By any reasonable assessment, the MIM is not a secular party. It has its roots in the Razakar militia of the Nizam of Hyderabad who subjugated the Hindu majority (as also secular Muslims like journalist Shoebullah Khan) of the erstwhile princely state for its democratic, pro-India aspirations. This party, by its very name, claims to represent only Muslims, though it has room for Dalits too, portraying a narrative of all upper caste Hindus of today being some kind of “oppressors”. It resorted to vandalism at Taslima Nasreen’s book release and protested against Salman Rushdie being allowed to come to India for the Jaipur Literary Festival (though not once did they file a criminal case against Rushdie for “outraging religious sentiments” when he was here after that, for street politics is seen as much more useful as a tool than following legal procedures). Even if one were to just completely overlook the alleged hate speech delivered by Akbaruddin Owaisi in which he mocked religious sensibilities of Hindus and asserted that Muslims could easily outdo Hindus in any riot were it not for police intervention (though one cannot overlook that speech), for the matter is being tried by a court of law (and we have a rather strange precedent in BJP politician Varun Gandhi being let off for an alleged hate speech based on lack of witnesses, not accepting recorded footage as valid evidence, and Varun’s alleged speech was as vitriolic as, if not more vitriolic than, Akbaruddin’s), can one overlook an anti-Jewish hate speech by his elder brother and senior-most MIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi in which he declares all Jews to be enemies of Islam, making no distinction between Zionists and anti-Zionist Jews, leave aside between moderate Zionists and extremist Zionists, going on further to say that every Muslim must participate in the jihad against Israel, if not by shedding blood (which is also acceptable according to him – while he doesn’t clarify whether he supports violence only against Israeli soldiers or Israeli civilians as well, supporting any violence in the name of religion in the 21st century with nation-states with clearly defined boundaries and international human rights activism is undoubtedly troubling to say the least), then at least by extending moral support, failing which he/she is not a true Muslim (though the Muslim scriptures actually nowhere advocate hatred for Jews as a collectivity and even allow Muslims to intermarry with them)?! Given that India has a tiny Jewish minority, this clearly qualifies as hate speech, and Indian Jews have, from time to time, expressed alarm at the venom spewed against their religious grouping by the Muslim right in India. Asaduddin also delivered a blatantly abusive speech against Salman Khan, when Khan was rightly or wrongly seen as supporting Modi.
Then, why is it that Congress leader Shakeel Ahmad, whenever the topic of the MIM contesting the latest Bihar elections crops up, has repeatedly said that the damage the MIM would cause would be by strengthening the Hindu communal forces by splitting the anti-BJP vote, without emphatically condemning the MIM as a communal party in and of itself? While I have myself been critical of the communal politics of the BJP, as you can see in the previous article I wrote on this site, one would have to concede that though many a vote for the BJP may well be out of communal considerations, in very many other cases, it would be purely driven by aspirations of economic development, but a vote for the MIM can be seen as nothing but communal. You can see in this interview of Shakeel’s given to Scroll that he hasn’t, even on a single occasion, condemned the MIM as a communal party. While some may say that those were just excerpts, in this news discussion, he again only clarifies in the light of the anchor mentioning that the MIM had been an ally of the Congress that the Congress had broken off its alliance with the MIM many days ago (err, it was actually many years ago!), for the Congress didn’t perceive the MIM to be good for harmony, but then, without criticizing the MIM any further, goes on lamenting about how voting for the MIM would actually strengthen the BJP. When a minority-appeasing politician like Lalu Prasad Yadav, whose party the Congress is in alliance with for the Bihar elections, can call the MIM communal, why is the Congress being so shy of doing so?
Is it because they were in alliance with the MIM once upon a time? That is hardly relevant in the electoral politics of today, with the JD(U) in Bihar and BJD in Odisha having broken off their alliances with the BJP, citing its communalism, not feeling shy of attacking the BJP for its communal politics now for having been its allies earlier. The real reason seems to be that given the fact that the Congress is wooing Muslim voters, it doesn’t seem to be interested in taking the issue of Muslim communalism head on and giving the MIM a chance to play victim. But if even the RJD can do so, why not the Congress?
