini grows in UP

The Indian Express

Amid rows, Hindu Yuva Vahini grows in west UP, ‘waits for word from above’

New leadership not holding meets at state level, say those on ground; outfit’s name crops up in series of incidents outside east UP.
WITH a string of cases reported in western Uttar Pradesh involving alleged Hindu Yuva Vahini activists, senior leaders say no directions are coming from above, leaving members to take matters into their own hands.
It’s been more than a year since Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the founder of the Yuva Vahini, held a meeting of its leaders. Sachin Mittal, in-charge of the Yuva Vahini’s Meerut Vibhag (covering Meerut, Hapur and Baghpat districts), says the leaders whom Yogi appointed in his place haven’t held any state-level meetings either. “None of them has even visited western UP,” Mittal says.
The Vahini’s website has been dysfunctional now for almost four months, and recently, orders dissolving its district unit at Lucknow and Mau were posted on Facebook. Leaders said the Mau unit was dissolved as some expelled workers were “misusing the name of the organisation”.
Yogi had named his loyalist Raghvendra Pratap Singh as the Vahini state in-charge, Rakesh Rai as state president and P K Mall as state general secretary. Says Mittal, “Raghvendra has confined himself to Domariyaganj after he was elected BJP MLA from there.”
In May last year, following a surge in applications, membership to the Vahini had been closed. The CM had also instructed Vahini’s men to maintain “decency” and avoid controversy. In the past few months though, its name has surfaced time and again, and in areas where it is not as well-entrenched as in eastern UP.
In December, Vahini workers are believed to have been part of a mob that barged into a campus in Bijnor, “to prevent conversion of Hindus to Christianity”. Its Moradabad division in-charge N P Singh says ghar wapsi of the Hindus was carried out the next day. On January 13, members of the Vahini, along with some of the VHP, were accused of assaulting, in Baghpat tehsil, three Muslim youths who had come from Punjab for a court marriage between a Hindu woman and one of them. An FIR was lodged, and while the Vahini denies the youths were its members, an office-bearer says, “We are not owning them up because the girl came on her own. But our act was justified as it was a case of love jihad. Her parents didn’t know she was going to marry a Muslim. Our objective was met because police sent the girl with her parents.”
A fortnight later, an FIR was lodged against Vahini state secretary Nagendra Tomar, after a video surfaced of him talking about “love jihad” during a Republic Day function in Budhana, Muzaffarnagar. The FIR was lodged under IPC section 153 A (promoting enmity on grounds of religion). Tomar, a lecturer at a government-aided college in Meerut, is yet to be arrested.
A few days later, Tomar got into another controversy for allegedly sending Vahini workers in Meerut to “protect” a Hindu girl from some Muslim youths, which had led to a scuffle. Mittal says Vahini workers approached police to “settle the issue”.
The Vahini’s Moradabad leader, N P Singh, acknowledges one more incident, where a Kashmiri couple were handed over to police in Bijnore, as the handiwork of its men. “What they did was in national interest,” he says.
A Vahini office-bearer in Moradabad says that despite membership to the outfit being closed formally, “new people are getting associated with us”. “Nearly 500 new youths in Meerut and more than 1,000 youths in Bijnor and Moradabad have started working with us. Once the ban on membership is removed, they will be taken in formally.”
General secretary Mall says the Vahini work hasn’t stopped. “All instructions and messages are being conveyed through Facebook and during the regular meetings of Sambhag Prabharis (divisional in-charges). Western UP leaders were called for a meeting in Lucknow four months ago.”
While the relationship between the Vahini and the BJP is strained — also seen as one of the reasons Yogi has kept his distance from the Vahini since becoming CM — they are in regular touch with the RSS. The Vahini is involved in preparations for the RSS’s largest ever meeting of volunteers, ‘Rashtrodaya, Swayamsevak Samaagam’, to be held in Meerut on February 25 and addressed by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. “Nearly 150 Vahini workers will wear the RSS ganvesh (uniform) at the event,” says the Vahini’s Meerut district head, Ajay Som.
While they feel neglected by the central leadership, Mittal says they continue to “follow the guidelines set by Mahantji (Adityanath)”. “Mahantji wants discipline.”
He adds, “If any anti-social incident like love jihad comes to our knowledge, we are supposed to inform police first. That we did recently when some Muslim youths gheraoed the house of a Hindu girl in Meerut. But when police did not reach on time, our workers were there to help the girl.”
About their activities in western UP, Raghvendra Pratap Singh, the Vahini state in-charge, says “there is peace all across” and “exploitation of Hindus has stopped in eastern UP”. “But when such incidents occur in western UP, our workers become active there.” He also denies that meetings of the organisation are not regular, and says that no one is allowed to function as per own wish.
BJP state vice-president Kanta Kardam, who lost the mayoral election in Meerut recently, praises the Vahini activities. “They are doing good work in western UP. They are also maintaining coordination with the BJP.”
Moradabad division in-charge N P Singh, from whose pathology lab the Bijnor office of the Vahini runs, says they are not too perturbed about controversies that may arise. “Jab activities hongi to naam to hoga hi (If there are activities, of course there will be some name).”

February 19, 2018

In 2019, Disenchantment with the BJP May Not be Limited to Gujarat | Dolly Daftary

Economic and Political Weekly
Vol. 53, Issue No. 5, 03 Feb, 2018
1 February 2018

In 2019, Disenchantment with the BJP May Not be Limited to Gujarat
In the forthcoming general elections, the disenchantment with the Bharatiya Janata Party may not be limited to Gujarat. The state has experienced the hoax of the Gujarat model first-hand and may be the affective state in contiguous regions across states.

by Dolly Daftary

The dust has settled on the Gujarat election, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fallen woefully short of Amit Shah’s chest-thumping “150-plus seats” boast, sputtering and coming to a halt at 99. This seat tally was just seven over a simple majority, and looked more like a defeat than victory for the party in the state that is considered the laboratory of the potential Hindu rashtra. Pundits and the intelligentsia once chided Narendra Modi’s national ambitions, confident that India was not Gujarat. Instead, the Modi-led BJP has succeeded in reproducing the Gujarat model at a national level. In 2018, “India” mirrors Gujarat, with Hindu majoritarianism becoming commonsensical and brutal violence against religious minorities having become an everyday affair. Gujarat’s exclusionary growth is being replicated on a national scale, at an exponential pace. Income inequality in India is at its highest since 1922 (Chancel and Picketty 2017). India’s richest 1% holds 58% of its wealth (CreditSuisse 2017), and the country has experienced years of jobless growth since the Modi government was elected in 2014 (Venu 2017).
However, the 2017 Gujarat assembly results also show that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) invariably encounters limits, and tends to do so rapidly. After coming to power at the centre for the first time in 1999, the NDA lost after just one term, while the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) won successive elections in 2004 and 2009. Arguably, the UPA was better able to resolve the contradictions of pro-market growth by producing a Polanyian countermovement of social programmes and safety nets that blunted the effects of growing inequality for swathes of society. The BJP fails to produce “countermovements” (Polanyi 1957) because they run counter to its ideology, explicitly pro-rich, pro-corporate, and Brahminical. The party’s economic and social goals are two sides of the same coin, and envision an order that sediments inequalities based on capital, religion, and caste.
The BJP’s impetus towards an unequal order tends to quickly trample on most groups in society, and creates potential for resistance from all but those at the apex of the socio-economic pyramid. The party’s policies at both the state level in Gujarat, and at the centre since 2014 shaped its apologetic performance in the 2017 Gujarat election. The Congress with allies won 80 seats, falling just 12 seats shy of a simple majority in the 182-seat house. It improved its vote share from 31% to 41%, aided by the Dalit agitation in Una, the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) mobilisation, and the unrest of middle-caste peasant Patidars. The Congress won in “rural” constituencies, a moniker that conceals heterogeneous regions, including tribal, semi-arid, agrarian and small-town areas. While poll analysts have simplistically explained the Gujarat outcome as the BJP winning in urban and the Congress in rural Gujarat, the Congress also improved its vote share in urban areas (Desai 2017). These places were assumed to be the BJP’s strongholds nationwide. The marginalised social and economic groups in both rural and urban areas—including the working class and a section of the middle class—punished the BJP. The party’s anti-Muslim vitriol, so successful in the past, appeared canned to voters for the first time in two decades. For many groups, “teaching Muslims their place” became less compelling as their own place in the economic order rapidly eroded, and younger and newer leaders like Jignesh Mevani, Alpesh Thakor, and Hardik Patel, pointed this out.

