Analysis

Communication Gap: Rahul Gandhi & Muslims

It is indeed amazing that new generation of Indian politicians has suddenly woken up to political significance of reaching out to people at grassroots. This is marked by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi taking out time for Dalits in Uttar Pradesh. He has also linked rise of Naxalism with inability of the government to reach out to people. When and if the government fails to address problems faced by the people, they naturally would be prompted to turn to extremist elements- such as Naxals- is the apparent message conveyed by Rahul. The leaders need to be blamed when sections of people decide to turn to violence. Thanks to communication revolution- Rahul apparently belongs to that class of politicians- who have finally accepted that they cannot expect votes and support from people by simply remaining confined to their own glass houses. So he has been left with no option but to move out and enhance the importance of his own political image by reaching out to people, particularly those with tremendous electoral potential. Rahul naturally expects his decision to visit houses of Dalits, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, to play a major role in cutting into political prominence gained there by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which currently is in power with Mayawati as Chief Minister.

Irrespective of electoral, ideological as well as personal factors that may have prompted Rahul to try and chalk out his political agenda, there is no denying that this is aimed at securing return of Congress to power in UP and also at the center to form a single-party government. It is a little surprising that little importance has been given to including Indian Muslims in his plans. Or perhaps, behind the scenes attempts are being made to reach out to them too, but Rahul prefers these not be highlighted. One is thus tempted to deliberate on why has substantial importance been given to political noise made by Rahul about Dalits, while practically little coverage been given to voice of Muslims. Why? Electoral importance of Muslims in multi-party political system can by no means be ignored. Rather, even the extremist parties, which at one time carved out their political agenda and campaign slogans with emphasis on their anti-Muslim rhetoric have toned down on this considerably. They have become conscious of the hard fact that these moves would certainly turn votes of Indian Muslims as well as those committed to secularism against them.

It is indeed amazing that while Rahul’s comments on his being against the caste system, his viewing Dalits as human beings and on government’s failure being responsible for rise of Naxalism have earned him considerable media coverage, little attention has been paid to his views on importance of Muslims in the Indian society and his stand on Indian secularism. In context of alacrity with which Muslims are caught and arrested, even killed as suspect terrorists, without being given even a chance to prove their innocence, why have Congress leaders like Rahul not spoken critically on these issues? If he can hold failures of the government as responsible for the spread of Naxalism, what has prevented him from making the needed noise against Muslims being linked with terrorism? It is indeed ironical, that not the people but the government is being linked for spread of Naxalism, amid the backdrop of their being sufficient evidence of the incidents of violence this extremist group has indulged in. Despite Muslims being victims of numerous fake encounters and riots, where power wielders including the local politicians are understood to have played a major role, why has not Rahul or others of his political class made substantial noise on these cases? If he can think of associating himself with Dalits in UP, what has prevented him from taking similar moves towards aggrieved Muslims of Gujarat?

And perhaps this explains the ‘communal” dilemma which even secular credentials of the likes of Rahul are apparently unwittingly trapped in? They probably still entertain the notion that reaching out to Muslims, beyond outlining proposals and making promises at closed-door meetings, carries a serious political risk. They fear losing votes of majority community, who in the opinion of these leaders still entertain anti-Muslim perception. With vote-banks divided across the country along regional, caste, religious and other ethnic factors, it is time that future politicians stopped viewing the Muslim vote-bank from only a communally tainted lens. Just as Dalits hold a major importance in the Indian political mainstream, so do Muslims. Not surprisingly, leaders of both the communities have in the recent past repeatedly voiced that aligning of Dalits and Muslims can play a major role in charting the country’s political map. It certainly can. In the coming future, they are least likely to wait for likes of Rahul Gandhi to display their support for them. Perhaps, due to a communication gap, Rahul has already missed on a chance to cash on votes of all communities at grassroots, including Muslims, by focusing only on Dalits!

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 October 2009 on page no. 18

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