This is not relevant only for these Bihar elections. Given that centrist Indian voters are peeved with the Modi sarkar over a variety of reasons and the AAP is not set to go national by 2019, the Congress needs to present itself as a viable national alternative to the BJP, but with its over-emphasis on playing the minority card, it has alienated many centrist Hindus. During its tenure, rather than trying to eliminate caste and religious identities in the public welfare discourse, making it only income-based instead, it toyed with the idea of reservations for Muslims, when several Muslim communities already find their place among the STs and OBCs. Its senior leaders made baseless remarks about the Batla House encounter, insulting the memory of the policeman martyred in the same. It stopped Salman Rushdie from attending the Jaipur Literary Festival. It pushed a Communal Violence Bill that would make it much easier to convict for communal violence those of the majority community than those of the minority communities. None other than AK Anthony, a senior Congress leader, based on his research, concluded that the perception of a pro-minority bias cost the Congress dearly in the national elections, though the larger issues were corruption and the apparently arrogant attutide of the Congress leadership. Rather than more emphatically highlighting the dubious claims Modi made about his “Gujarat model”, scams and increasing crimes against women (though still much less than elsewhere in the country, owing to the Gujarati society having been relatively gender-sensitive for long) in Modi’s Gujarat and how effective security measures against terrorism were missing in Gujarat, they went on and on repeating that Modi was responsible for the riots in 2002, not even sufficiently pointing out that Modi had appointed rioter Maya Kodnani as a minister or the deeply anti-Muslim and anti-Christian statements he made in the immediate aftermath of the riots, nor did they rebut the lie that Modi has been cleared by the Supreme Court, when he had actually been cleared by a trial court based on the report of a Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team, with the matter still pending in the High Court of Gujarat, thus making a weak case that made the riots of 2002, which had occurred twelve years ago, the sole premise of the elections, when the BJP was claiming that Modi’s guilt had not been established. The Congress election campaign advertisement of a Muslim girl saying “Kattar soch naheen yuva josh” made it appear as though their campaign was only centred around opposing the communalism of the BJP but not as much focused on constructively offering anything to the people of India. With their having exhibited totalitarian handling of those protesting against corruption and crimes against women, they seemed to be sending out the message that all their sins can be forgiven only on the ground of them being a supposedly secular political party, which did not go down well even with many Hindu voters who don’t support the communal politics of the BJP.
However, unfortunately, even after Modi’s electoral victory, the Congress continued this trend. It made a huge hue and cry over Indian security personnel destroying a boat that could have been steered by terrorists, only to appease a certain section of Indian Muslims with extra-territorial affinities, overlooking the grand history of their own party in the daring exhibited in 1965 and 1971, in which Indian security personnel, cutting across religious lines, shed their blood for India. During the Delhi elections, the Congress posters often focused only on the issue of communalism, and their supporters distributed pamphlets promoting the Congress and floating conspiracy theories of Arvind Kejriwal being BJP-backed to promote the Hindutva agenda, eventually drawing a blank when it came to the number of seats won. And now, in these Bihar elections, they are shying away from bashing the MIM as being a communal party. This approach of alienating the voters of the majority community does not bode well for the Congress, and the sooner they realize that, the better it will be for them. Rahul Gandhi visiting some Hindu temple will not be reassuring to Hindus troubled with the spurious secularism of the Congress, but a shift in attitude over issues to be seen as making economic development (which does not amount to pro-poor tokenism), clean governance and national security as the top priorities, rather than trying to portray themselves primarily only as anti-majoritarianism crusaders. Combating communalism should not be one-sided, and rather than just loud condemnations, one should logically deconstruct and expose the fallacies in communal propaganda, Hindu or Muslim. An attempt in this direction by me with respect to logically deconstructing and exposing the fallacies in Hindu communal propaganda is this e-book by me available for free download aimed at addressing and dispelling anti-Muslim prejudices in the Indian context, which I would request any Hindu with the mildest sense of anti-Muslim resentment to peruse with an open mind (not skim through and judge based on preconceived notions). The alienation of the majority community from the Congress and other such ‘secular’ parties owing to their making a joke of secularism has a direct bearing on the rights and interests of the Muslim and Christian minorities, and so, they must not support this pseudo-secularism, even for their own selves.
A revamp in approach on the part of the Congress party should also involve cultivating new national leaders who communicate well with the masses, rather than the cream of the party nationally being reserved for the English-speaking elite.
Moving on, I would like to appeal to our fellow Indians who are Muslim, and the remainder of this piece is specifically addressed to them.
I very well know that very many of you have openly condemned the MIM for its communal politics. However, for those of you who feel strongly against the communalism of the BJP but not the communalism of the MIM, you ought to realize that by this yardstick, you have absolutely no valid reason to be resentful of those Hindus who feel strongly against the communal politics of the MIM but not that of the BJP.
