Why has the Muslim community been politically marginalized in India?

Is the Muslim community facing political oblivion today? Definitely yes as per the trends we are witnessing today.

In the recent elections that have taken place in the country, there has been talks veered around dalit consolidation, OBC vote bank and of course, the upper caste mobilization under the banner of Hindutva but hardly, anyone seems interested in the minority community.

In the present Lok Sabha, the number of Muslim MPs is only 23 and all these MPs come from only 7 states. Can you imagine that a state like UP has no Muslim representation in Lok Sabha? Isn’t it catastrophic that a community that has around 15 percent population as per 2011 census and has ruled the country for over more than 700 years has less than 5 percent representation in Lok Sabha?

It was not long ago that the community was rated as an invincible vote bank and most of the parties were not averse to appeasing them & pampering to their sentiments even if the sentiments appeared to be not guided by any reason. The Congress needed them and even the socialist cum Mandal rath rolled on their shoulders. How has the situation changed so dramatically over the last decade or so?

The victory of the Modi led BJP in 2014 LS elections demolished the myth of Muslims as a monolithic unbeatable vote bank. The nation saw as to how a party could sweep power even without seeking votes from the Muslims and giving them miniscule representation in ticket distribution. The alienation of the Muslims is not going to be remedied soon because of the strengthened feeling among even the secular leaders that they need to keep Hindus in good humour by not appearing to be pro-Muslim beyond a certain limit.

What explains the new found love of Rahul Gandhi for temples? What compels Samajwadi Party to rediscover immense love for Lord Krishna and talk of building his 50 meter tall statue? What explains the increase in momentum of Ram Mandir movement juxtaposed by the silence of all the so called secular parties?

Hindutva, Nationalism and Cultural homogeneity have become the new buzz words; the political space for the so called secular parties has shrunk dramatically and the BJP is in power not only at the centre but also in most of the states. The opposition parties are finding the ground beneath their feet shaking and hence their realization that the majority Hindus can’t be ignored any longer.

Is Hindutva to be held responsible for the plight of Muslims? Yes, to some extent but then let’s not fool ourselves by thinking that this is the only reason. The Muslim community is itself to be blamed for its predicament. Let us contemplate to get to the reasons:

1) The Muslim community failed to develop a credible progressive political leadership since independence and the outcome was disastrous. The vacuum created was filled by the conservative religious Maulanas who acquired the leadership role. The community became more religious and less political. The socio-economic condition of the community is no better than the dalits but you will hardly see them agitating on the streets for reservation like the Patels, the Jats or the Marathas. But when it comes to issues like Shah Bano case, the Triple Talaq or any perceived insult to Prophet, the community is second to none in hitting to the streets. Excessive religiosity has de-politicized the community. The seculars love it and are not hesitant to pay visits to the Maulanas in furtherance of their vote bank politics.

2) Secularism may be at the heart of our constitution but let us be frank enough to admit that the kind of secularism politics we are practicing today has done more harm than good to the community. In its name, appeasement of the minority community became the norm creating heart burning among the majority Hindu community; to cap it, for many overzealous secular leaders, secularism became synonymous with Minoritism. The community became emboldened enough to think that it can get away despite doing anything because it has the numbers to veto the political prospects of any party. Hindu consolidation since nineties is fallout of appeasement and secularism politics.

3) At the time of independence, the Muslim population in India was about 5 percent which has increased to around 15 percent as per 2011 census. Though the overall growth rate in population in the country during 2001 – 2011 was 17.7 percent, in case of Muslims it was 24.6. To be fair to the community, though its growth rate is slowing down, it is much higher than the growth rate of around 16 percent for Hindus. States like West Bengal, Assam and Kerala have seen rapid changes in demography in favour of the Muslims where they are in between 30 percent to 40 percent. The Kashmir imbroglio and the forced pull out of the Kashmiri Pandits have done no less harm to the Muslim cause. Overall, a fear has crept into the Hindu psyche that the Muslim community is increasing its numbers with the sole intention of marginalizing the Hindus in their own country. Add to it, the complete decimation of Hindus in Pakistan and the dwindling HIndu numbers in Bangladesh and the feeling gets buttressed.

4) The Arab spring of 2011 soon turned into winter as conservative radical leadership gained the most from it in Muslim countries and acquired power. Political Islam became the new slogan. Political Islam places the Sharia above the state and is bound to come into conflict with societies that are part of secular constitution democracies which go by equality and rule of law. The increasing radicalization of the Muslims has even created problems for many countries in Europe and USA which are not willing to induct the community members into their territories. Adherence to Sharia laws, open display of Islamic religious symbols and overt or covert support for terrorists are issues that no secular democratic country or society will accept on their soil. Some of the countries like China and France have banned the sporting of beards for Muslim men and scarfs for Muslim women.

When we look at India, of late, the nation has seen heightened Islamization in West Bengal, Kerala and Assam. There have been reports of Hindu properties being vandalized, Hindus being driven away from their homes and Hindus being prohibited from even celebrating their festivals in several parts of West Bengal like Malda, Dhulagarh and Basirhat. There have been calls from Muslim clergy to give punishment to so called offenders of the community’s sentiment as per Sharia and not law of the land. All these incidents have set the alarm bells ringing. The open defiance of the community to the singing of National Anthem and adoption of Yoga has further reinforced the feeling that Indian culture/civilization does not matter to the Muslims.

5) The refusal of the community to engage with the cultural civilizational ethos of the country and the tendency to look towards West Asia and the Wahabi traditions in contrast to the Sufi Islamic traditions of the sub continent has engendered hostility among the majority Hindu population in an era when the uncertainty of globalization is pushing a burgeoning middle class to seek its cultural roots for solace. The masses have always been religious in India but so far, they were kept under lid, by so called secular forces. The tendency of the community to make heroes out of people who were regarded as destroyers of Hindu temples & cultures is also something that has not gone unnoticed by the people.

6) The minority tag has done more harm than good to the community. It’s high time this tag gets removed as it has prevented the amalgamation of the community with the national mainstream. After all, a 25 crore strong community which has more than 30 percent population in three states and has the capacity to determine electoral outcomes in 100 odd constituencies out of 543, does not qualify to be a minority. Even the judiciary has at times expressed disapproval of the yardsticks adopted in determination of minority status. In a democratic secular nation, caste or religion should never demarcate minority status but the criteria should be the level of socio-economic deprivation. The minority tag has perpetuated Minoritism to the detriment of Hindus in the country.

7) Lastly but not the least, visceral hatred of the Muslim community for the BJP & Hindu Right has culminated in making the the community a political outcaste at a time when there seems to a paradigm shift in national ideological landscape with the collapse of the Nehruvian consensus. The common wisdom says — If you can’t fight a system, just enter into it and try to weaken it from inside. I think the Muslim community should learn to engage with BJP and not shun it for that will prove counterproductive in the long run.

Political marginalization of Muslims will be disastrous for the country. After all, along with other communities, they have also shed their blood in the making of independent India; they have been equal partners in the building of our composite cultural heritage and have co-existed with the Hindus for more than 1300 years. The Indian polity needs to think and introspect; the Muslim leadership also needs to do the same as to what has gone wrong. The rules of the electoral polity have made it imperative that no community survives in politics of exclusion, isolation and sectarianism.

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