The BJP’s Policies and Growing Inequality in Gujarat

The 2017 verdict in Gujarat indicates that exclusionary growth has limits, and the electorate’s experience of ill-being, to which both the state government and the BJP-led government at the center have contributed, cannot be trumped by orchestrated perceptions of progress, and whipping up anti-Muslim hysteria. It is worth repeating that Gujarat’s industrialisation dates to the state’s inception, and predates the BJP’s rise to power in the state by decades. Gujarat is a historically capital-friendly state that has consistently emphasised private property, free reign for business, and state investment in industrial development. This has concurrently produced one of the worst levels of environment pollution and lowest wage rates in the country. The wage rates come as a surprise to visitors from other states, which may not boast the same levels of industrial activity but pay their workers far higher wages. However, a model of evermore exclusionary growth becomes unsustainable when countermovements that buffer against its ill-effects are absent.
Gujarat embarked on a particularly neo-liberal path under the rule of the BJP since 1995. Economic growth has been jobless for the past two decades (AhmedabadMirror 2016). Going beyond the pro-market reforms adopted by the national government since the 2000s, the Government of Gujarat has wooed large-scale firms with tax incentives; subsidies on capital, interest, and electricity; and the provision of water, nearly free land, and natural resources (Hirway 2017). This has meant the depletion of grazing lands, pastures and water for rural communities. Investment in the state has been capital-intensive and labour-displacing (UNDP 2004). Medium- and small-scale industries, which are the mainstays of relatively equitable economic distribution, have taken a beating in Gujarat. These include ceramics, auto parts, and engineering components. On the other hand, heavily automated, large-scale firms have received the largesse of tax exemptions (Hirway 2017).
Neo-liberal reforms have been accompanied by deepening inequality. In agriculture, this has included declining investment in public irrigation, throttling rural credit, doing away with minimum support prices, and allowing unregulated price increases in input markets. In the social sector, there have been cutbacks in government employment, the hollowing out of public education and health, and incentivising private sector development in education. In urban areas, public spaces have been privatised, civic services devolved to private corporations, and “renewal” projects have driven the poor, religious minorities and lower castes to cities’ margins (Chatterjee 2009). The 2017 verdict in Gujarat is a reminder that the state is the Sangh Parivar’s laboratory in two senses—Hindu communalism and pro-rich growth. Rural poverty in Gujarat declined by 2.8% from 1993–2005 as against 8.5% for the country as a whole. Poverty in Gujarat’s tribal areas increased during the period (Hindu 2009). While the state ranked eighth in human development in 1983—a period incidentally of the Congress’s rule—it fell to 12th place in 2004, after 15 years of the BJP’s rule and a decade under Modi. In 2011, as Modi readied to go to the 2012 state polls, 44.6% of children below the age of five in Gujarat were malnourished (GOI 2011). Gujarat’s infant mortality rate ranked 18th among 29 Indian states in 2015 (RBI 2017). These numbers tell the story of a state government that has actively withdrawn resources from the less well-off, slashed public services that improve the collective good, and siphoned tax monies (including taxes forgone) and common property resources to the upper class and large-scale firms.

The BJP’s Model of (non)Development: Caste, Indigeneity, and Region in Gujarat

The Patidar agitation was a response to the decline in returns from agriculture in the face of the rules of the game being skewed in favor of domestic and global corporate agrofood interests. Seeing their entrepreneurial efforts in the market sphere fail, the Patidars turned to the government sector and higher education as pathways to upward mobility, demanding reservations in both. In an environment of cutbacks in government employment and the rampant privatisation of education, this was untenable for the BJP. The Dalit agitation, triggered by the violence against Dalit youth in Una, Saurashtra by upper castes, demanded land for Dalits so that they could discontinue the dehumanising occupations forced upon them by a caste Hindu order. Land for landless Dalits was a no go for the Brahminical, pro-corporate BJP, whose Gujarat government under Modi boasted massive transfers of land at throwaway prices for ports, automobiles, and petrochemicals projects for India’s largest corporations.
The Congress won in regions numerically dominated by marginalised social groups, including cultivator caste Kolis who are denoted OBCs, Adivasis and Dalits, who were joined in parts of rural Gujarat by middle peasant castes such as the Patidars. Many of these groups comprise the Congress’s once-victorious KHAM alliance of Kshatriyas (Rajputs, including Kolis who regard themselves as Rajputs), “Harijans” (Dalits), Adivasis, and Muslims. KHAM was not simply the suturing together of disparate groups, but rooted in the shared economic circumstances of these identities, as I learnt in the course of fieldwork in Gujarat. Marginalised social groups dominate the unirrigated, “tribal” and semi-arid districts of Gujarat that lie along a north-western to south-eastern arc in the state. These districts are hinterlands for natural resources, water, and cheap labour that are channelled to irrigated districts and urban centres. These “border” districts include Kutch, Banaskantha, Sabarkantha, Dahod, Panchmahal, Vadodara, Narmada, Tapi, and The Dang. These regions are numerically dominated by Adivasis, who constitute 15% of Gujarat’s population, and other marginalised groups such as Kolis and Dalits. An elitist party, the BJP wins the least voter support from these regions. Dahod, where I have conducted long-term fieldwork, is a case in point, where the BJP won the 2007 election with the lowest margin in this district. The BJP government’s programmes, despite the penetration of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh into border districts and its anti-Muslim indoctrination and cultural programme of “Hinduising” Adivasis, Kolis and Dalits, have paid lip service to development. The Gujarat government raised its below poverty line (BPL) entitlement for food grains from 20 kilogram (kg) to 35 kg in 2008 only after a rap from the high court, and in 2013, the state had the highest rate of foodgrain diversion in the public distribution system (Rukmini 2013). The quality of public education has declined precipitously, and at 28:1, the teacher–student ratio is the highest in India (RBI 2017).
Microcredit programmes in Gujarat have emphasised delivering large loans through which lending institutions can earn higher returns. In Dahod, out of a total of 1,939 self-help groups (SHGs) formed during 2002–07, only 26% qualified for major loans (DRDA 2007). In watershed development, the largest development program for semi-arid areas, the Gujarat government shifted from water provision for public needs to investing in irrigation for wealthier farmers who already owned deep wells. In a circular to district officers, the state’s Department of Rural Development emphasised terminating tank-deepening which generates water for subsistence needs and massive wage-employment: “Physical works in public lands such as digging a new tank, strengthening the embankments of a tank, or deepening an existing tank may not be attempted …” (GOG 2005).
The staff member of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in Devgadh Baria remarked,
The DRDA has done away with earthen bunds … with whichever works generate more employment, are labour-intensive, and involve earthwork … The DRDA’s unwritten rule … is to build check dams. Every time it releases an installment of monies, it tells us “Build a check dam …”
Fieldwork in Mahipura village, combining household surveys, panchayat records and watershed files revealed that 80% of a dam’s funds are channelled to cement manufacturers and retail stores; contractors who rent out concrete mixers and water tanks; and tractor owners who transport materials from stores to dam sites. Labourers receive only 20% of the outlay on a dam. In effect as well, dams channel water to owners of deep wells with irrigation motors that can lift dam-water with pipes and channel it to their fields (Daftary 2014). The BJP’s model of development even in marginalised districts has consisted of buttressing the well-endowed, and channelling shared resources upward to them, so that a significant share of rural contractors and political leaders are aligned with the party.

