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Published in the 16-30 June 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Speaking Out

U-Turn in Advani's "mind-set"

By Nilofar Suhrawardy

The Milli Gazette Online 

Some credit must be given to BJP leader L.K. Advani for standing by comments he made in Pakistan. With the saffron brigade reacting strongly to his having praised Mohammed Ali Jinnah as a “secular” man and expressing regret over demolition of Babari Masjid, Advani decided to resign as BJP president.

Having espoused anti-Pak strategy, a root cause of their communal approach against Indian Muslims, for more than five decades, it is perhaps natural for these hardliners to be stunned by the u-turn in their own leader, Advani’s attitude. Though Advani has repeatedly credited NDA government for having initiated the Indo-Pak peace process, it cannot be missed, that he was held to be responsible for failure of the much-publicized Vajpayee-Musharraf Agra Summit (2001). Besides, he played a major role - undertaking politico-religious campaigns over Ayodhya-issue - to attract Hindu votes to BJP. 

Advani’s remarks followed by his resignation are a clear pointer that he and some of his colleagues have been compelled to adopt this approach after careful deliberation. Incidentally, the stage for these developments was set even before Advani made the “controversial” remarks. This refers to comments made by former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in Manali on 30th May. Welcoming the improvement in Indo-Pak ties, Vajpyaee said: “The times are changing fast, our relations (with our neighbors) are improving and with that our mindset too should change.” Later, he asked Advani to withdraw his resignation and also expressed his support for his comments on Jinnah. 

Whatsoever be the diplomatic and political factors which compelled Advani to display change in his “mindset,” it is time the saffron brigade accepted certain political realities. To begin with, there lies no credibility in their identifying Indian Muslims with pro-Pakistani label. It is a tragic irony that the very Muslims, who at the time of partition, preferred parting from their loved ones to stay behind here, were (and to a degree still are) labeled as pro-Pakistani elements. 

Wasn’t their decision to stay behind a strong testimony to their patriotism? Yet, time and again, Indian Muslims have to make the extra-effort to fight against the “Pakistani label” attached to them. It is a small battle, but one that has to be repeatedly fought. This point is being specially made for upon his return from Pakistan, Advani said that while partition cannot be undone, it is possible to undo some follies of partition. Perhaps, a beginning should be made with the saffron brigade shedding this approach towards Indian Muslims. 

One is also compelled to probe into the ease with which “secularism” of Indian Muslims is questioned. As of today, there exists no Muslim political party or leader that/who can claim to hold appeal for Muslims throughout the nation. Prospects of such an organization and/or leader emerging in the near future seem as good as non-existent. In other words, Muslims have not displayed any apprehension about aligning with or supporting the party/group that displays concern for their interests/grievances. This political attitude of Muslims would not have been worth mentioning if the recent years were not witness to emergence of numerous parties espousing ethnic interests based on regional, religious and/or caste-like affiliations. 

If only and only religious parameters clouded political attitude of Indian Muslims, they would have probably paid little heed to “secular” perceptions espoused by parties claiming to be concerned about their interest. This factor stands out when viewed in context of Muslims representation in the parliament. It is hardly in proportion to their population.

If there should be 15 Muslim members in the Lok Sabha from Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 members to the house, seven of the 40 from Bihar should be Muslims. Likewise, 11 of the 42 from West Bengal, 4 of the 42 from Andhra Pradesh, 3 of the 28 from Karnataka, 5 of 20 from Kerala, 4 of 14 from Assam, 5 of 48 from Maharashtra should be Muslims. Despite Muslims constituting 18.5 percent of population in UP, it has only 11 Muslims in the Lok Sabha, Bihar has 16.5 percent of Muslims, but only four members in the Lok Sabha. The same holds true for Assam which has 30.9 percent Muslims but one to the Lok Sabha, West Bengal with 25.2 percent but 5 members, Andhra Pradesh with 9.2 percent, two members, Karnataka with 12.2 percent, one member, Kerala with 24.7 percent but three members and Maharashtra with 10.4 percent of the population of Muslims but only one member to the Lok Sabha. 

The states which do not have a single Muslim member in the Lok Sabha are Gujarat (with population of Muslims here 9.1 percent, there should be two members), Rajasthan (8. 5 percent, 2), Madhya Pradesh (6.4 percent, 2), Delhi (11.7 percent, 1), Uttaranchal (11.9 percent, 1) and Haryana (5.8 percent, 1). Likewise, Muslims are inadequately represented in state legislatures also. 

These facts only prove that as active voters, Indian Muslims have given preference to political secularism against communalism bordering on religious polarization. 

Against this backdrop, even if it is a cosmetic exercise, the apparent “change” in Advani’s “mindset” is welcome. It is hoped that the same importance is given to changing or at least initiating the change in saffron hardliners’ approach regarding their patriotism, secularism and towards Indian Muslims!

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