While I do understand that most of you are deeply disturbed about Modi becoming India’s prime minister (as are many strongly tolerant Hindus like me), the fact of the matter is that those voting for him included sections of Muslims as well, and on the whole, the NDA vote-share in these national elections was just 38.5%, which is akin to there being ten candidates with one candidate getting three votes and the others one vote each, leading to the person with three votes emerging as the winner. In other words, most of the electorate (mostly Hindus) did not vote for Modi, but had no consensus on an alternative for him at a time when there was indeed a very justifiable anti-incumbency sentiment. And in fact, in the the last two national elections in 2004 and 2009, the BJP could not come to power, in spite of seemingly standing very good chances, not in the least because of its hardline Hindu rightist image. In 2004, the horrific riots against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 were fresh in Indian public memory and definitely contributed to preventing the BJP from coming back to power in the centre, in spite of its excellent performance in terms of economic growth and road connectivity. In fact, what happened best exemplifies Indian pluralism – in Hindu-majority India, Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, a Christian lady, gave the prime ministerial seat to Dr. Manmohan Singh, a Sikh gentleman, who swore his oath of allegiance in the presence of the then president Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, a Muslim gentleman. Likewise, in 2009, the Indian populace was very disgruntled with the party then in power, the Congress, over its inability to check terrorism, given a series of terrorist attacks in 2008 by the Indian Mujahidin, an Indian Muslim terror outfit backed by nefarious elements in Pakistan, in the cities of Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Delhi, which was followed by the ghastly 26/11 Mumbai attacks by Pakistani terrorists (in which some Indian Muslims gave logistic support, and yes, all those believing in conspiracy theories about the same should read this article), which could have evoked a strong Hindu rightist sentiment; nonetheless, very many Hindus felt disgusted by BJP member Varun Gandhi’s alleged anti-Muslim hate speech, which, by all means, was horribly vitriolic, and the BJP lost the elections yet again, with the Congress party coming back to power. If antipathy to Muslims was an important priority of the Hindu electorate nationally, which constitutes the majority, then it was the most opportune moment for the BJP to come to power, but that did not happen.
Besides, with all due respect, those who shy away from condemning Jinnah for the Direct Action Day riots (before which Jinnah said he wanted India divided or destroyed and after which he said he didn’t want to discuss ethics) or are willing to give him the benefit of doubt, those who shy away from condemning Kashmiri separatists like Yasin Malik for killing and driving away the Kashmiri Hindus (also known as Kashmiri Pandits) or are willing to give them the benefit of doubt (as for the conspiracy theories and rationalizations offered about the exodus of the Kashmiri Hindus from their homeland, have a look at this piece, and it is noteworthy that none of the Kashmiri Muslim perpetrators have been convicted, unlike hundreds rightly convicted in connection with the Gujarat riots for the massacres in the Best Bakery, Ode, Sardarpura and Naroda Patiya, and the Kashmiri Hindus haven’t even been rehabilitated the way the Muslims driven out from the village of Atali have, and while the media has rightly consistently supported the Muslims of Atali, it has actually been biased against the Kashmiri Hindus on some occasions – so much for our national media, on the whole, being supposedly biased against Muslims) and those who shy away from condemning Azam Khan for the riots in Muzaffarnagar and Sahranpur (it is noteworthy that he has not even been charge-sheeted in spite of sting operations suggesting his involvement, while Maya Kodnani was rightly convicted, and my point is not with respect to how much evidence is available in which case for what sentence, but whether the narrative of “Hindu riot-instigating politicians always go scot-free and Muslims are only victims, not perpetrators of riots” is true, and I believe that the issue should be ‘powerful vs. non-powerful’, ‘vote-bank politics vs. the spirit of democracy’ and so so, rather than ‘Hindu oppressors vs. Muslim oppressed’, which would actually be half-true or even false in many contexts) or are willing to give him the benefit of doubt (and I reiterate that I am not stereotyping all Indian Muslims – there are many of them who condemn the likes of Jinnah, Yasin Malik and Azam Khan in unambiguous terms) have no business to be spitefully critical of those shying away from condemning Modi or those who give him the benefit of doubt for what happened in 2002. I know that there are many people among you and even some left-leaning non-Muslims who feed you with narratives that make very many of you perceive yourselves as being perennially oppressed, marginalized and deprived (which is why with the apparent betrayal of only Muslims by the ‘secular’ parties as if only Muslims have been let down by them when it comes to economic development and the economically backward among the Hindus have moved to mansions, some among you are touting the MIM as the solution to all your woes), and I have rebutted this worldview at some length in this piece, which I would request you to peruse with an open mind (not skim through and judge based on preconceived notions). Baseless generalized majority-bashing, even in polite language, will not solve the problem of majoritarianism but increase it, and you must be as loud in condemning the MIM and other such entities as you are in condemning the majority communalists, and must reject hyperbolic portrayals of your victimhood. In fact, while it is understandable for those belonging to a minority to feel more insecure than those belonging to the majority, negative stereotyping by elements of the minorities of the majority is less understandable than the reverse, for those of the minorities come more in contact with those of the majority than vice versa, and yes, openly cheering for Pakistan in Indo-Pak cricket matches, cheering for the MIM and turning up in large numbers to mourn Yakoob Memon (not in the least saying that all Indian Muslims do or support such things) are not signs of insecurity either.