Electoral Politics and a Knowing Electorate

Rural voters share an intimate relationship with the state and political parties, because their marginality renders them more dependent on the state to secure public goods, as well as more vulnerable to resource appropriation by the state. Voters are aware of how state actions related to land, water, agriculture, natural resources, food, health and education directly affect their well-being and ill-being. The memory of the electorate is long and deep, and the BJP government in Gujarat has built two decades’ worth of memories of unequal and unjust development. In 2006–07, the Gujarat government launched two generous schemes—Sakhi, a microcredit scheme, and Vanbandhu Kalyan Yojana, which delivered loan-buffaloes to Adivasis who constitute 72% of Dahod’s population (GOI 2001). Sakhi was grossly underfunded, and after just three months, Vanbandhu Kalyan Yojana was quietly withdrawn due to lack of funds. But the scheme’s glitzy advertisements remained on Dahod town’s arterial thoroughfare Station Road, impressing Modi’s exemplary development credentials upon the passing journalist. But not upon the rural denizen, who knew better. At the national level, the pattern is repeated with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, with glitzy television, billboard and newspaper ads; and 60% of toilets built under the scheme being without water.
Rural voters are also familiar with the BJP’s election stratagems—Modi’s empty bombast at election rallies of having spent monies on tribal regions, the BJP’s clientelist development that channels resources to the wealthiest political brokers in rural areas, the hollowing out of development from the mid-1990s onwards, and deeply unequal growth during the BJP’s rule at the centre since 2014. At a public meeting in the lead-up to the 2007 state election, at a rally in Limkheda block on 10 August, Jaswantsinh Bhabhor—then a member of the Legislative Assembly from the Randhikpur and now the Minister of State for Tribal Affairs—made opening remarks and declared that he had spent `12,000 crore regenerating Dahod’s forests.
Bhabhor then made way for Modi, who asserted, “In just five years, I have spent ₹6,200 crore on Gujarat’s tribal districts, and … have resolved to spend ₹15,000 crore more.” At this, one woman in the audience remarked to another, “We didn’t see any of that money come to the villages, did we?” When my Koli friends and I were returning to Mahipura, one made a droll face and said, “All the money that Modi talked about—where did it go?” A police superintendent from Godhra who was involved in Modi’s security arrangements for the election rallies said, “It’s more important to show that work has been done than to do it. All of Modi’s public addresses in the past two years are exercises in creating his image in the public mind.” This image is beginning to crack. The BJP’s national policies of demonetization, and goods and service tax (GST), and the growing perception in the public sphere of the party’s highest leadership being an instrument of aggrandisement for the largest corporations, are creating more vocal and restive disenchantment with the party. In 2017 in Gujarat, reports trickled in of half-empty venues at Modi’s addresses and people leaving as he began his speech (Nair 2017). Empty claims can only go so far.
Modi’s appetite for grandeur urges him to make his way into the Guinness World Records. We witnessed the convoluted record of the-largest-number-of-people-doing-yoga-simultaneously-in-one-spot on International Yoga Day in 2015, and in 2016, 900-persons-with-disabilities-lighting-oil-lamps-simultaneously in an event co-organised by the Government of India (Swatman 2016). Significant public monies are expended in these spectacles of empty image-building. During his tenure as Gujarat’s chief minister, Modi’s itch to set a record in tree plantation led to orders to staff of all rural development programmes to drop their work and plant saplings across village lands. As saplings were hurriedly planted in seasons unsuited for plantation (afforestation is best undertaken in winter), other programmes’ implementation suffered, workers fumed silently, and over subsequent weeks, the saplings withered and died. The time and effort of government agencies’ staff, frontline workers, contracted employees, and rural communities; as well as rural lands, were appropriated for personal record-setting. Modi’s ego and appetite for public glorification expropriates resources meant for development and social service provision.
The Gujarat model has been replicated at the centre in the continuation of Modi’s projects of record-setting for personal aggrandisement since 2014. Ironically, during this period, the state government withdrew the Tribal Welfare Scheme, mandated for development and service delivery for Adivasi-dominated areas. To make up for the lack of delivery on many fronts, Modi used campaign meetings in 2007, which was carefully labelled “public meetings” rather than election speeches, to channel cash-patronage directly to sarpanches. At the “girl child protection” meeting in Limkheda, ₹17,00,000 was awarded to female students for exemplary performance in the 10th and 12th Board exams, and to select women’s SHGs for their entrepreneurship. A close look at award recipients revealed that most were family members or close kin of sarpanches and local BJP leaders. While the Congress is regarded as the party of patronage politics and the BJP as a rank-and-file party, clientelist politics is a significant feature of the BJP as well.
Modi inflicted a blitzkrieg of election meetings on Dahod for the 2007 state election, holding four meetings in January, July, and twice in August. The Congress held just two, both advertised leanly, the first through the simple slogan “Chalo Baria!” painted in blue on whitewashed walls in Dahod. Each meeting of the Congress drew bigger crowds than the BJP’s, despite Modi ordering district- and block-level bureaucrats to marshal government contractors’ vehicles to bring villagers to his meetings; and the Congress lacking this clout in a state where it was out of power. A senior block-level bureaucrat in Dahod explained why.
“Ask about the Congress’s work in the tribal belt and people will recognise it. The BJP can’t command the same numbers in a district-wide rally even if it calls Atal Behari Vajpayee.”
Sonia Gandhi addressed her first public meeting in Baria on 21 January 2007, 10 months before the assembly election, and the second at Chhaparwad in November 2007, just weeks before the election. She emphasised the Congress’s pro-poor credentials by citing the delivery of the (then) National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), among other schemes, and making barbed remarks about the crony capitalism that had already grown to outsize proportions in Gujarat. The electorate of eastern Gujarat—comprising Dahod, Panchmahal and Baroda districts—rightly perceived the BJP as an elitist party that explicitly stands for “upper” castes and the wealthy. Like in 2007 and 2012, the BJP secured the lowest votes from regions inhabited by marginalised social groups. But unlike 2007 and 2012, these groups handed victories to the Congress in 2017, joined by relatively better-off groups that have also seen their fortunes diminish in the wake of market-driven, pro-capital reforms. The year 2017 brought the BJP on the brink of defeat in its laboratory. The party’s victory margins against the Congress in at least 10 seats ranged from just 250 to 900 votes (Desai 2017), and the party is likely grateful to its “committed” booth-level cadres for the win.


