The fear of Hindu Rashtra

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Four months before the Uttar Pradesh election results sent Muslims in India reeling in shock, former Rajya Sabha MP Mohammed Adeeb delivered a speech in Lucknow, which, in hindsight, might be called prescient.

“If Muslims don’t wish to have the status of slaves, if they don’t want India to become a Hindu rashtra, they will have to keep away from electoral politics for a while and, instead, concentrate on education,” Adeeb told an audience comprising mostly members of the Aligarh Muslim University’s Old Boys Association.

It isn’t that Adeeb wanted Muslims to keep away from voting. His aim was to have Muslim intellectuals rethink the idea of contesting elections, of disabusing them of the notion that it is they who decide which party comes to power in Uttar Pradesh.

Adeeb’s suggestion, that is contrary to popular wisdom, had his audience gasping. This prompted him to explain his suggestion in greater detail.

“We Muslims chose in 1947 not to live in the Muslim rashtra of Pakistan,” he said. “It is now the turn of Hindus to decide whether they want India to become a Hindu rashtra or remain secular. Muslims should understand that their very presence in the electoral fray leads to a communal polarisation. Why?”

Not one to mince words, Adeeb answered his question himself.

“A segment of Hindus hates the very sight of Muslims,” he said. “Their icon is Narendra Modi. But 75% of Hindus are secular. Let them fight out over the kind of India they want. Muslim candidates have become a red rag to even secular Hindus who rally behind the Bharatiya Janata Party, turning every election into a Hindu-Muslim one.”

Later in the day, Adeeb met Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was in Lucknow. To Adeeb, Azad asked, “Why did you deliver such a speech?”

It was now Azad’s turn to get a mouthful from Adeeb. He recalled asking Azad: “What kind of secularism is that which relies on 20% of Muslim votes? The Bahujan Samaj Party gets a percentage of it, as do the Samajwadi Party and the Congress.”

At this, Azad invited Adeeb, who was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh, to join the Congress. Adeeb rebuffed the offer saying, “First get the secular Hindus together before asking me to join.”

Spectre of a Hindu rashtra

A day after the Uttar Pradesh election results sent a shockwave through the Muslim community, Adeeb was brimming with anger. He said, “Syed Ahmed Bukhari [the so-called Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid] came to me with a question: ‘Why aren’t political parties courting me for Muslim votes?’ I advised him to remain quiet, to not interfere in politics.” Nevertheless, Bukhari went on to announce that Muslims should vote the Bahujan Samaj Party.

“Look at the results,” Adeeb said angrily. “But for Jatavs, Yadavs, and a segment of Jats, most Hindus voted [for] the Bharatiya Janata Party.” His anger soon segued into grief and he began to sob, “I am an old man. I don’t want to die in a Hindu rashtra.”

A segment of Hindus hates the very sight of Muslims,” he said. “Their icon is Narendra Modi. But 75% of Hindus are secular. Let them fight out over the kind of India they want. Muslim candidates have become a red rag to even secular Hindus who rally behind the Bharatiya Janata Party, turning every election into a Hindu-Muslim one.”

Though Adeeb has been nudging Muslims to rethink their political role through articles in Urdu newspapers, the churn among them has only just begun. It is undeniably in response to the anxiety and fear gripping them at the BJP’s thumping victory in this politically crucial state.

After all, Uttar Pradesh is the site where the Hindutva pet projects of cow-vigilantism, love jihad, and ghar wapsi have been executed with utmost ferocity. All these come in the backdrop of the grisly 2013 riots of Muzaffarnagar, which further widened the Hindu-Muslim divide inherited from the Ram Janmabhoomi movement of the 1990s and even earlier, from Partition. Between these two cataclysmic events, separated by 45 years, Uttar Pradesh witnessed manifold riots, each shackling the future to the blood-soaked past.
In Thana Bhawan, there were four principal candidates – Suresh Rana, accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots, stood on the BJP ticket; Javed Rao on the Rashtriya Lok Dal’s; Abdul Rao Waris on the Bahujan Samaj Party’s, and Panwar on the Samajwadi Party’s. It was thought that the anger of Jats against the BJP would prevent voting on religious lines in an area where the Muslim-Hindu divide runs deep.

This perhaps prompted Rana to play the Hindu card, and the Muslims who were more inclined to the Rashtriya Lok Dal switched their votes to the Bahujan Samaj Party, believing that its Dalit votes would enhance the party’s heft to snatch Thana Bhawan.

Introspection and self-criticism

Like Sajjad’s, most narratives of Muslims have a strong element of self-criticism. Almost all vented their ire against Muslim clerics. Did they have to direct Muslims which party they should vote for? Didn’t they know their recklessness would trigger a Hindu polarisation?

Unable to fathom their irresponsible behaviour, some plump for conspiracy theories. It therefore doesn’t come as a surprise to hear Obaidullah Nasir, editor of the Urdu newspaper Avadhnama, say, “They take money from the Bharatiya Janata Party to create confusion among Muslims. I got abused for writing this. But how else can you explain their decision to go public with their instructions to Muslims?”

Poet Ameer Imam, who teaches in a college in the Muslim-dominated Sambhal constituency, said, “Muslims will have to tell the maulanas that their services are required in mosques, not in politics. When Muslims applaud their rabble rousers, can they complain against those in the BJP?”

To this, add another question: When Mayawati spoke of Dalit-Muslim unity, didn’t Muslims think it would invite a Hindu backlash?

Most will assume, as I did too, that Muslims fear the communal cauldron that Uttar Pradesh has become will be kept on the boil. But this is not what worries them. Not because they think the Bharatiya Janata Party in power will change its stripes, but because they fear Muslims will feel so cowered that they will recoil, and live in submission. “Our agony arises from being reduced to second-class citizens, of becoming politically irrelevant,” said journalist Asif Burney.

True, members of the Muslim community are doing a reality-check and are willing to emerge from the fantasy world in which they thought that they decided which party won an election. The Uttar Pradesh results have rudely awakened them to the reality of being a minority, of gradually being reduced to political insignificance, and their status as an equal citizen – at least in their imagination – challenged and on the way to being undermined.

But this does not mean they wish to enter yet another world of fantasy, which journalist and Union minister MJ Akbar held out to them in the piece he penned for the Times of India on March 12. Akbar wrote,

“…[T]his election was not about religion; it was about India, and the elimination of its inherited curse, poverty. It was about good governance.”

One of those whom I spoke to laughed uproariously on hearing me repeat Akbar’s lines. So you can say that with them believing their future is darkled, Muslims at least haven’t lost their humour.
 

This  article has been adapated from a long piece in Scroll.In

 

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