The Politics of Silence on the ‘Minority Questions’ in 2019 Polls
By : Badre Alam Khan
As the last phase of 2019 election campaign has almost concluded , political parties are now busy in scrambling for the votes of gullible masses including Indian Muslims. To be precise, the issues which are dominated during the 2019 elections campaigns are such as corruptions, muscular nationalism, bad governance, terrorism, (to note that this time, when Pragya Singh Thakur has been declared as BJP candidate from Bhopal, the discourse around ‘Hindu terror’ has also came into surface), politicization of armed forces etc. Above all, one cannot deny that political parties are busy in making allegations and counter-allegations centeredon individual personalities etc. rather than seriously putting an alternative agenda before the gullible subaltern masses.
However, there are few instances,where problems of unemployment, agrarian distress, reservations, and atrocities against Dalits etc. have been foregrounded by mainly secular and social justice parties. However, questions, of environmental crises, rising inequality, under-representations of women, tribal and minority questions etc. have not been vehemently raised by political parties even by the opposition.
In what follows, in this small piece, I am not going to discuss all these issues rather my concern is to highlight and understand the ‘Politics of Silence ’ around the ‘minority questions’ especially with regards to Indian Muslims problems like underrepresentation,(mainly in case of Dalit Muslims who are now presently forced to live in inhuman conditions due to ‘doubly discriminated’ in the larger Indian society).This group is discriminated by the Indian state because in spite of legal constitutional validity; state is averse to legally recognize the SC status to Dalit Muslims. Besides, this group is also discriminated by the larger society as shown by Dr. Aiyub Rayeen in his various studies in case of Bihar.
The various civil society reports including Sachar committee report (SCR: 2006) had highlighted the extremely pathetic conditions of Indian Muslims. However, it is ironical to note that since the Modi-led BJP government came into power in 2014, the targeted hate crimes and phenomena like mob-lynching, mob-violence mostly done by the so-called ‘Cow militia’ (this point has been discussed in detail by senior journalist Ziya US Salam in his book, Lynch Files, 2019) against Indian Muslims have tremendously increased. Here, the question arises, how one could understand the strategic political silence of the so-called secular and social justice parties not being bothered about said issues.Is it because of communal polarizations which are increasingly sharpened by the Hindutva forces? Or because of directly and indirectly the secular parties are also imbibing the majoritarian discourse? Or because of Indian Muslim as a‘political community’ is not so powerful to assert themselves and put pressure before political parties as done by Dalits? On these questions,opinions are sharply divided among the scholars. Some scholars underlined that Indian Muslim questions are linked with the healthy and good relations with Pakistan and global Muslim community too and others progressive minded scholars and social activists said that secular parties are succumbing to the pressure of communal forces and treated Indian Muslim as ‘politically untouchable.’ (See, Harsh Mander, ‘Sonia Sadly’, The Indian Express, 17 March, 2018)
More often following the narrative of orientalist/colonial discourse, mainstream media, right-wing political dispensation and even some sections of liberal intelligentsia too believe that Indian Muslims are themselves to be blamed for their backwardness because of ‘innate conservatism’ and not modernizing according to the needs of modern times ( See, Ramchandra Guha, ‘Liberals Sadly’, The Indian Express , 24 March, 2018). Moreover, the question of instant Triple Talaq is often cited by the right-wing to prove the above point.
However, within the community Pasmanda intellectuals have often made the argument that it is the upper-caste Muslims who are responsible for creating the notion of ‘competing communalism’ (Shahbano case can be cited as an example which took place during the late 1980s). For Pasmanda activists, unlike secular brigade, without fighting minority communalism within community, we cannot fight against the majority communalism in the larger public sphere; because both have had symbiotic relationship as far as communal question is concerned.However, still for them like other secular scholars mainly in the present political context, majority communalism is more dangerous than minority communalism. And hence, it is high time now that minority politics should move from symbolic issues to the more substantive socio-economic problems, as underlined by Pasmanda politics. In short, Pasmanda politics must move beyond the communal vs. secular binary and forge alliances with oppressed social groups (known as ‘Bahujan’ who constitute 85 percent India’s population) across the religious communities to contain both minority and majority communalism in the long run. However, this experiment has not taken roots in the Indian politics so far.
To conclude here, I would like to argue that myth created around Indian Muslims by the corporate media and communal forces regarding the identity of Muslims (for instance, it is often said that Muslims are religiously conservative, monolithic in nature and too much concerned about religious identity rather than having secular Indian identity and hence, cannot be true patriotic and Indian) needs to be seriously exposed in the light of everyday practices mainly in Indian socio-economic setting. In this respect, the sociological/anthropological studies about Indian Muslims have had underlined that like other communities, Indian Muslims are also divided on the lines of caste, region, languages, culture, sects, gender etc. On the basis of these empirical studies, one could argue that ‘stereotypical image’, which has been created and constructed by media and right-wing forcesis far from truth and unfortunately directly and indirectly imbibed by the secular and social justice parties.
Since independence, it is a sad commentary to note that for the first time Indian Muslims have become ‘politically untouchable’ ( only 23 Muslims MPs are elected in 2014 parliamentary polls which is the lowest since 1952 LokSabha elections). In the ongoing parliamentary polls which has entered into the final phase now, the fact cannot be denied that almost all political parties including secular and progressives seem to be keeping strategic ‘political silence’ on the minority questions, in spite of the fact that Indian Muslims are passing through extremely difficult times.
The author is a research scholar at University of Delhi