The seeds of the 2017 outcome in Gujarat were sown in 2007, indeed, even before that. The BJP’s policies in both Gujarat and at the national level have played a role in turning a significant section of Gujarat’s electorate—one loyal to the party and Modi—away from the BJP. The economic circumstances and social identities of the inhabitants of “tribal,” semi-arid, rural and small-town Gujarat are akin to those in neighbouring states in “tribal” western India—Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. In the national election in 2019, disenchantment with the BJP may not be limited to Gujarat, which has experienced the hoax that the Gujarat model first-hand, but be the affective state in contiguous regions across states, indeed, nationally, that will have experienced the chimera that is the replication of the Gujarat model countrywide. Whether the outcome in 2019 is a narrow victory for the BJP like in Gujarat, or a defeat, is contingent on multiple forces in society, politics, and the economy; and their response to the social problems of caste, communalism, and market-driven development.
Dolly Daftary (dolly.daftary[at]umb.edu) is assistant professor at the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development, University of Massachusetts, Boston.
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February 18, 2018

India: Muslims today | A.G. Noorani


Muslims today
Seventy years after Independence, the Muslims of India have very real grievances. No political party, secular or ”communal”, has made a sincere effort to address them or simultaneously draw Muslims into the political mainstream and enlist the support of non-Muslims. By A.G. NOORANI

