National

Electoral equations and Secular values

The Batla House encounter, the refusal of the UPA II Government to institute a proper inquiry into it and the accompanying demonization of Muslim youth was a big blow to the community which is struggling against odds to come out of ghettoization and wishes to embrace modern education and take advantage of opportunities to the best of its capabilities, which at present are not adequate to pull it out of the morass in which it is trapped.

The UP Assembly elections results gave a clear mandate to the Samajwadi Party. Congress was claiming that the results of UP will be a shocker, meaning a surprisingly better performance of Congress. As results came through, Congress was nowhere close to the claims it made or the results it expected. Prior to the elections the main leaders of UP Congress with Rahul Gandhi in the lead, campaigned vigorously. The carrot of reservations for Muslims was dangled and the Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s private tears on Batla House encounter were on public display, but it seems the Muslim voters in particular were not impressed. So far Congress had a very safe equation with the Muslim voters, also called “Muslim votebank” by its critics. The understanding was that since Muslims know that communal BJP is not the option where will they go except to the ‘secular’ Congress.

 Where do matters stand? It is true that large sections of Muslims realize that the BJP can never be the option for Muslims as BJP is the epitome of communal politics being the political child of RSS, which is working for the agenda of Hindu Rashtra through its multiple progenies like VHP, Bajrang Dal, Vanvasis Kalyan Ashram and myriad other organizations. In communal violence, while the Congress has played a despicable role in the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, it has also been the mute witness to the series of anti-Muslim riots and pogroms against Muslims.   Justice to the victims of violence has not been actively pursued by the Congress wherever it has been in the ruling formation. Mumbai violence of 1992-93 was the worst example of ignoring and marginalizing the victims of carnage. Muslims have also suffered at the hands of Congress-ruled governments in the aftermath of acts of terror, particularly those of Mecca Masjid, Malegaon, Ajmer and Samjhauta Express blasts. In the aftermath of these blasts Muslim youth were arrested, tortured, their careers crushed and later they were released for the lack of any credible evidence whatsoever.

Still, despite all these lapses, the Muslim community has realized that Congress is a lesser evil, particularly after the Gujarat anti-Muslim pogrom under the leadership of Narendra Modi where the transformation of the democratic set-up to a semi-fascist Hindu rashtra is more than visible. They have also seen that the real culprits of bomb blasts mentioned above belonged to the RSS pantheon, for whom BJP made all the efforts and noise to shield and protect.

This distinction between Congress and BJP seems more or less clear, especially when one reflects on the acts of commission and omission of the NDA Government at the Centre between 1998 and 2004. Having kept aside the BJP as an electoral option, what happens to the Congress claim to be a secular party committed to the interests of minorities. There is a mixed bag here. On one hand, Congress instituted Sachar Committee and Rangnath Misra Commission, which have given the true picture of the plight of Muslims and suggested the remedies too. On the other hand, the implementation of the recommendations of these reports, if at all, is too slow. The intimidated Muslim minority is looking for policies which can lift it up from the stifling atmosphere of the ghettoes in which they have been forced to live due to the massive recurring communal riots and the preceding and accompanying demonization of the community in the social space and media. A large section of the community wants reservations, but putting it as a mere electoral promise cannot fool the community, which is watching the dismal fate of the Sachar Committee and Rangnath Misra Commission recommendations.

The Batla House encounter, the refusal of the UPA II Government to institute a proper inquiry into it and the accompanying demonization of Muslim youth was a big blow to the community which is struggling against odds to come out of ghettoization and wishes to embrace modern education and take advantage of opportunities to the best of its capabilities, which at present are not adequate to pull it out of the morass in which it is trapped. The Batla House encounter and the negative attitude of the Congress for a proper inquiry showed that the Congress does not have courage to take up the issue of the security of Muslims in right earnest. Mere tears do not protect you. The event in the neighbouring Rajasthan, where the police entered a mosque and opened fire to kill those sitting inside was also something which cannot be pardoned at all.

The Congress seems be a mixed platform and a pragmatic party as far as the principles of secularism are concerned. It will go this far and refuse to take the decisive steps for principled democratic-secular values. One knows that the state apparatus has also been heavily communalized and it takes a strong will-power to take up the principled secular stand and to live up to that. In UP, it seems the Muslim voters had the choice between Samajwadi and Congress. Samajwadi had also temporarily allied with Kalyan Singh who had presided over the demolition of the Babri mosque, but that was a brief alliance. Riots in Mau and other places had erupted during the Samajwadi regime. Here surely Mulayam must have sounded like the lesser evil vis-à-vis BJP or Congress.

Is this the same Congress which had the glorious tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Pundit Nehru who staked their all for preservation of secular values? With the present dithering attitude of the Congress leadership such claims are nowhere close to be acceptable. Many a Congress youth are also much communalized. One does not know whether this grand old party is making its workers know about what secularism is, what is the truth behind the prevalent biases against minorities, how MK Gandhi had ensured Hindu-Muslim unity by staking his life and how Jawaharlal stood like a rock supporting the edifice of plural values. A party is made by its workers and their mindset. While leadership dithers on such issues the workers, by and large, have no clue as to how to take up the issues of minorities battered by the onslaught of communal violence and communal politics.

UP Assembly election results apart from other things are a pointer for the party to take up the secular legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, if it wants to make a positive contribution to Indian democracy. (Issues in Secular Politics)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 May 2012 on page no. 6

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