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Muslims And The 2024 Mandate

The Lok Sabha election result has rekindled hope for Muslims to participate in nation-building

Illustration: Vikas Thakur
Photo: Illustration: Vikas Thakur
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The electoral verdict of June 4 has reassured the 200-million strong Muslim community in India that they can breathe a collective sigh of relief. The immediate response Muslims had was that the mandate was against PM Narendra Modi’s ‘‘hate and divisive politics’’, and a sense of pyrrhic victory pervaded their understanding of the verdict. A victory that would exert to extenuate, at least for the time being, the demonising of hapless Muslims. The calculus between the hope for peaceful co-existence and fear of religious oppression runs deep in the Muslim psyche, but the verdict, nonetheless, strengthened their faith in and conviction of belongingness to the Indian State, democracy and the Constitution. It rehashed a new hope for Muslims to participate in, represent and make a difference in the nation-building exercise. But, given the lynching of two Muslim men, and a third in critical condition, for transporting cattle in Chhattisgarh’s Raipur district, just two days after the verdict, it seems to be a predicament for Muslims irrespective of the verdict. So, is this sense of blitheness for Muslims skin-deep and ephemeral?

Political Mobilisation and Muslims

In the run-up to the general elections of 2024, the political campaign of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), led by PM Modi, was far more incendiary than previous elections, and there was a direct attack on Muslims’ dignity and rights. It shocked the entire nation and the international community that the diatribe came from the PM who pledges sabka saath, sabka vikas (in support of all, development of all), and who claims to represent all sections of society. Muslims were tongue-lashed as ‘‘infiltrators’’ who basically keep an eye on ‘‘mangalsutras’’ of Hindu women and are trying to snatch away reservation quotas from Dalits and tribals. The communal vituperation against Muslims during political campaigns is part of the strategic political mobilisation to win mass-Hindu approbation, what Christophe Jaffrelot, the political scientist, terms as ‘‘ethnonationalist mobilisation’’. The vile slander is an inherent part of ‘‘Hindutva nationalism’’, and also an attempt to further marginalise the already marginalised Muslim community from the public and political sphere, typically on the grounds of religion, which Indian laws and the Constitution don’t permit. The Hindu nationalists while pursuing Hindutva politics seek to diminish fundamental rights of equal citizenship guaranteed to Muslims and want to turn them into what can be called ‘‘marginalised, less than fully equal citizens’’.

The BJP’s political campaigns during the electioneering processes, in relation to Muslims, can be marked by two broad trajectories. One, the campaign, particularly since the second phase, was explicitly aimed at the deepening of polarisation politics. The BJP attempted to scale up the pernicious polarisation by whipping up the emotions that divide Hindus and Muslims into mutually distrustful ‘‘us vs them’’ blocs, which of course in the long run is a grave threat to democracy. When the top leaders of the BJP make such inflammatory remarks about Muslims, it attunes members of each bloc to perceive each other as an existential threat to their ways of living. The cleavage sometimes runs so deep and wide that it starts manifesting in communal clashes and riots. The recent Delhi riots witnessed, in the backdrop, such communal and provocative remarks by political leaders.

Muslims will have to devise a language of fraternity with the oppressed castes, the indigenous communities, and the critics of Hindutva nationalism.

Polarisation politics is anathema to democracy as it leads to a high degree of power asymmetry between power blocs based on the majority-minority binary. It is interesting to note that polarisation feeds on people’s fear that they may be deprived from participating in the political and social power structures and be excluded from power, security and hierarchy in the blocs. Many people therefore feel the pressure to show allegiance, loyalty or conformity with one bloc or the other as much of the social relations are shaped by their political preferences. The advance of Hindutva politics, in essence, makes it increasingly more difficult and less likely for people to act in a moral, constitutional and principled fashion.

The second trajectory of BJP campaigns was saddled in fomenting Islamophobia, partly to consolidate the floating Hindu votes into the right-wing conservative fold and partly to engender hate and fanaticism against Muslims as Islamophobia’s cultural product. Islamophobia can be understood, briefly, as the fear of Islam—the religion, taking over other non-Islamic religions, say Christianity in the West and Hinduism in India. The snub during the campaigns that Muslims are baby-producing factories stems from the impulses of Islamophobia. Islamophobia tears apart the pluralist ethos and spreads fear, hatred and distrust on both sides of the bloc. For instance, Hindus are in danger due to Muslims is the general motif of Hindutva slogans that leads to anti-Muslim bigotry. Islamophobic fear mongering is aimed at establishing a majoritarian and religiously ‘‘purer’’ Hindu nation-state, creating a ‘‘Hindu political consciousness’’ and imagining the idea of India as Hindu-India. In campaigns, thus, Muslims are often demonised, abused, suspected and threatened with genocide with impunity.

Muslims as Franchisers

Though democracy brings with it tensions and anxieties, it has a powerful bearing towards ‘‘the equality of conditions’’ marked by a psychology of independence and an aspiring, individualist ethos. For Tocqueville, a democratic government is based on civil freedoms, consent (including dissent), political representation and a wide suffrage, and is an outcome of the broader egalitarian movement of history. The Indian republic began its journey with the Partition leaving a deep scar of antagonisms on social relations between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority. Democratic political processes, avowedly to establish equal citizenship, required secularism and federalism as core principles to confront or deflect these entrenched structures of hate and animosities between the two communities.

Muslims, as equal citizens constitutionally, have since independence and more acutely since the early 1990s, found themselves not free, autonomous and informed as voters. They are not able to make a rational choice in the face of leadership-pluralism, as they are more concerned about the choice that would defeat the BJP. With the BJP at the helm of affairs, they fear the ‘‘tyranny of the majority’’, the potential violent penal populism and the warnings of impending genocide. The hatred politics, in a variety of ways, works with the neo-liberal policies of mindless extraction and accumulation producing variegated forms of dispossessions, and Muslims as one of the marginalised communities suffer from such politics. Muslims look for progressives who believe in democracy, human rights and socio-economic equality, but above all, who can keep them secure from the unapologetic authoritarianism, exploitation and violence.

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Can Indian democracy flourish and achieve a developed status while ignoring simultaneously the big Muslim question in its journey of electoral democracy? Can the majoritarian impulses and politics solve the increasing decline of political representation of Muslims in almost all the public institutions in India? When Muslims are warded off while distributing tickets to fight elections by the major political parties at every level of federalism, it is a cause of worry for the proponents of democratic principles. When Muslims are expected to win ‘‘only’’ from the Muslim dominated constituencies, it is a reflection of Muslims mired in political ghettoisation due to polarisation politics. When Muslims have no real choice, but to vote for a party or candidate who can rescue them from the onslaught of hate and fear of a majoritarian regime, it is time to rethink the ‘‘authoritarian-populist-illiberal-democratic’’ practices.

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The recent verdict, in all likelihood, will put a brake on BJPs divisive agenda, weaken the authoritarian impulses of PM Modi, and strengthen the possibilities of accommodation of diversity in a federal sense. Muslims, in particular, though they may lighten up for some time, will have to devise a language of fraternity with the oppressed castes, the indigenous communities, and the critics and dissenters of neo-liberal crony capitalism and Hindutva nationalism, in order to be counted in India’s electoral democracy.

(Views expressed are personal)

(This appeared in the print as 'Muslims And The Mandate')

Tanvir Aeijaz teaches Politics and Public Policy at University of Delhi and is Hon. Vice-Chairman at Centre for Multilevel Federalism, New Delhi

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