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The vexed question of representation-II 
By M. Zeyaul Haque

Like represents like, and BJP is most unlike Muslims. Hence, it can’t speak or work for Muslims.

M. Zeyaul HaqueOn February 6, Aaj Tak showed some shots of quake-hit Muslims staging a demonstration before the district collector’s office at Bhuj. They were protesting against government for neglecting them in relief operations, which the inept BJP government of Gujarat has handed over to RSS and its front organizations. This piece of news did not find much coverage in the main newspapers of the national capital next day. However, The Hindustan Times editor Vir Sanghavi in an article in the newspaper of February 7 rightly referred to the Gujarat CM as ‘the incompetent fundamentalist’. In both his ‘incompetence’ and ‘fundamentalism’ the CM has aggravated the hurt and distress of disaster-hit Muslims.

The viciousness of saffron organizations in relief operations was known to Muslims outside Gujarat even before the Aaj Tak news telecast. Last fortnight, a team of All India Milli Council relief workers (which included medical personnel) from New Delhi was amazed to find that in many areas the state government had abdicated in favour of the RSS, which had nearly cornered the entire relief material and was in full control of relief operations. Naturally, Muslim areas were bypassed in such relief operations. However, the team was happy to note that Muslim organizations and individuals were busy helping themselves with great energy and dedication.

Even before the Milli Council team’s encounter with saffron reality in Gujarat, Indian Express columnist Pamela Philipose wrote of relief-carrying ‘trucks roaring past’ hapless villages waiting for much-needed relief. The materials were taken to well-connected, privileged quake victims. The privileged cornered most of it while the real needy looked at this state-sponsored malfeasance in pained amazement. Philipose observed that like always, those who were ‘outside the loop’ (the network of privilege) were left out in the cold.

This blatant dereliction of duty on the part of the state was enough to write off any government in a better-functioning democracy. All this is not difficult for Muslims to understand: how could they expect fairplay from RSS and its offshoots like VHP and ABVP when their very existence is based on hatred of Muslims? It is not very difficult to understand why the BJP government abdicated in favour of its holding company, the RSS. Now we are back to the old, vexed question of representation: the BJP government of Gujarat (like any other BJP government) does not represent Muslims. Hence, all this problem.

There is a simple criterion for representation: like represents like. To explain, an Indian citizen cannot represent a British constituency in Britain’s Parliament. Only a Britisher can do that. Why? Because only the British are represented in British Parliament, like Indian are represented in theirs. In the case of representation in national parliament, the shared value that confers ‘likeness’ on the representative is shared nationhood. Although, technically, Muslims share the citizenship of the country with all Indians, RSS-BJP’s ideas of nationhood are based on criteria that automatically exclude from the nationhood definition all people professing religions that originated outside India. Hence, BJP would never be able to speak or act on behalf of Muslims and Christians.

Shared nationhood is only one of the criteria. There are other finer distinctions which make or mar representation. Maximum ‘likeness’ of the representative to the represented ensures optimal and most meaningful representation. This is why today’s Dalits in UP would prefer to vote for Kanshi Ram and Mayawati’s party rather than Sonia Gandhi’s or Atal Behari Vajpayee’s, because Dalits would identify with their own people. Others may not be, in their heart of hearts, as much ‘like’ the Dalits as Kanshi-Mayawati duo. Here, common nationhood is not enough.

This simple fact has led many Muslims in the country to think in terms of having a political party of Muslims on the lines of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). This proposed party, like BSP, would forge electoral alliances with whoever offers the best terms, and all of its candidates in the electoral battle would not necessarily be Muslims (like BSP’s are not all Dalits), but the party as such would speak for Muslim Indians.

On the face of it, the idea sounds quite reasonable, but senior Muslim leaders feel that BSP may not be the right model for a new party, because the Dalit and Muslim situation are not (historically and politically) analogous. A few years ago, Saiyid Hamid argued at length against this proposal in a series of three articles in Asian Age. One may not be able to find enough senior Muslim leaders who want a BSP-type Muslim party for this line of argument to carry any great conviction.

The present difficulties of Muslim Indians, however, do not detract from the need for finding ways for better representation. At the back of the wariness of Muslim leaders like Syed Shahabuddin and Muslim groups like MOEMIN about the reservation for women in parliament is the fear that this may further aggravate the ratio of Muslim representation in national parliament, though it would have the desirable effect of increasing women’s share in parliamentary seats and ministerial berths.

What Muslim leaders (and the leaders of other under privileged castes and classes) are saying today has already been articulated by writers of feminist and subaltern concerns and theoreticians like Gayatri Spivak, Elain Showalter and Mary Eagleton. ‘Representation’ being both a political and a literary word, they are wary of the ‘unlike’ trying to represent the ‘like’ either in art, literature or in politics with any great degree of success. This is why the portrayal of black Africa’s life by the white Joseph Conrad (The Heat of Darkness) is regarded as far less authentic than the portrayal by the black Chinua Achebe’s. This is why when the Nobel-winning black American woman writer Toni Morrison declared in a newspaper article (in the wake of Monica Lewinsky stink) that ‘Bill Clinton is the first black President of the U.S.’, people sat up and took note, because if Toni Morrison thinks Bill Clinton is the first black President, then he must be so in some very significant ways, more significant than the colour of his skin. Like his love for saxophone playing and his insatiable appetite for reckless philandering. ‘Oh, how like our own men’, Morrison would squeal with joy.

Now coming back to women’s representation in parliament: are not the less privileged castes, classes and communities justified in thinking that the castes and classes whose men already have more than their share in power will have their women also joining them under the project of representation of women. What is sure to happen is that the representation of the powerful classes, castes and communities would grow (with their women bolstering their numbers) while the less represented classes and their women will suffer further.

Gayatri Spivak has raised the issue (in a literary context) in her fine study ‘Can the subaltern speak?’ We can look at, say, the writings of women from Bengal in the late 19th century-early 20th century. They are supposed to be speaking for ‘women’ in an oppressive, male-dominated society. In a way, women writing about women and their oppression under patriarchy are far more authentic than men doing it from second hand experience. But could the high-caste, upper-class women speak for the Dalit women and, say, Muslim women without sharing some of the male prejudices of their caste and class about the other castes and classes (including their women)? The point in literary as well as political representation to be emphasized is not only ‘women’ as such, but ‘which women?’. We want women in parliament, more the merrier. But which women? Whose women?

Over the last five decades, the class and ethnic composition of the successive Lok Sabhas has improved in many ways. Ever larger sections, groups and regions have been able to partake of the spoils of power; the sense of participation has grown. Regional aspirations have got a better articulation; formerly marginalized groups have come within the periphery of power. Now is the time for women to claim their rightful share in the pie. All that has to be ensured is that only the elite women don’t run away with the cake like their men. Other women should also get their share. 

Sadly, the high expectations from the regional parties have been belied because of their unprincipled lust for power. They are ever ready to make the Faustian bargain and bed with the devil. The hope that their emergence on the political scene would loosen the vise-like grip of the old power elite on the polity and usher in an era of fairplay under a more evenly federalized system has been shattered.

That the present Lok Sabha has one of the thinnest ever representations of Muslims is even more galling. Many argue for a proportional representation system which would theoretically double present Muslim strength in Lok Sabha. But that is a long shot. For the present, the community has to devise ways for better performance within the present system only. That includes better alliance-building, keeping a watch on electoral rolls, tactical voting, and whole range of other possible strategies. (Concluded)

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