THE Muslims of India face in 2018 a depressing situation not dissimilar to the ones they faced in 1857 and 1947. The old order was gone and they did not know how to meet the challenges of the new and unfriendly one. Mohammed Ali Jinnah appointed a moral coward, Chaudhri Khaliquzzaman, as the leader of the Muslims of India in 1947, in preference to the upright Nawab Mohammed Ismail of Meerut. Khaliquzzaman had a nervous breakdown and left for Pakistan where, in his declining years, he bitterly regretted the Partition of India.
Far from improving, 70 years after Independence, the situation has gone worse with a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) regime headed by its pracharak Narendra Modi as Prime Minister. They face discrimination everywhere. Their standing in national politics is accurately reflected in the results of all the general elections to the Lok Sabha since 1952. The figures of Muslims elected to the Lok Sabha over the years are: 1952–25; 1957–23; 1962–26; 1967–28; 1971–28; 1977–32; 1980–49; 1984–45; 1989–33; 1991–29; 1996–27; 1998–38; 1999–32; 2004–35; 2009–28; and 2014–22, which is an all-time low. Muslims constitute 10.5 per cent of the population. In the 2014 Lok Sabha, their representation is 4.2 per cent of the total membership, which has varied from 489 in 1952 to 543 in 2014.
In the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled States—Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh—the RSS’ political front, the BJP, has not a single Muslim Member of Legislative Assembly.
Official reports tell a sorry tale. On June 14, 1983, a “High Power Panel on Minorities, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes & Other Weaker Sections” submitted its report in two volumes to the Government of India. Only one of its seven members was a Muslim, a politician from the Congress, Dr Rafiq Zakaria, who served also as its Secretary. It is fair to mention that he did his best to ascertain the true state of affairs. In Chapter 2, on Methodology (page 7), the report reveals: “As we feared, while considerable (though not complete in any way) data was forthcoming in respect of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for whom statutory provisions existed, no such data was available, except in vague and general terms, in respect of the religious minorities. No Central Government Department or Public Sector Undertaking could enlighten us specifically as to the number of employees belonging to the minorities, nor how much benefits were they deriving from the economic activities. About the minorities, we were informed that as the authorities concerned were not required by law to maintain any data, they were unable to provide any data to us.” That the panel “feared” that statistics in respect of “the religious minorities” (read Muslims) would not be available reflects the clime in which it worked.
Next came the “Report of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities” in May 2007. The commission was headed by a Chief Justice of India, Justice Ranganath Misra, who had performed deplorably in every institution he had served and became a Congress politician. The data assembled are useful. The report has a dissent by the Member-Secretary Asha Das, a former senior bureaucrat, which had statements one would expect only in BJP circles. Lastly, we have the Prime Minister’s (Dr Manmohan Singh’s) High Level Committee for Preparation of a Report on Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community of India headed by Justice Rajindar Sachar. Its report, submitted on November 17, 2006, contains a wealth of information. For the first time, the remit focussed on Muslims alone.
Muslim recruitment to the police services is as poor as police behaviour towards them in some parts of India. The number of Muslim officers in the Army is abysmally low, as the scholar Ali Ahmed establishes with documentation in the brilliant study, “The Missing Muslim Army Officers”, Economic & Political Weekly, January 27, 2018).
Political representation
Yet, can you name a single political party which voices the Muslims’ grievances? Then, why blame Muslim political parties that do? Why blame men like Asaduddin Owaisi, MP, for their courageous stand? There must be a two-track approach—enlist the minorities to the secular cause while convincingly securing redress of their grievances. Off and on one hears a leader here or there criticising the wrongs. Sharad Pawar, for example, strongly censured the motivated arrests and prosecutions of Muslims.
One example of the secular parties’ indifference will suffice. On February 12, 2001, Justice Jagdish Bhalla of the Allahabad High Court criticised the State government for not issuing a notification for the trial of two criminal cases after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in order to facilitate an early trial. In the last 17 years, not one Chief Minister—Mayawati, Mulayam Singh or Akhilesh Yadav—cared to do that. Whom else, then, can the Muslims turn to but Muslim parties and Muslim leaders? This is fraught with peril for all in the long run.
A minority community’s sense of identity is shaped by its understanding of its history. Its self-image is influenced, no less, by the image which the majority group in the country has of the minority community and by its understanding of history. Not seldom, historical perceptions clash. History does not speak in the same language to different peoples.
For long, the alternative to Partition seemed to be constitutional protection. Experience has demonstrated that constitutional protection without political participation, which alone can enable them to share power, provides no security.
It is not possible to understand the political mind of Indian Muslims today, nor their politics, except against the historical background. The same holds good for the approach which Indian political parties have adopted towards Muslims. To anticipate, both have tended to be protectionist. Participation has been largely formal; empowerment remains a distant goal. This is to no small extent the result of the political course which Indian Muslims and Indian political parties adopted in the early days of such politics.
The only Muslim League leader who began articulating a strategy in the new situation was H.S. Suhrawardy, former Premier of Bengal. His letter to Khaliquzzaman on September 10, 1947, listed the options (Khaliquzzaman, pages 397-399; see box). As he confessed: “We had not thought about it earlier.” One option was “holding fast to the two-nation theory”. He rejected it outright. Another was to retain “group solidarity” and yet seek friendship with Hindus. He raised an important question which is relevant still. “What I fear is, will they have respect for you if you have not strength that is to say if you give up your particular group solidarity? At the same time, any attempt to acquire solidarity or strength will raise suspicion in their minds as regards bona fides. Here the question what should be our attitude towards the Hindus is very important. Shall we treat with them as League treating the Congress or shall we create a political party of Hindus and Muslims? They may refuse to accept you as the League treating with the Congress and in a system of joint electorate will support the breed known as Nationalist Muslims.”
Several other options were mentioned, only to be dismissed. But on one point, he was categorical: “I think that the Muslims of the minority provinces will have to chalk out their own plan.” He suggested a convention of Muslim legislators. Khaliquzzaman was not interested. He settled down in Pakistan in October 1947.
Mohamed Raza Khan was a member of the Muslim League’s Council since 1943, of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) until 1963 and of the Madras Legislature from 1946 to 1962. His memoirs, What Price Freedom, published by himself in 1969 from Madras, described the Muslim mood at Partition, the short-sighted policies that the IUML pursued and his own disillusionment. “Having worked for the creation of Pakistan, they found themselves left without an organisation and leadership, with nobody to guide them. Mr. Jinnah left for Karachi to lead the new state. Most of the top leaders, who were on the League Working Committee and prominent Leaguers in different States, either left for Karachi to build up their own careers, as they felt they had no political future in India, or went into complete retirement. A fear complex had overtaken the Muslim community throughout the country. They could not think in terms of their political rights or their material welfare. All that they wanted was that there should be no communal trouble in their areas. They practically lost all interest in politics and wanted that they should be left to themselves.”
Azad’s advice
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s address to the Delhi Muslims assembled at the Jama Masjid has been much lauded for its oratorical qualities. Less evident, however, are those of political leadership. It was full of reproach. A heavy dose of nostalgia was administered in order to instil courage.
Another exercise in providing leadership was Azad’s speech at the Indian Union Muslim Conference at Lucknow on December 27, 1947. Strangely enough, it finds no place in any of the compilations of his speech. A report in The Times of India of the following day is quoted here. The audience numbered more than 60,000 Muslims, including some Leaguers. The Maulana was heard in pin-drop silence. Muslim leadership was his for the asking. Muslim politics was clay in his hands to mould as he wished. “All communal organisations must be liquidated. Even the Jamiatul-Ulema-e-Hind.” Its main task had been to guide the Muslims in the cultural and religious spheres. But it entered the political field in the cause of Indian nationalism. It “will have to cease its political activities now that India has achieved liberation”. He declared that any political organisation of the Muslims—and for that matter of any other community— howsoever nationalist and progressive its outlook, would be harmful to the interests of the Muslims and the country as a whole and could not be tolerated in the changed circumstances of this country.
The news report continued: “Maulana Azad observed that there could be no objection to the functioning in the country of communal organisations which confined their activities to religion and culture alone, and kept themselves scrupulously aloof from political squabbles. He said that the responsibility of those who participated in the Conference would not end with the taking of decisions to dissolve all communal bodies and joining non-communal political and progressive organisations. They had also to devise a machinery in order to make their decisions operative. A non-communal committee should be formed to change the prevailing atmosphere in the country in the light of the decisions of the Conference.”
No such committee was set up. Azad did not explicitly advise Muslims to join the Congress. That was left to the chairman of the Reception Committee, Hafiz Mohammed Ibrahim. On December 28, 1947, the conference passed a resolution moved by the vice president of the Jamiatul-Ulema, Maulana Ahmed Saeed, declaring that “Muslims of all shades of political opinion must take a united decision and abjure communal politics”. Another resolution, moved by S.A. Brelvi, editor of Bombay Chronicle, advised them to join the Congress.
The “non-communal committee” was not set up. It was a tragic abdication of responsibility. An organisation on the lines of the non-racist National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) in the United States would have set a trend. To this day, no one has thought of establishing a body comprising persons of commitment, regardless of religious and political applications, whose remit would have been to monitor violations of the rights and redress grievances of Indian Muslims on the premise that they are Indians entitled to all the rights to which Indians are entitled.
There were few takers for the Lucknow recipe. Suhrawardy, still in India, issued a statement in Calcutta on December 26, 1947, asking Muslims to “await his [Gandhi’s] signal” before joining the Congress. “Shall we be welcomed wholeheartedly and sincerely, shall we be trusted?” (The Times of India, December 27, 1947).
He was taking the cue from Gandhi’s remarks at his prayer meeting on December 22: “In my opinion, while they should hold themselves in readiness to join the Congress, they should refrain from applying for admission until they are welcomed with open arms and on terms of absolutely equality. ...Because the Congress has not always been able to live up to its professions, it has appeared to many Muslims as a predominantly caste Hindu Organisation. Anyway, the Muslims should have dignified aloofness, so long as the tension lasts. They would be in the Congress, when their services are wanted by it. In the meantime, they should be of the Congress, even as I am.... Today, every Muslim is assumed to be a Leaguer and, therefore, to be an enemy of the Congress. Such, unfortunately has been the teaching of the Muslim League. There is now not the slightest cause for enmity. Four months are too short a period, to be free from the communal poison.” Gandhi was emphatic, however, that the aspirations of communal bodies “can only be satisfied through the Congress, whether they are in it or not” (Bombay Chronicle, December 23, 1947).
Patel’s strange response
The Lucknow Conference evoked a strange response from Vallabhbhai Patel. Addressing a huge public meeting in the same city on January 6, 1948, he angrily asked: “To Indian Muslims I have only one question. Why did you not open your mouths on the Kashmir issue? Why did you not condemn the action of Pakistan?” It was a clear reference to Azad’s conference, held only a fortnight earlier. Patel was prescribing a loyalty test to Muslims—support to the Government of India’s stand on the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan.
Organisations of Muslims, and even meetings of Muslims, were taboo. But a convention of Muslim legislators held in Lucknow on March 19 and 20, 1958, drew praise for its support to the Indian case (Kashmir, Sisir Gupta, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 1966, page 450). Muslims of riot-torn Sambalpur met, in 1964, not to demand greater protection but to send cables to the President and members of the United Nations Security Council telling them that “Kashmir’s accession to India is irrevocable” (vide India’s Constitution and Politics, A.G. Noorani, Jaico, Bombay, 1970, page 362).
Vallabhbhai Patel did not stop at prescribing the loyalty test. In the same speech he said: “Select one horse. Those who want to go to Pakistan can go there and live in peace,” and “I appeal to the Hindu Mahasabha to join the Congress” (Bombay Chronicle, January 7, 1948). Azad relapsed into silence. The reality of a Congress so divided and the atmosphere in the country, after Gandhi’s assassination, had little effect on the League’s strategy. On April 3, 1948, the Constituent Assembly passed a resolution advocating “all steps” to prevent any communal body from participating in “any activities other than those essential for the bona fide religious, cultural, social and educational needs of the community”. The Muslim League members of the Assembly met under the presidentship of Nawab Ismail Khan and decided to dissolve the party over M.M. Ismail’s opposition (Raza Khan, page 366). In Bombay, the League became the Fourth Party. One of its prominent members, A.K. Hafizka, joined the Congress (ibid, page 367).
When the League’s Council met in Madras on March 10, 1948, barely 30 members turned up. There were no representatives from Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Delhi. Uttar Pradesh had a sole representative in Maulana Hasrat Mohani. “It was decided to continue the League with emphasis on non-political activities.”
M.M. Ismail was elected President and was authorised to establish branches in all the States. The League, however, continues to be a regional body still, with a strong base in two States, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, but nowhere else.
In the Constituent Assembly, the League members’ approach was reactionary in the extreme. As late as on May 25, 1949, two of its members moved that separate electorates for Muslims should be retained, drawing a withering response from Patel. Mohammed Ismail supported the amendments Z.H. Lari opposed, both reservation of seats and separate electorates: “I am no longer satisfied with sending some Muslim advocates of certain causes. It is my ambition that my representative, be he a Muslim or a Hindu, shall have an effective voice in the governance of the country” (Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol. 8, page 283, vide pages 269-355 for the debates). Azad did not participate in the debate. Not long thereafter, Lari joined the ranks of League leaders who went over to Pakistan, not to forget others like the poet Josh. This exodus only added to the demoralisation. No Muslim leader cared to develop the Lari line—How to proceed beyond protection to participation.
Congress and the Muslim League
Two lines of approach emerged—one was to join or support the Congress and the other was to buttress the League. They were not mutually exclusive. In good time, the League became a staunch supporter of the Congress. Under M.M. Ismail’s leadership, the League in Madras began by according “full and complete support to the Congress”, sought “some sort of private understanding between the Congress and the League” (Raza Khan, page 447). It received encouragement from the Congress leaders, particularly K. Kamaraj, who sought the League’s support, albeit on his terms. But Ismail, as Quaid-e-Millat, was the poor man’s Quaid-e-Azam. When his emissaries reported to him, “He rejected Mr. Kamaraj’s offer off-hand and insisted that the Congress should recognise the League as the sole representative organisation of Muslims; the League would select all the Muslim candidates and these nominees who would contest on Muslim League ticket should be supported by Congress; when elected these Muslim League candidates would support the Congress party in the Legislative Assembly” (ibid, page 467).
