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Published in the 1-15 Apr 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Indian Muslims should devise new political strategies

Indian democracy is fully supported by nation's largest minority of 150 million Muslims, whose voting strength in at least 100 Lok Sabha seats has deciding percentage presence. However, due to its continued lack of political organisation of its own, its much maligned 'Muslim vote-bank’ had remained tied to Congress Party for the first forty years of Independence. After the demolition of Babri Masjid and the subsequent countrywide organised communal riots against Muslims under the watch of Indian National Congress's first RSS trained Brahmin Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, the Muslim vote bank is virtually out of the bottle. 

In the second phase, though Muslim vote bank deserted Congress and had for the first time free to vote whichever party it preferred, no consensus or machinery to build up a consensus has been able to achieve any effective leverage with political parties, to whom they switched their voting preferences. 

A new development was the emergence of Muslim Pressure Groups like All India Muslim Personal Law Board, All India Muslim Majlise Mushawarat and All India Milli Council, who directly or indirectly were able to influence Muslim voters in a perceptible manner, and who are in a position to interact with political parties, to pressurise them to follow their suggested strategies, as a quid pro quo to the sponsorship they could publicly or privately offer to the favoured parties.

These efforts seems to have some desired effects on the liaison process, however at times, the Muslim Pressure Groups seem to be oblivious to the fact that political parties themselves are operating in a very competitive field and have to adopt their own strategies to fight an election or to position themselves for the future. The mechanics of electioneering has its own dynamics and Muslim elders have yet to develop pragmatic and flexible mode of relationships in full consonance with the ground realities that could translate into ongoing stakes with some chosen parties who could be relied upon to invest their loyalties with the Muslims in turn.

It is quite possible that Muslim Pressure Groups being out of touch with the grass-root politics for long time, their advice to these parties may turn out to be irrelevant, impractical, academic and sometime even open to ridicule. 

There has to be a more open public awareness of the various strategies that political parties use, to further their prospects, not all resulting always in outright winning of seats for their candidates. The other objectives like undercutting the votes of rivals, though a reprehensible practice, have now become par for the course, in as much as, the field is becoming over crowded and the competition is becoming more fierce. In a democracy, where there is no restriction on people forming political parties as per Election Laws, such development of overcrowding has be accepted and strategies have to be devised around such obstacle course by political parties, using their own set of priorities. 

Muslims have suffered the monopoly rule of Congress for more than 40 years and may inadvertently promote the consolidation of another monopoly party, if we do not consciously promote the role of balancing political parties however small or seemingly inconsequential their numerical or electoral strength may be. On the other hand, all such regional or caste-combination political groupings as compared to the two prominent national level parties, have now become the real power behind the coalition politics. It is clear that Muslims vote will be worth more to these smaller parties rather than to the bigger national parties. All such smaller parties in their natural process of survival may have to follow different cooperative or Under such circumstance, cannot be restricted to a role when they should be barred from aspiring to become monopoly political parties themselves. That is their prime motivation that will drive them to strive harder. It is axiomatic that all monopoly groups, emerging from time to time, will remain the continuous target of the people so as to keep India free of despotism.

Extending their role to advice Muslim voters, Muslim Pressure Groups could themselves support strategies, by which the vote banks of major political groupings like BJP and Congress are dispersed and disintegrate so that groups like BSP, SP, RJD are strengthened. At the moment all of these emerging non-Brahmin parties need Muslim support, but are loathe to openly courting them. That should be counted as failure of Muslim diplomatic skills vis a vis other communities.
We should not forget that L. K. Advani had advised voters in Haryana recently that if you do not vote BJP, vote for Congress. This is open cartelisation of political power equation between the two major political parties. If Indian politics are to be cleansed of these two major monopolist political corporate bodies, Muslims should broaden their set of alternative and beware of any tunnel vision syndrome. The smaller parties can only dent the cartelisation of power by the two big hegemonists, if they are given unfettered support to increase their spread and offer more and more candidates for election in increasing constituencies. All such candidates, even if losing their deposits will form a new class of ‘electables’ that will be sorely needed in future.

Except for Brahmins and high castes from Congress and BJP, the pool of experienced candidates is not readily available and projected in public life, for the smaller parties to attempt an All India level of presence to do justice to their core objectives. Now that both BJP and Congress are not in a position to form governments on their own and are looking for coalitions, Muslim pressure groups should have a more structured policy to nurture the coalition culture, rather than issue dictates at the eve of elections for the parties to obey or else. It is this election-to-election living that has ensured the virtual sidelining of Muslims from active mainstream political and social life. In fact, they should fashion longer-term affiliations with selected groups to engender confidence and trust on an ongoing basis. Though this exercise by Muslim Pressure Groups under the current polarisation in the political field is bound to be publicly acknowledged as a credible source of guidance to Muslim voters, the ground realities are too complex to wield to such across the board directives and would assume a confrontational rather than a more healthy cooperative role that could translate into Muslims sharing political power through active participation from within smaller political parties.

Another point that could offer a whole new set of possibilities is to give full weightage to caste equations that is by far the most relevant consideration that affects political strategies in all parties. Muslim leaders, who can only think in terms of secular/non-secular formulations, have yet to get the feel of caste politics that dominates the real grass-root politics of India. Under such circumstances, we should be prepared to target all Brahmanical caste entities, whether they come out as secular or non-secular. In fact, the bench mark of secular credentials have now become a farce and we should try to absorb the reality on the ground, if Muslim Pressure Groups have to offer some relevant and effective advice or ‘dictat’ to political parties that can end in mutually beneficial results. The old dividing line between secular and religious, so much overworked through Marxist intellectualism of the past half a century in India, is essentially passé in current scenario. The naked power politics of exclusivist Brahmanism can only be countered through alliances with oppressed caste groups. Muslims with no caste burdens to hamper them can treat all lower caste groups on equal ground and try to help them to improve their social and political status, while at the same time forming fruitful associations.

As a matter of fact, anti-Brahmanism is the dominant electoral plank of all such emerging political parties, like BSP, SP and RJD. It is surprising that Muslims are still shy of the acknowledging that Brahmanism is the main instrument of the oppression of all non-Brahmins even though Muslims themselves as a community suffered from Brahmanical exclusivity and monopoly power strategies as much as any other lower caste groups has.

Under the anti-Brahmanical dispensation, all big parties that are dominated and led by Brahmins, be that the Congress, BJP or the Communists, all should be treated as anti-people and Muslims should side and promote lower caste groups on the basis of full equality, as their religion sanctions. The next wave of social and political regrouping should be along Brahmin and non-Brahmin lines.

Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai

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