Minority card explains Nitish's stubbornness
by Sandhya Jain on 23 Apr 2013 81 Comments

Narendra Modi’s acceptability rather than unacceptability among ordinary and orthodox Muslims may have provoked his Bihar counterpart to go on the warpath. The merit of this proposition can be gauged from some facts in the public domain. Hence, the BJP should let this support from a growing national constituency crystallize at its own pace, rather than try to contain Modi’s stature and discourse within parameters set by opponents.


Maulana Ghulam Ahmed Vastanvi was the first to break ranks with the rigid stereotyping of non-Congress political leaders in independent India. After a surprising election as Vice Chancellor of the Deoband Darul Uloom in 2011, the first-ever for someone outside Uttar Pradesh, he mildly appreciated Gujarat’s progress under Narendra Modi and its positive impact on Muslims. This offended those still wrapped in the secular straitjacket, and Vastanvi soon stepped down.  


He resurfaced in March 2013, stating that Muslims have no reason to object to the nation electing Modi as Prime Minister. Choosing his words carefully, he said Gujarat has had a BJP government for the past 10 years; if it worked for Muslims they would support it and if it did not they would move away.


The phenomenon of Vastanvi and Muslims who vote for the BJP in increasing numbers in Gujarat hints at a tentative quest among the community to come to terms with the Hindu identity of the majority community, which is what joining the national mainstream truly means. Muslims can transcend their self-imposed ghettos only when they find the self-confidence to maintain their religio-cultural identity among observant Hindus, and shun the Nehruvian canard that only the banishment of the nation’s foundational ethos from the public arena can safeguard their identity. This has passed for secularism in independent India to the chagrin of Hindus; Muslims have a special responsibility to demolish walls that perpetuate fear and prejudice.


Maulana Mahmood Madni, general secretary of the Jamiat Ulema-Hind, who played a leading role in ousting Maulana Vastanvi from the Deoband seminary for praising Modi, was the next to break ranks with secular orthodoxy. In an interview to a private television channel in February, he said, “There is a change in the Muslim psyche towards Modi, and a section of Muslims voted for him in the recent assembly elections”. Claiming that circumstances have changed, he said, “Muslims in Gujarat are economically better off than in other states which have so-called secular governments”.


He was quickly rebuffed by his uncle and Jamiat president Maulana Arshad Madni, who said there was no question of accepting Modi as India’s prime minister as he was “wholly and solely responsible for the 2002 Gujarat riots...” Such sentiments are strenuously reinforced by ‘secular’ Muslims who buy freedom from the strict adherence to mazhab in their personal lives but uphold minority rights to preserve their own eminence in various walks of life.


However, Jamiat is a political offshoot of Darul Uloom, Deoband, ultimate seat Islamic jurisprudence in the subcontinent. So Mahmood Madni’s assertion that a sterile communal identity can no longer satisfy Muslims, that the community will look at how other States treat Muslims, particularly their economic well-being, has set the cat among the pigeons. To add insult to injury, the Maulana mocked Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s statements on Hindu terrorism.


This evolving paradigm – that Muslims do not need the eclipse of the nation’s civilisational ethos to feel secure – has come as a rude shock to the Congress and the Left parties which zealously upheld the Nehruvian falsehood of “majority communalism” in the aftermath of Partition. Modern Indian secularism is anti-Hindu precisely because it is the flip side of the two-nation theory which led to partition. It perpetuates the communal divide by upholding Muslim identity as legitimate and demonizing Hindu identity as illegitimate; hence the absurdity of constitutionally enshrining minority rights against an undefined, unnamed, majority community.


Something so ludicrous could last so long because all parties competed within this paradigm. This is especially true of the non-Congress parties that came up in the States when Congress failed to meet regional aspirations. Broadly, they crafted a coalition of agricultural castes and minorities, and bolstered minorityism in the polity to secure the Muslim votebank.


The BJP was a natural failure within this paradigm. It has no empathy for the agricultural castes (witness its treatment of BS Yeddyurappa) which gave other non-Congress parties a regional foothold, and thus lost out on a powerful, autochthonous, all-India constituency. Its urban trader-based constituency is self-limiting. When it sought to transcend its limitations by asserting Hindu identity through the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, its leadership faltered before the demolition of the Babri structure.


Worse, it clubbed the recovery of Sri Rama’s birthplace with the quest for abolition of Article 370 and a common civil code, though these are entirely separate issues; its critics used them to tar the BJP as “anti-Muslim”.


Though electoral pacts brought the party to power at the Centre, it lost the will to speak of Hindu identity or legitimate interests, and tried to ingratiate itself with rabid Nehruvian secularists of all hues.


This encouraged its regional allies to take it for granted in States where BJP support was needed to form non-Congress governments. It emboldened them to shun the party when they judged themselves able to form the government alone, as Navin Patnaik did in Orissa, and Nitish Kumar fondly hopes to do in Bihar.


Nitish Kumar may have warmed the hearts of Hindu and Muslim Nehruvian secularists with his comment that one has to do many things in politics, from donning a tilak to a topi, a pointed dig at Narendra Modi’s fear of wearing a skullcap during his sadbhavna fast. But this was also an admission that politicians like himself make hollow gestures for political mileage. Modi took the riskier route of avoiding false association with a faith he does not practice, which is very different from showing disrespect.


He went on to pull off an impressive victory in the Gujarat elections of December 2012, and got all 27 BJP Muslim candidates elected to the Salaya corporation (Jamnagar) in February 2013. Salaya has a 90 per cent Muslim majority, and this is the first time that BJP has won the corporation there. The results are thus unambiguous – Muslims do not fear the bogey of the Hindu wolf; hence the tremors across the secular spectrum.

The Pioneer, 23 April 2013 

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