In 1961, Raza Khan broke ranks. In a speech on August 19, he deplored that instead of working amongst the Muslim masses to raise their social, educational and economic levels, “We bother ourselves only with elections in Madras and Kerala, and that too without any corresponding benefit.”
He added: “Being a minority, spread throughout the country, the Muslims could not afford either to antagonise the majority community or the major parties.” Their goodwill and sympathy has to be sought, he said (ibid, page 492). By then, the League had gained respectability as a valued ally of the Congress in its campaign to oust the first Communist government in Kerala in 1959. A ministerial berth proved difficult to grant. The League had to make do with the Speakership. But a political marriage had been arranged which has served both parties eminently. Not one tangible gain has accrued to the community; no grievance redressed; no reform carried out. The insecurities remain. Muslims continue to perceive their identity to be under threat. The principal gainers were, of course, the League’s leadership in its varying composition. It acquired a standing—in Congress eyes and used it to draw support for itself. It was the League’s identity which acquired a sharp relief. The situation was significantly different in Kerala. The League had a strong mass base, and a record of commitment. The Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, under the leadership of Asaduddin Owaisi, MP, is following a somewhat similar course—advocacy of Muslims’ rights plus an outreach to Dalits and other underprivileged, backed by social services.
It would be most unwise not to notice the near total failure of intellectual creativity in the community. Saif F.B. Tyabji was a popular Bombay attorney deeply committed to the cause of Muslim education and to the success of the Anjuman-e-Islam in Bombay. In September-October 1955, he wrote a series of eight articles in the Urdu daily Inquilab which were translated into English and circulated widely in mimeo form.
He was opposed to communal parties; but was equally zealous of preserving the Muslim identity. What then, “should be the aim of the Muslims to (sic) attain?”
He recalled: “This has happened before. In 1856 the last Emperor of Delhi was deposed and his sons were shot. The wells of Delhi and Lucknow were heaped with the bodies of the flower of the Muslim aristocracy, and there was no water to drink, because there was only blood. The rule of the British had finally arrived. But our forefathers did not see the writing on the wall. They did not realise that a new world had dawned, and this new world would require a new way to live in. Decades passed without this being realised, and it was only many years later that farsighted thinkers such as the founders of Aligarh University in the U.P. and of the Anjuman-i-Islam in Bombay, made efforts in new directions, often against the strong and persistent opposition of the conservatives, and ultimately, many years later, these efforts began to bear small and stunted fruit. We must not make this mistake again. We must not make this mistake again. We must realise what has happened in this country. We must ascertain the facts and act as they require.”
Muslims had two objectives—economic and political. He analysed the Constitution of India and of the Congress. Both provided a shortcut to the attainment of those objectives. Muslims “must be numbered amongst the poorest sections of the population. Fortunately for the Muslims all the important political parties of India are now finally and irrevocably attached to Socialism. By the now famous Avadi resolution, the Congress has set before itself the aim of creating a Socialist State in India. The Socialist Party by its very name stands for Socialism. And the Communist Party differs from the others only as regards the means and the timing of the steps that must be taken and adopted for introducing Socialism.” A typical politically naive lawyer’s image, which bore no relation of reality even then. In 2018 it seems absurd.
Importance of political awakening
He emphasised that “the first step that is necessary for the economic regeneration of Muslims is their political awakening. The Muslims must become active in politics and above all they must join in and become influential in the ruling party, the Congress. It is finally those who are influential in the Congress who decide who should become the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman and the directors of the State Bank of India, and of all the enormous state owned institutions and factories that are growing up, and it is in these institutions and factories that commercial and industrial employment will be available to Muslims.”
It is significant that even so secular-minded a person could think of nothing better than Muslims joining a political party en bloc. For one thing, the party bosses in the States had their own priorities. But the basic objection is that it is wrong to stress political participation alone. The best course for the Muslims, surely, is to participate in the entire spectrum of activities that constitute the national life—the trade union movement, cooperative movement, women’s and students’ bodies, etc. There is a yet more important duty to perform. It is to use the political platform for expression on national issues from a national perspective. Was a leader of proven identification with the national weal to voice the grievances of the Muslims also, the impact of his pleas would be much stronger. Both the nation and the community would be the richer for the contribution.
In 1961, the community took yet another wrong turn. The year began with riots in Jabalpur, the worst since Partition. The veteran Congressman Dr Syed Mahmud convened an Indian Muslims Convention in New Delhi on June 10 and 11, 1961. One of its moving spirits was Maulana Hifzur Rehman. The most vital issue before it was one of securing a “due share” for Muslims in government services and in other walks of life such as trade and industry. Due recognition of Urdu was another, as also withdrawal of offensive textbooks. Among the participants were Brij Mohan Toofan, president, Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee, Subhadra Joshi, MP, Father J.S. Williams, a Bombay bishop, G.M. Sadiq of Kashmir, Z.A. Ahmed of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and Prof. M. Mujeeb. Some 600 delegates participated (The Times of India, June 11 and 12, 1961).
None of this prevented The Times of India (in the edition dated June 13, 1961) and the rest of the press from denouncing the convention though its conveners had excluded Muslim communalists. Muslim self-assertion is a recent phenomenon. In the 1960s, any advocacy of Muslim rights was regarded as obscene. “Muslims should suffer in silence and should not even be allowed to cry out in pain,” Dr Syed Mahmud exclaimed (Noorani, page 362). He was not wrong in this assertion. The Majlis-e-Mushawarat that was established wielded little real influence.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board that followed was and is a haven of dinosaurs. No organisation was established on the lines of the NAACP, which is open to all groups, to fight wrongs against Muslim groups. Muslims’ grievances were genuine but their validity was denied (vide the writer’s paper The Grievances of Indian Muslims drawn up for the Union Home Ministry at its suggestion and reprinted in Opinion, July 8 and 15,1969; vide also Noorani, Muslims of India, Oxford University Press, pages 366-407).
Worsening situation
These grievances cover a whole range of matters—employment in the public and private sectors; representation in the legislature and the government; educational opportunities; glaring communal bias in textbooks; Wakf properties; police partiality and the state’s utter and persistent failure to protect Muslim lives and properties. The situation shows no sign of improvement. Under the BJP-RSS regime, it has become worse.
Urdu deserves special mention. It has been treated for the most part as a Muslim language. The truth was stated admirably in a Government of India publication, ironically. The Publications Division periodically brings out pamphlets on “Muslims in India”. One, of 1952, had a chapter on Urdu which recognised handsomely that “Muslims of every State learn Urdu also” besides the regional language.
Second only to Arabic, it is Urdu which is the medium in which their religious works are written. But non-Muslims “too cherish and enrich Urdu as their own language”. Stress on Muslim identity led Muslims to neglect this fact to their own loss and to the detriment of Urdu.
The Lucknow Conference
Dr Syed Mahmud abandoned his own valiant effort of 1961. The Muslim leaders’ convention he convened at the Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulema, Lucknow, on August 8 and 9, 1964, set up a united front of Muslim Organisations—the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, comprising the League, the Jamaat-e-Islami, a faction of the Jamiat, the Progressive Muslim League, the Anjuman Tamir-e-Millat, the Ittehadul Muslimeen of Hyderabad, and prominent leaders including Dr A.J. Faridi. The very first paragraph of the Objectives Clause of the Mushawarat’s Constitution required it “to bring about better understanding and promote unity amongst the various communities...”. Another mandated it “to enlist the support of the members of all communities for the full implementation of the Constitution of India...”. That remained on paper.
Its Uttar Pradesh unit decided on June 3, 1968, to form a new political party, the Muslim Majlis, led by Faridi. On October 13, 1968, the All India Federation of Muslims and Scheduled Caste and Backward Classes was formed under the auspices of the Majlis. It comprised also representatives of the Republican Party, Sikhs and Christians. Faridi’s contempt for Congress Muslims was unconcealed. He used to say that like German silver, which was neither German nor silver, they had no standing in the Congress or among the Muslims. Both the Congress and its leading Muslim figures have proved Faridi right. Not one Muslim member of the P.V. Narasimha Rao government resigned after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
Faridi died an untimely death. But the strategy he had in mind is not one to be dismissed out of hand. The state of Uttar Pradesh’s politics is a cruel reminder that while it can have some value in the short run it will wreak havoc eventually. Any success in exploiting differences among political parties to extract concessions for Muslims will lead to a Hindu backlash—a consolidation hostile to Muslims.
The solution lies not in denying the reality of the grievances but in devising a form and context of agitation which simultaneously draws Muslims into the political mainstream and enlists the support of non-Muslims. This has never been tried. It is no mere strategy. It is, without exaggeration, a path of salvation.
The Mushawarat never concerned itself with any but Muslim questions. It provided a platform for Sheikh Abdullah in 1971 when, alienated from Indira Gandhi, he exploited it to push through in June 1971 a resolution markedly soft on Pakistan on the crisis in Bangladesh. On August 18, 1973, he led a deputation of Muslims to her to plead for redress of specific Muslim grievances. One of them concerned Aligarh’s Muslim character, another the new Criminal Procedure Code on maintenance for divorced Muslim wives. Indira Gandhi had no hesitation in conceding their point. The provision was amended. Thus were sown the seeds of the Shah Bano question (1985-86).
Indira Gandhi’s protectionism and cynicism
Two points she made are significant. She complained that “the Muslim community had sought the support of the opposition parties” and she objected to their leaders adopting “an agitational approach” (mimeographed minutes). Her counsel to Gen. Shah Nawaz Khan was the same. In her letter of January 21, 1983, she warned that “confrontation and the spreading of an atmosphere of desperation is likely to be more damaging to the minorities themselves by arousing reaction in other communities” (Mulk-O-Millat Bacho Tehrik: Correspondence of the Amir with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, page 14).
Such fears of Hindu reaction did not prevent her from writing to the so-called Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Delhi, Syed Abdullah Bukhari, on November 20, 1979, pledging redress of Muslim grievances, listed in detail in the letter, while soliciting his support in the elections. It was preceded by a meeting between the two on September 17, 1979, at his residence—at which Sanjay Gandhi was present (vide A Call of 150 million Muslims to UN... March 1, 1983, published by Bukhari, pages 10-11 for the text).
Indira Gandhi was not a bit interested in drawing Muslims into the mainstream of national politics. Her attitude was strictly protectionist and largely cynical (vide the writer’s survey of her record in “Indira Gandhi and Indian Muslims”, Economic & Political Weekly, November 3, 1990).
Myron Weiner holds that there was a swing back to the Congress in Muslim Constituencies in 1980 but to no greater extent than did others (India at the Polls, 1980, Myron Weiner, American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C., 1983, page 124). In 1977, they, like the others, voted against her (ibid, page 115).
Nor was Rajiv Gandhi more principled. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, enacted in order to nullify the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Shah Bano case, gave the Muslims a bad name but it followed, did not precede, the unlocking of the gates of the Babri Masjid (Neerja Choudhary’s disclosures in The Statesman, April 20, 1986). That was done under a deal between the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Indira Gandhi in 1984.
Babri Masjid issue
When the Babri Masjid question erupted in 1986, leaders of Muslim organisations made no effort to enlist support of non-Muslims in order to make it an issue of the rule of law. They so treated it as a Muslim issue as to neglect even the elementary duty of collecting the documents and historical material in order to arouse enlightened public opinion. The best studies emerged from the labours of non-Muslim scholars like Sushil Srivastava, Romila Thapar, S. Gopal and Neeladri Bhattacharya. Muslim writers who exerted themselves were the ones outside the charmed circle of Muslim politicians (Anatomy of a Confrontation, S. Gopal, Viking, 1991).
The demolition of the Masjid on December 6, 1992, did not induce any rethinking in those circles. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board became even more active than before. It was set up at a convention in Bombay on December 27, 1972. It is highly significant that uniquely among the Muslim bodies, it was this one body which the Bohra chief patronised and used for his ends.
None of this should blind. The communal atmosphere has deteriorated to an alarming degree. But there is a fundamental flaw in the fight against communalism, as K.N. Panikkar pointed out in the Fourth V.P. Chintan Memorial Lectures on October 9, 1990. “The anti-communal struggle is a negative struggle. It is a struggle which tries to evolve ways and means to oppose communal propaganda. The agenda is set by them and the secular forces are made to respond to it. At every stage the secular forces are either trying to counter, say, a Mahant Avaidyanath or an Advani. They are ahead of us. It is necessary to reverse this order. If so, we have to transform our struggle against communalism to a struggle for secularism. Such a struggle can be meaningful only if it is a part of a struggle for a humane society—a society in which human beings are recognised and respected as human beings and not as ‘Hindu’, ‘Muslim’ or any other religious denomination. Such a struggle is possible only if we integrate the struggle for secularism with the larger struggle for a just society.”
Muslim participation for a just society
In 2018, this might seem a distant political goal. But the first steps towards it will have to be taken urgently and with determination. The responsibility is not theirs alone. The so-called secular parties also bear a heavy responsibility to ensure Muslim participation in the struggle for a just society. The leaders of secular political parties must assist them in the participation by responding to the genuine felt needs of Muslims while enlisting them in the struggle, and by giving them a place of importance and by listening to them.
Of this, there is no sign whatever. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress president, won fame for his sudden surge of religious fervour during the Gujarat elections. He had hitherto successfully concealed his religious fervour. Years ago, a Congressman, V.N. Gadgil, warned Indira Gandhi that any espousal of Muslims’ rights would entail loss of the Hindu vote. On her return to power in 1980, she followed this course.
Vajpayee took fright as he saw her stealing their saffron attire while they were swimming in the Ganga. His BJP followed this very course and its consequences face us today—a complete marginalisation of the Muslims of India. Since none espouse their cause, it is unfair to blame Muslim parties which do. This is an understandable reaction. It is no solution to their problem.
Muslim political parties and others who share their woes must get together and devise a concrete strategy. Dalits and the Left should be welcomed, as also individuals like Harsh Mander. Muslim Congressmen and the BJP’s touts should be excluded. A small group should prepare a draft manifesto for public debate on what course the Muslims of India should adopt in the days ahead.