It doesn’t the help the cause of bridging the Hindu-Muslim divide in India by having Muslims cheer for these left-leaning Hindus who instil in Muslims an exaggerated sense of victimhood, but not asking them to introspect and look at reforms within their own community, or having Hindus particularly hail and cheer for Islam-bashers, even if they have Muslim names, when there have been such critics of one’s own faith in all religious groupings and a critique of religious texts, valid or invalid, doesn’t mean that one can make negative generalizations about a religious grouping.*
On another note, I must say that those of you (again, I may emphatically assert that I am not in the least generalizing all of you) who wish to demonstrate your “secularism” and “human rights activism” by idolizing anti-AFSPA Manipuri activist Irom Sharmila and wrongly generalizing the Indian security personnel as all being murderous, pervert rogues by pointing to their human rights violations in the northeast (and not only Muslim-majority Kashmir to showcase secularism), just like harping on the problems of Dalits and Adivasis, or Christians targeted by Hindu extremists, ought to speak up more openly against your own riot-motivating politicians like Azam Khan, anti-Jewish hatred within your community, Shia-Sunni violence (which does occur in India in places like Lucknow), the intolerance of Ahmedias who are socially boycotted and occasionally violently targeted in India by Muslim extremists in India and whose right to free speech and freedom of religion is to a great extent legally denied in Pakistan, refusal to accept progressive verdicts of the Supreme Court as in the Shah Bano case, curtailment of females’ rights in Muslim communities in India in different ways, like disallowing them from playing football or acting on stage in some cases, non-Muslims not being given equal rights in many Muslim-majority countries and being violently targeted in our neighbouring countries (if such Muslims can shout against injustices by the US and Israel in Iraq and Gaza respectively, they can certainly look at our immediate neighbourhood), blasphemy and apostasy laws in Muslim-majority countries and so on (and for those of you not genuinely caring about the rights of others, why do you expect others to care for your rights?). Supporting northeasterners against what one perceives as a common foe with one’s Kashmiri co-religionists (the Indian Army), or riot-affected Christians against one’s common enemy (the Hindu communalists), or deriving cheap thrills by pretending to be concerned for Dalits with the objective of Hindu-bashing does not make one secular, impartial or someone who genuinely cares for universal human rights. The same holds true for left-liberal non-Muslims who try to showcase some intellectual elitism by selectively raising their voice usually against the wrongs of non-Muslim extremists or non-Muslim states.
*Speaking of apostates of Islam (“ex-Muslims”) criticising their former religion, there is a fairly well-known website run by an apostate and basher of Islam who has even offered a cash prize to anyone who can disprove his allegations against Prophet Muhammad (but there are books by apostates of other religions criticizing their former religions too, the most famous one being ‘Why I Am Not a Christian’ by Bertrand Russell, and there’s also ‘Why I am Not a Hindu’ by Kancha Ilaiah, leveling very strong allegations), but practically, he is the judge of the debate, or to go by what he is saying, the “readership” of the website, a rather non-defined entity. In fact, he has acknowledged that he came across a Muslim who “intelligently argued his case and never descended to logical fallacies or insults” and while that Islam-basher “did not manage to convince him to leave Islam”, that Muslim earned his “utmost respect”, which implies that practically, the Islam-basher is the judge of the debate. Likewise, that Islam-basher has mentioned with reference to a scholar of Islam he debated with, that the latter was “a learned man, a moderate Muslim and a good human being” and someone he (the Islam-basher) has “utmost respect for”. So, that Islam-basher’s critique of Islam, whether valid or invalid, has no relevance in terms of making blanket stereotypes about the people we know as Muslims or even practising Muslims. By the way, that Islam-basher bashes Judaism too. And it is worth mentioning that I have encountered several practising Muslims on discussion groups on the social media, who have, in a very calm and composed fashion, logically refuted the allegations against Islam on such websites.
Indeed, several apostates of Islam have explicitly stated that while they personally left Islam thinking that the extremist interpretations are “right” and moderate ones wrong (as is the case with apostates of many other religions), that doesn’t in the least mean that they believe that most people identifying themselves as practising Muslims support violence against innocent people (as you can see here and here).