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Published in the 16-31 Mar 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Hard choices for Muslim voters
By I. K. Shukla 

A Muslim as an Indian citizen would reject to be anybody's ward. That he has been forced time and again to vote according to diktats from the obscurantist leaders of his own community is true, but only to a degree. It is other political parties too that have always reinforced this gangster corralling of votes and contributed heavily to his electoral ghettoizing. He has been duped repeatedly.

Let me amplify. I am from the Cow Belt/Hindi Heartland. As a teenager, I always heard in the cities on raucous occasions, mostly political, Islam in Danger. Year in and year out. And, my classmates, Muslims, either got serious or dejected to hear it. Few were animated or fired by this slogan, and only rarely those few. And, some would seriously tap the forehead, asking: When, if ever, will it be out of danger? They realised early on that it would be the staple of "Muslim" politics, no more, no less. Not that they were uncritical, or unimpressed by genuine concerns. I recall a meeting of Muslim League in Allahabad/Purushottam Das Tandon Park, addressed by Abdur Rab Nishtar, perhaps a Minister in the Interim Central Cabinet at the time. He said: We Muslims are said to be poor in Arithmetic. Even so, we know the difference between 6 and 4. This referred to the demographic equation between Hindus and Muslims in India. Why he brought in 6 and 4 remains unclear. But the logic made impression on those attending the meeting both Hindu and Muslim.
Muslims are being forced into vote banks, vote gangs, ghettoized constituencies. They are being denied the choice of politics, the freedom of affiliation, and the right to participate in the electoral process, as they determine best, in their interest. They are being coerced, violently, socially, administratively and politically, by their "friends", and no less the enemies, to vote as directed, or else.

I would like to recall the late Hamid Dalwai, the Bombay-based socialist, Marathi short story-writer, and a friend. Once he told me about how Muslim votes were garnered and squandered times without number election after election. When political leaders/parties stump in the Hindu localities they promise streets, schools, medical care, electricity etc. And they get elected. But when Muslim leaders barnstorm they offer the only thing they have ever offered: "Islam in Danger. Save it." Thus, in fact, it was the same leaders who repeatedly got "saved", but the electorate was left in the lurch permanetly, left helpless, left wallowing in misery, and left starkly steeped in existential, quotidian danger.

It is this "ghettoization" of Muslim vote that the communal Hindu politics seeks to institutionalize. Overlaid with majoritarian gangsterism and extremist regimentation of society, this bodes more than ill for the minorities, particularly since they all have ben declared "foreigners" or potential foreigners suspected of escaping from the Hindu behemoth via conversion. So, minorities, Muslims in particular, will be treated punitively in an electoral chiaroscuro currently obtaining in India.

It will require a major effort, over quite some time, to break out of the straightjacket coercively put on the Muslim vote both by Muslim leaders, and Hindu fascists. It is theoterrorist Hindutva which is running riot. Vajpayee ecently threatened Muslims to cast their votes "thoughtfully". That is, thoughtlessly, for BJP. This very Vajpaye, over a year ago, had harangued in Varanasi, that he did not need Muslim votes. This of course is true. The reverse too is true, if you vote for others, say Congress and similar political parties, your fate is sealed, as Gujarat demonstrated, in blood and fire.

Muslims are being forced into vote banks, vote gangs, ghettoized constituencies. They are being denied the choice of politics, the freedom of affiliation, and the right to participate in the electoral process, as they determine best, in their interest. They are being coerced, violently, socially, administratively and politically, by their "friends", and no less the enemies, to vote as directed, or else.

Any caste calculus, however deftly manipulated (Are Muslims good at Arithmetic?), will prove unavailing as far as Muslims are concerned, whether in Hindi heartland or elsewhere (more in this Cowbelt). Forcible diktats in vote gathering cannot help them. They are vulnerable on all counts.

[Received through Asiapeace on 4 March 04, in response to Saeed Naqvi's article in the Indian Express on How Should Muslims Vote?]

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