February 17, 2018

India: Vallabhbhai Patel - A legacy appropriated and distorted | Neha Dabhade

by Neha Dabhade

(Secular Perspective Feb.16-28, 2018)

Historical figures are complex and shaped by the context they lived out of. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is no exception. Vallabhbhai Patel popularly known as the "indomitable iron man" of India is credited with unifying India when India was a cluster of numerous princely states at the time of independence and Patel was the first home minister of independent India. During the tumultuous times of the partition and subsequently the assassination of Gandhi, the leadership of the country had to guide it through many ups and downs towards a secular democracy that India has evolved into and still evolving. Nehru and Patel along with the others took tough decisions to serve this end. One of them was banning of RSS. Though Patel was instrumental in this decision, he is appropriated and co-opted by the RSS and BJP as one supporting their brand of politics and ideology- Hindutva while Nehru is derided for being weak and responsible for partition. Moreover the narrative that pits Nehru against Patel has gained currency and the two unfairly compared by the right wing which completely obliterates the fact that both leaders had one vision for the country and enjoyed each other's confidence.

Patel was again brought at the centre stage of public discourse by the Prime Minister recently. "Had Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel been India's first Prime Minister, a part of my Kashmir would not have been with Pakistan today" (Ashok, 2018). BJP and RSS have positioned themselves lately as ideological heirs of Patel. PM Modi wants to build 'statue of unity' as he refers to Patel and also commemorate his birthday as national unity day. He goes on to add, "There have been attempts to run down Patel, to ensure that the contribution of Patel is forgotten. But Sardar is Sardar, whether any government or any party recognizes his contribution or not but the nation and the youth will not forget him" (Indian Express, 2017). Similarly Venkaiah Naidu also praised Patel. This appropriation is problematic. Appropriation of mass leaders has been a thrust of RSS strategy by distorting historical facts. Similar attempts have been made towards Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh. Thus it is imperative to demystify Patel.

