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Politics of numbers

The conservative preservationist approach is likely to be strengthened and Muslim decline seems unstoppable in India under BJP

Politics of numbers

Though Bharatiya Janata Party had been in power for almost eight years before the 2014 elections, the victory this time around has raised alarm bells for the Muslims and those who had espoused the cause of a secular destiny for India. The margin of victory and the leadership of Narendra Singh Modi, now installed as the prime minister, have been the two major reasons that have led the minority to feel uncomfortable and wary of their future role within the Indian polity.

In a way the major victory of the BJP has been the reflection of the failure of the other political forces, the Indian National Congress, the party that led India to independence and then laid down the basis of the Indian polity through its constitution. The question arises what has led to this mighty change — is it the failure of the overall project secular India or is it the consequence of bad governance and expediency by the Congress?

According to Muhammad Mujeeb Afzal who had written this book before the Indian elections, the contention that the expansion of the social base of the BJP had stopped proved to be wrong, but the conservative preservationist identity of the Indian Muslims Ashraaf which marginalised the community from the mainstream polity seemed to be quite spot on.

The overwhelming victory of the BJP, and its formation of the government at the centre, as the perceptive analysis clearly indicated, was waiting to happen. Due to  multiple factors the rejection of the policies and above all the practices of the secular parties were the major reasons for the change. Bad governance, which was perceived as an exploitation of the Muslim vote bank by the secular parties ,and the rejuvenated vision of India belonging to the Hindus as defined in a narrow sense were the main causes.

This definition in the narrow sense has been the bane of Indian politics and it in a way, resulted in the partition of the subcontinent when the Muslims perceived that their demands were being sidelined. Only in the areas that they were in majority they could see some semblance of autonomy and in the rest a minority was struggling to meet its ideals in independence — like equal opportunity and a level playing field.

It was the failure of the political forces in 1947 to satisfy the Muslims that led to the reinforcement of the idea of an independent country for this huge minority in the Indian subcontinent.

It was the failure of the political forces in 1947 to satisfy the Muslims that led to the reinforcement of the idea of an independent country for this huge minority in the Indian subcontinent. And, obviously, partition changed everything because all Muslims could not have possibly moved to an independent Pakistan and those left behind, a very sizable minority almost two hundred million in independent India, almost become traitors in their very own land.

The complicated history of almost a thousand years of the minority, the colonial rule and gradual democratisation of the polity, where numbers opened the horrific possibility of the Muslims remaining a permanent minority on the basics of their faith, was quite an about turn. It sat uneasily with the process of independence achieved through democratic means. Separate electorate and weightage were considered to be equalising interventions. It eventually led to partition.

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According to the author, in the previous stint, Atal Bihari Vajpayee emerged as a moderate consensual figure in the fragmented and mutually competitive Indian polity that made the BJP acceptable across caste, class and regional political divisions. His Gandhian Socialism accommodated Bharatiya Muslims who had neither rejected the Hindu ethos nor overtly expressed their distinct religio-cultural constructs. Also his personal attributes were considered essential to the conceptualisation of conceptual coalition politics of BJP and later the formulation of National Democratic Alliance and its government.

The problem could lie with the construction of the rational, progressive and popular modern identities. The identity constructs were based on the reinterpretation of tradition. The elite middle class that constructed the communitarian national identities considered  the preservation of tradition essential for that survival. Both the proponents, the Hindu Brahmins and the Muslim Ashraaf initially from the Muslim minority province wished to preserve their respective traditions — the Varna system and the Islam/Urdu against the mobilisation of the lower sections of their imagined in groups and against the perceived rising politico economic competition from each other.

Both constructed identities excluded each other as if to avoid pollution. The Golden Age of the indigenous Aryans, the gods revealing to them the sacred knowledge in the shape of Vedas provided the basis of a great civilisation. The Muslims corrupted the Vedic civilisation The Muslims constructed their golden age outside India in Arabia and linked themselves with the larger Muslim community, the Ummah.

The oppositional identity constructs conditioned relationship between the two groups. The survival of one in group religio-cultural primordial construct was linked with the other, rather each viewed the others’ preservation and perpetuation at its expense. The opposition to the other is an integral part of the in group definition. The members of both the imagined communities work in relative harmony in other identity constructs.

If the author is hoping that the identity constructs, basically rooted in the ruling class ethos of both the Muslim and Hindu communities, will wither away with a more composite political reality which is cross caste, creed and religion then it may be just a wish fulfilment.

The conservative preservationist approach is getting more strengthened as, under the pressure of majoritarianism, the Muslims’ decline in every aspect of national life appears unstoppable. The sixty odd years of Indian electoral politics may have snuffed the possibility if there was one of such an eventuality. It appears that under the current political system Muslims are condemned to be in a permanent minority as against the rule of the majority, a democratic principle that none can dispute.

Sarwat Ali

sarwatali
The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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