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What Electoral Choices Do Indian Muslims Have?

Already, Muslims have been losing representation in political institutions. Everywhere, they are discriminated against. Should they really be embracing the BJP?
Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

As the 2024 general elections are looming on the horizon some Muslim elite are appealing to Muslim community to give a relook at the Bharatiya Janata Party.

They claim that Indian Muslims are not being discriminated against.

Such intellectuals also argue that BJP is giving special attention to Pasmanda Muslims and the Sufi Muslims. They also argue that Muslims are beneficiaries of BJP’s schemes for social welfare: food, housing, gas, and water among others and, lastly, that there has been no major communal violence since 2014 and that India has been most peaceful during the last 50 years.

Such appeals are based on half truths and ignore the core problem which shapes the lives of Muslims in India. True, some elite Muslims may not be facing the problems so severely but overall the central issue of insecurity, marginalisation and ghettoisation as a whole is not accounted for in such appeals.

The point that there is no major violence against Muslims since 2014 is a blatant lie. The horrific Delhi violence in the aftermath of massive Shaheen Bagh movement, instigated by BJP worthies – who can forget goli maaro and threats of forcible removal of protesters – led to the death of 51 people, 37 of those being Muslims.

Shaheen Bagh on March 10. Photo: Twitter/@UmarKhalidJNU

Day in and day out bulldozers are on the streets to target the Muslim properties, on one or the other pretexts. In BJP ruled states there seems to be a competition as to who can inflict more damage to Muslim properties.

Justice A.P. Shah, a retired chief justice of the Delhi high court, affirmed to the news portal Coda, “Mere alleged involvement in criminal activity cannot ever be grounds for demolition of property.” While the cow politics has led to stray animals causing accidents on roads and in attacks on the standing crops on one hand, on the other it has led to initiation of a new phenomenon of lynching on Indian streets. Starting from Mohammad Akhlaq there are many cases where Muslims (and also Dalits) have been the target of the incited mobs.

The case of Monu Manesar who was part of the crime of Nasir and Junaid is most frightening. Harsh Mander who visited victims’ families wrote, “I am profoundly chilled as I scan social media pages of Monu Manesar. He and members of his gang live stream as they openly brandish sophisticated firearms, sound sirens mimicking police jeeps, shoot at vehicles, and brutally thrash the men they catch.” The proper data of bovine related violence is not available as the state wants to hide it, but it has created a fear among large sections of Muslims. In Mewat in particular, Muslims who deal with dairy business face a tough time. Just a couple of horrific incidents which give us chills in our spines are when Shambhulal Regar not only killed but videotaped the brutal killing of Afrazul in Rajasthan. We saw those accused of murdering Kalimuddin Ansari feted by Jayant Sinha, a Union minister at the time. Such incidents have now become the new normal.

We also saw the scare created around ‘love jihad’ and then how types of jihad were tabulated – UPSC and land jihad among others. The amusing one was corona jihad, where the Tablighi Jamaat meeting was blamed for the spread of COVID-19 and Muslims hawkers were denied entry into societies.

Islamophobia is reaching new heights by the day. This intimidatory atmosphere is leading the rise in the process of ghettoisation of Muslims in the cities. Muslims are being denied housing in the mixed localities in most places. This is accompanied by the decline in their educational and economic status. One example of this is the scrapping of Maulana Azad Fellowship, the major beneficiaries of which have been the Muslim students trying to pursue higher education. The economic climb-down of the community continues in recent years. Gallup data shows that, “For both groups, (Hindus and Muslims) perceptions that standards of living were worsening shot up between 2018 and 2019, as the Indian economy entered a deep slowdown. Among Muslim Indians, the percentage jumped to 45% in 2019, up from 25% the previous year. And among Hindu Indians, the percentage saying the same hit 37% in 2019, an increase of 19 percentage points from 2018.”

The threat of disenfranchising Muslims through the exercise of the National Register of Citizens and Citizenship Amendment Acr is very much there. The Assam exercise showed that among the 19 lakh people who did not have proper papers the majority were Hindus. For Hindus, the safety clause of CAA is in place and for Muslims, detention centres are coming up.

The present show of sympathy for Pasmanda Muslims is mere eyewash. We understand the majority of victims of violence inspired by majoritarian politics are Pasmanda Muslims. The Muslim Ashrafs do need to ensure better treatment of the Pasmandas, but the bigger threat for the community as a whole is the insecurity, which affects them both and makes a fertile ground for orthodox elements to flourish. Reform amongst the Muslim community is a must. However, reforms remain in the backyard when the community feels a threat to its very existence and to the citizenship of its members.

The BJP government in different states is now planning things which are blatantly discriminatory against Muslims. With the Ram temple inaugurated, the RSS-BJP’s majoritarian politics may become more assertive. Already, Muslims have been losing representation in political institutions. We remember that in this Hindu nationalist party not a single MP is a Muslim.

Even earlier governments could not alleviate the suffering of this community. The major obstacle in this direction has been the opposition from RSS-BJP. The Sachar Committee has been an example of how any affirmative action for this deprived community is marred. In the aftermath of that report, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated that deprived and marginalised communities have the first right to national resources. That was propagated as if Singh is saying that Muslims have the first right to national resources. And then there was a brake in any initiative to alleviate the misery of this community.

BJP’s claim is that its free rations and so on are reaching all sections of society. Such schemes and the very concept of labharthis is much against a democratic rights-based approach. We do need to introspect about electoral choices in general for all the communities, and, of course, the luring of a Muslim community is a hollow drum bereft of any substance.

Ram Puniyani is president of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism.

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