Though a lot has been written about Patel and his equation with RSS, keeping the aggressive appropriation of icons like Patel, it is important to repeat and emphasize on the following points. One point to be noted at the very outset is that historical figures are multidimensional and it is difficult to capture them in all their complexity. However one must try to understand Patel in a more nuanced way.

1. Patel was an admirer of Gandhi. He was pained with the assassination of Gandhi. He was all his life a staunch Congressman though sympathetic to plight of Hindus and Sikhs during the communal violence post and pre partition.

2. Though he was distrustful towards Muslims in India as a section of the community supported the Muslim League, he as a Home Minister vowed to protect all citizens equally and certainly did not encourage communal violence against Muslims.

3. Patel was not a supporter of the RSS or endorsed Hindutva politics which is narrow, discriminatory and exclusionist in its outlook.

The right wing is appropriating Patel for a number of reasons. It is no secret that the RSS had no role to play in the freedom struggle of India. Their members were not incarcerated in the prisons or enjoyed following amongst masses due to leaderships in any social movements- peasants, trade unions, women, reform in Hindu personal laws, eradication of caste etc. The freedom struggle represented certain ideas that of equality, pluralism, inclusion and democracy. The struggle was not just against the colonial powers for political power but also for a just and equal society ridden of hierarchies based on caste, religion and class. Patel being a tall leader of Congress can bring this legitimacy to the RSS, give them a respectable face and wider support base. Secondly with constant exaggeration and misrepresenting the differences between Nehru and Patel, the Nehruvian vision of the society and India is sought to be discredited since this vision is completely conflicting and incompatible to that of Hindutva. The Hindu supremacists want to taint this legacy and establish a new social order and deepen the existing hierarchies.

The actions of BJP leaders should be analyzed from this prism. To begin with, it would be interesting to study the views of Patel on RSS itself.

"There can be no doubt that the RSS did service to the Hindu Society. In the areas where there was the need for help and organisation, the young men of the RSS protected women and children and strove much for their sake. No person of understanding could have a word of objection regarding that. But the objectionable part arose when they, burning with revenge, began attacking Mussalmans. Organising Hindus and helping them is one thing but going in for revenge for its sufferings on innocent and helpless men, women and children is quite another thing".

On the assassination of Gandhi, he expresses his anguish in no uncertain terms.

"All their speeches were full communal poison. It was not necessary to spread poison and enthuse the Hindus and organise for their protection. As a final result of the poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the valuable life of Gandhiji. Even an iota of sympathy of the Government or of the people no more remained for the RSS. In fact the opposition grew. Opposition turned more severe, when the RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji's death. Under these conditions it became inevitable for the Government to take action against the RSS.

"As regards the RSS and the Hindu Maha-sabha, the case relating to Gandhiji's murder is sub judice and I should not like to say anything about the participation of the two organisations, but our reports do confirm that, as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former, an atmosphere was created in the country in which such ghastly tragedy became possible. There is no doubt in my mind that the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in this conspiracy. The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of the government and the state. Our reports show that those activities, despite the ban, have not died down. Indeed, as time has marched on, the RSS circles are becoming more defiant and are indulging in their subversive activities in an increasing measure" (Zakaria, 2016).

It becomes clear from Patel's words that he opposed the RSS politics of hatred and targeting of the Muslims. He condemns the assassination of Gandhi and the politics that claimed his life. This is antithetical to the stand of RSS which hasn't condemned Gandhi's death but gone to the extent of installing busts and building temples of Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Gandhi!

It also speaks volumes on the idea of India nurtured by Patel. Being a staunch congressman and influenced by Gandhi, he understood the contribution of different communities to India. The very fact that Patel skillfully brought as princely states onto one political platform without bloodshed and prevented balkanization gives an insight into his vision for an India which gave space to all- different languages, cultures, religions. Pluralism and democracy were hallmarks of his vision. This vision is again in contrast of a Hindu rashtra where the Hindus are rightful citizens and citizens of other religions merely second class citizens.

However this doesn't necessarily mean that some of his views were not problematic. He had certain extent of reservations and also distrust about the Muslims. This grew out of the support of a section of Muslims that the Muslim League enjoyed. Naturally it was wrong to paint the whole community with one brush, since large sections of Muslims supported the Congress and rejected the two nation theory. Nonetheless some of his policies have attracted flak. For example the enactment of the Evacuee Property Law, which resulted in the expropriation of their businesses, industries, shops, houses, lands and all such assets, movable and immovable; even Muslims, suspected by the police of intending to go to Pakistan were covered under it. However this law was for political exigency and in response to a similar law enacted by Pakistan. Another policy was the draconian permit system where the Indian Muslims who went to visit Pakistan after 15th August 1947, were at a risk of losing their citizenship.

These actions, though questionable, doesn't make Patel communal or suggests that he supported violence against Muslims or encouraged it for his own political or electoral interests. Manufacturing of violence and communal polarization is a project resorted to by the Hindu supremacists for electoral gains. This distinction is significant but often sought to be blurred by the Hindu supremacists when they co-opt Patel. As a leader who has constitutional duty he was of the opinion that India is a country for all and not a Hindu state and thus all citizens have to be protected. "I do not think it will be possible to consider India as a Hindu state with Hinduism as a state religion. We must not forget that there are other minorities whose protection is our primary responsibility" (Zakaria, Sabrang India, 2016)

This is of course a far cry from the approach of the current government which praises Patel. There is an atmosphere of impunity and encouragement given to vigilantes to target the vulnerable groups like Muslims and Dalits under the name of cow protection. Though the current political dispensation prefers to call the perpetrators of violence as 'fringe' elements or criminal elements thereby trivializing their acts of violence, Patel had a different approach as a statesman. There are numerous hate crimes taking place unabashedly with no justice. On the other hand, there were instances where Patel himself went to spots of trouble to quell any violence and took proactive steps to protect the Muslims and punish the criminals. The famous Dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya in South Delhi was surrounded by some miscreants. He went there himself and clearly instructed the officers to protect the Muslims and take action against the miscreants. Whenever such incidents took place where the Muslim community was harassed or instigated, he said, "If you think that you can go on constantly troubling loyal Muslims because they happen to be Muslims, then our freedom is not worthwhile."

Cow protection is linked to nationalism as is the building of Ram Mandir where the Babri Masjid was demolished. Interestingly Patel had a more balanced approach towards Babri Masjid based on inclusion and dialogue. In 1949, a mob descended upon the Babri Masjid and, after chasing away the muezzin, installed an idol of Ram Lalla in order to claim it as a temple. Within a month of the incident, Patel shot off a letter to the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, GB Pant warning that "there can be no question of resolving such disputes by force". Differing even more starkly from the final outcome of 1992, Patel opined that "such matters can only be resolved peacefully if we take the willing consent of the Muslim community with us" (Daniyal, 2014).

The latest statement of PM on Kashmir where he again pitted Sardar Patel against Nehru is another attempt distorting the legacy which stood for unity, democracy and pluralism. Patel was a mixed bag, multifaceted, complex. He was of course different from Nehru or any other political colleague. Patel had his own temperament, resoluteness and biases. But what he was not was communal and parochial. He espoused the cause of a united India where all citizens had an equal stake. He shared a vision of an India based on equality with Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar. He was a man who had fought for the rights of the farmers at Bardoli and other places. If the Hindu supremacists want to emulate Patel, their starting point should be his efforts for justice and equality. The Hindu supremacists on the other hand at ideologically at loggerheads with Patel by upholding, manipulating and further deepening of caste and religious divides.

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books Updated: Feb 17, 2018 10:23 IST

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