Smokescreen of Secularism

04 Mar, 2014    ·   4322

Shujaat Bukhari writes about the political parties' posturing of themselves as secular, during election time, and the upshots of the same on the community

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir
Come elections, there is a rat race among political parties in India to woo the Muslim voters. This all is obviously done under the smokescreen of “secularism”, which has been unabashedly abused by the warring political parties. Now the situation has reached a point where the political parties are giving their own convenient interpretations of secularism in order to ensure maximum votes.

The foundation of India was laid on secularism which vowed to give equal space to all the religions. The leaders who ensured freedom for India and opposed the creation of Pakistan on the basis of religion had a point in boasting about a country that would see an exemplary co-existence of various religions.

Unlike the European concept, which simply meant power of the state would be exercised independently of the directions of the Church, it meant acceptance of all religions in equal terms. However, over a period of time it envisaged protection of Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and other minorities in the country and respecting their religions.

Notwithstanding the fact that huge human losses were inflicted on the sub-continent in the event of division, that too in the name of religion, minorities lived peacefully to a considerable time.

However, this slowly changed and the assertion of India being a Hindu nation, especially by the rightwing extremists of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and their political outfit Bharatiya Janata Party, attained a grand standing even in the political sphere of “secular India”.

Communal riots, in which Muslims were the targets, became order of the day and insecurity and backwardness of Muslims became the hallmark of their existence in the country. As they started feeling isolated in a country whose founders had promised them equal rights, they became the cannon fodder for the political parties who used them as vote bank to further their political fortunes. Congress, which wore the tag of “unadulterated” secularism, could have looked after the rights of Muslims and even their lives as well. That, however, was not the case as Congress miserably failed to give the rightful place to Muslims in the country.

This fact that Muslims had not progressed in last 60 years, was confirmed by the Sachar Committee, constituted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his first term as head of UPA government.

The pathetic condition of Muslims is also indicative of the fact that it was Congress, which had failed the Muslims as it ruled India for most of the time since 1947. Not only have been Muslims left out in education and other sectors but security also became paramount concern for them in the recent past. That is why they looked towards alternatives such as Janta Dal, Rashtriya Janta Dal, Janta Dal (United), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party and pinned their hopes on leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan and others. However, the sense of security these leaders could instill among them also did not last for long.

The dynamics again changed when thousands of Muslims were killed in Gujarat in 2002 and Muslims were left with no option but to move back to Congress. Promises to uplift Muslims were renewed and Congress was able to win 21 seats of Lok Sabha from Uttar Pradesh where Muslims played an important role. With more than 14 percent share in the electorate, Muslims hold key to at least 100 seats all over India. But they again failed them, so did Mulayam Singh Yadav who shamelessly remained mute spectator to recent communal violence against Muslims in Muzaffarnagar.

With the Lok Sabha polls all set to be held next month, the parties are again trying to woo the voters with different promises. But the laughable stock, which BJP wants to sell to Muslims, is the “vague offer” of apology from its President Rajnath Singh who maintained “agar koi galti hui hogi”.

None in the BJP is ready to admit that they had mercilessly killed Muslims in Gujarat but they still want the Muslim votes. The reason is that whatever “meaning” secularism in India had been left with has also been drifted away. And this comes out of the confidence that any party with whatever past vis-a-vis Muslims can come to power and rule India without any consequences in mind. Even the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi redefined it saying that Congress had misused it. But see his way of using it. “For us, secularism means politics of development for all, appeasement of none and justice for all,” he told a rally in Patna on Monday alongside Paswan who was once claimed to be the saviour of Muslims.

Taking Muslims far granted for votes also has a different factor. Since partition, they have virtually been orphaned as far as the real leadership is concerned. Absence of a personality like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad on the political scene is being felt badly. The community, comprising nearly 20 percent of Indian population, much higher than many Muslim countries in the world has not seen a cohesive political leadership. After Azad, there is hardly a Muslim leader of national character who could represent them. If it was he in 1950s, there could be many in line who could be considered “Muslim leaders” but it is difficult to place them in the category of one who could represent the entire Indian Muslim community.

Rafi Ahmad Kidwai and Ziaur Rehman Ansari are few odd names but their influence was limited and they could not emerge as a voice for the entire community. Similarly the likes of G M Banatwala and Salahuddin Owaisi emerged on the political turf but again with a confined and limited area of influence. Banatwala’s Muslim League was a party confined to fringes of the South and Owaisi, despite being a hardcore political stalwart, could not speak for the entire Muslim population of India. It was, however, in 1980s that a name like Syed Shahabuddin emerged on the scene. He was not only a seasoned diplomat but also a sound intellectual with an appeal that could make him the strong voice of the community. Though he reached Parliament, yet his voice lost soon after the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. He became the sole voice of resentment against the demolition of the Masjid. Unfortunately, he became the victim of the conspiracies of being branded as “communal” and he soon vanished in thin air.

On the other hand, Muslim religious organisations could not come out of the perpetual guilt complex of Partition and failed to give direction to their community. Different religious schools in India played in the hands of one or the other political party, thus concentrating on short-term interests and sacrificing larger ones. The seminaries across north India failed to empower the community both educationally and socially. Their conformist attitude left them far behind to be exploited by fringe elements in the political set-up. Votes in the name of Muslims were garnered by leaders of all political parties. Even Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Ghulam Nabi Azad, two political stalwarts of Jammu and Kashmir, contested from Bihar and Maharashtra and reached Parliament.

Similarly, when Saifuddin Soz was briefly pushed into political wilderness by his political mentors in the National Conference, he too was offered to contest from a Muslim-dominated area in India. But he refused and chose to lose from his traditional constituency in Baramulla. There are surely 29 Muslim members in Lok Sabha but hardly any of them could be considered as a leader who genuinely represents Muslims not only in Parliament but in other forums as well. Asaduddin Owaisi is the only exception but he too is confined to Hyderabad.

In this situation, the meaning of secularism is bound to change. It was used to keep the minorities together in the flock of majority, but that has since been defeated. If today Paswan and his ilk choose to see someone who is responsible for genocide as the best choice for the post of PM, he is not to be blamed. This is emerging as an acceptable political tune in India and it is Congress which is to be blamed for throwing open this space.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir.