Thursday, December 27, 2012

Self-help is the only help

What Gujarat’s Muslims can take away from Modi’s win
Narendra Modi has secured another huge victory in Gujarat, an outcome that is bound to have been seen as demoralising by Muslims in the state and across India. In the context of Modi’s prime-ministerial ambitions, it is important that we analyse this development.
First, despite what the pundits say about Modi’s ‘development’, Gujarat’s growth has been heavily tilted towards the middle and upper classes. And yet, Modi has received huge support from tribal, Dalit and backward class voters. The reason is the sense among Gujarat’s Hindu population: “In 2002, Muslims were taught a lesson they will never forget”. This is the basis of Modi’s political success.
Gujarat may be the most communalised state in the country. This predates the horrors of 2002. While non-Gujaratis are troubled by the fact that Mahatma Gandhi’s birthplace should be so anti-Muslim, Gandhi, in his lifetime, was never a popular figure in the state. Gujaratis have been far more influenced by Swami Dayanand Saraswati, K.M. Munshi and the sack of Somnath by Mahmud of Ghazni. Modi has successfully exploited this latent anti-Muslim feeling, turning it into a powerful political weapon. With a Muslim population of just under 10 per cent, it is easy to inflame the remaining 90 per cent on communal grounds. He was not willing to give even one BJP seat to a Muslim candidate, for that would have diluted his appeal to non-Muslims. His references to “Ahmed miyan”, his saffron clothes at election meetings, his raising the Sir Creek issue, were all subtle messages to his core supporters.
However, the national arena is a different matter. What are Modi’s prospects in 2014? Bihar, UP , West Bengal and Assam have Muslim populations of between 20 to 30 per cent of the whole. The BJP is weak in these states. Communal polarisation will not be as easy as it is in Gujarat, especially because there are powerful third parties that seek Muslim votes. These four states send about 200 Lok Sabha members, compared to 26 MPs from Gujarat.
Indian Muslims have paid a heavy price for Partition, including the cycle of communal riots, and “terror arrests” of our youth. A widely shared sense of insecurity has led to ghettoisation all over the country, widening the gulf between Muslims and non-Muslims. In Gujarat, we are often questioned about our role in the freedom movement and, therefore, our patriotism. Few Hindus are aware that Gandhiji’s original trip to South Africa was sponsored by a Gujarati Muslim, Dada Abdulla, or that the Indian National Army was sponsored by another Gujarati Muslim, Abdul Habib Marfani.
Meanwhile, ambitious politicians and businessmen who seek to go beyond the ghetto, have used their Muslim names to secure advantages from those in power. They have moved away from the community itself. Muslims rank at the bottom of the national social, economic and educational ladder. Yet, any attempt to address and improve this situation, such as the Ranganath Mishra commission and the Sachar commitee, is met with stiff opposition, particularly from the RSS and BJP. In the absence of enlightened leadership, the community has turned to the ulema, who do not have a larger national perspective, to guide it on non-religious issues.
The only way out for Muslims is to rely on themselves, focus on quality education and business. We need doctors, engineers, scientists and management experts, industrialists and wealth-generators. But these people must devote time to community uplift. We may not have the financial resources to operate our own schools and universities, and must support students in established educational institutions. We have to take special care of the children of those killed in the riots and those languishing in jails.
We also have to continue our fight for justice for the victims of 2002 and fake encounters. The BJP/ RSS often accuse us of living in the past, and like to quote the example of Sikhs who have moved on from the 1984 riots. But, unlike the Congress, Modi and his party have never uttered words of remorse and sorrow for 2002 and after. The RSS treats Sikhs as part of the larger Hindu community, but treats Muslims as outsiders.
We are fortunate that the Supreme Court and civil rights activists have been so responsive to our call for justice. We have obtained convictions, including senior politicians and officers. That may be our best bet that, Insha’allah, the tragedy of 2002 is never repeated.