In the Bihar elections, following the Dadri incident in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP actually issued advertisements about cow protection as a part of its mandate, and played politics over which grouping should get quotas and which one shouldn’t. When multiple local BJP politicians in UP condoned the Dadri murder (Rajiv Gandhi did pass one irresponsible public statement in the wake of the horrendous anti-Sikh riots in 1984, which must be condemned in the strongest terms, but multiple people from his party did not justify the riots, nor did the party sustain politics based on antipathy to Sikhs), followed by cabinet ministers like Mahesh Sharma calling it an accident and Rajnath Singh just calling it unfortunate (and saying that it wasn’t a communal incident), which is all the prime minister also said specifically with reference to the murder (and this was after the riots in Sahranpur and the forced displacement of the Muslims of the village of Atali in Haryana for wanting to build a mosque on land judicially upheld to be theirs!), following which the prime minister, while campaigning in Bihar, ridiculed the Muslim amulet taweez (something he would never do for rudraksh) and talked of Muslims stealing quotas from Dalits, it is only natural that Muslim citizens would feel scared, for they expect the central government to protect them if the state government fails. In other words, not only was one man was mercilessly killed over an unjustifiable reason to kill, that too supposedly on suspicion, but there was a chain of remarks justifying or condoning that hate crime, not only from “fringe elements” but with ministers like Mahesh Sharma calling it an accident and Rajnath Singh denying the communal nature of the hate crime. BJP leader Ashwani Kumar Choubey even declared that his political opponents like Nitish Kumar should pack off to Pakistan, as if to suggest that only those subscribing to the worldview of his party have a right to live in this country. BJP members (as also local Muslim politicians) are also believed to have had a hand in the riots in Muzaffarpur, Bihar (not to be confused with Muzaffarnagar, UP, though this statement would be equally applicable there too).
While the electoral outcome in Bihar was shaped by multiple factors, it was clear that the communal politics of the BJP did not particularly strike a chord with the average Bihari Hindu voter, which is indeed a welcome sign, as was the fact that the MIM could not even bag a single seat from the Muslim-majority constituencies it contested in. And yes, all those lamenting about jungle raj in Bihar with the RJD being part of the government would do well to take note of one fundamental fact – the BJP was actually the party that fielded maximum candidates with criminal charges in the Bihar elections! And it is bizarre how, in spite of the Bangaru Lakshmans and the Babuhai Bokharias, the Ajay Sanchetis and the Vitthalbhai Radadias, and what has transpired vis-à-vis Vyapam in MP, some people wish to entertain the illusion of the BJP being a political party that can’t be associated with corrupt people and goons!
This time around, with elections approaching in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has again revived the Ram temple issue, despite the matter now being sub judice with the Supreme Court on appeals being filed against the verdict of the Allahabad High Court. Also, in the Muzaffarnagar constituency, the local SP MLA of which has passed away and where there will be a by-election soon, the BJP is resorting to the rhetoric of love jihad yet again. Though Muzaffarnagar is the place where riots had occurred over this issue, the BJP would do well to recall that floating this issue didn’t help in the Lok Sabha by-elections in 2014, even in Uttar Pradesh.
It may be said that perhaps nothing makes religious right-wingers, irrespective of their religious label, more uncomfortable than inter-religious marriages, which is not hard to fathom. In Israel, when it came to light that the prime minister’s son was dating a non-Jewish girl from Norway, the extreme Zionists raised a storm. In our country, inter-caste marriages or intra-gotra marriages within the Hindus themselves too become reasons for honour killings, and the Khalistani terrorists too had huge issues with Sikhs intermarrying with Hindus.
While the apparent incident concerning the female shooter from Jharkhand was undoubtedly very unfortunate, to presume that any and every individual Muslim man claiming to fall in love with a Hindu woman necessarily has some nefarious design to convert her is indeed silly and baseless. In a country where there is right to freedom of religion, the woman is free to embrace the man’s religion if she genuinely finds it more appealing or even to fit in better in the family, and religion is, at the end of the day, a personal affair. And the woman is equally free to refuse to marry a man if he or his family insist on a religious conversion, and it is also possible to get married under the Special Marriage Act without the boy or the girl changing his/her religion, and Bollywood is full of such examples. Of course, forced religious conversions are unacceptable (and forced conversions of Hindu girls to Islam have unfortunately taken place in Pakistan, and this issue is often raised by human rights activists in that country, most of whom are Muslims, though the scenario of Hindus and other religious minorities in Pakistan shouldn’t only be seen through this prism, as I have discussed in some detail here), and in such cases, if any, one should knock the doors of the police and judiciary, which have dealt with dreaded terrorists and can deal with such matters too. But to make bizarre generalizations and compromise the rule of law undermines democracy, and this is something we must keep in mind if we don’t want our country to, in the long run, slide into fascism or Talibanization, albeit under a Hindu banner, which stifles everyone’s rights, not just of the religious minorities.
Furthermore, it may be emphasized that Hindu boys have also married Muslim girls (here is a list of some prominent examples) and some examples of Muslim women embracing Hinduism on getting married to a Hindu include famous sitarist Annapurna Devi (formerly Roshanara Khan), model Nalini Patel (Nayyara Mirza), Maharashtra politician Asha Gawli (formerly Zubeida Mujawar), South Indian actress Khushboo Sundar (formerly Nakhat Khan) and Bollywood actress Zubeida. And even otherwise, in general, there are instances of Indian Muslims embracing Hinduism, like Malayali writer Palakkode Hassan and Telugu poet Umar Alisha, and Muslim groups have also en masse embraced Hinduism, as you can see in this article.
I do understand that in the light of national and global news of Muslim extremism, anti-Muslim propaganda becomes easily palatable for some, but if we are to move forward as a nation, we need to ensure that there is communal harmony and not fall in the trap of those seeking to divide us, and I hope that the people of Uttar Pradesh reject the Hindu communalism of the BJP. Indeed, there is much to criticize the BJP on issues other than religious intolerance as well, but this article shall focus on the communal agenda of the BJP and other parties in the wake of the UP elections.
Other than invoking love jihad, the BJP has got its riot-accused politicians to campaign, with even communal remarks finding their way in the campaign.
I would appeal to all those with any degree of anti-Muslim resentment to read this e-book of mine available for free download with an open mind. But let me also mention here that it’s not as though communalists under any banner, except arguably those actually resorting to killing innocent civilians, should be dehumanized or can never be logically made to modify their views, as the must-watch movie Road to Sangam, based on a true story, demonstrates, and to draw an analogy, you can see this video of a Muslim who initially wanted to become a terrorist wanting to blow up Jewish civilians but changed his standpoint about Israel for the better after visiting that country. It is not as though Muslims are another species that can’t be rationally engaged with, the way some extreme anti-Muslim rightists almost make them out to be, portraying Muslims in general as cruel, slimy, backstabbing and aggressive (many Muslims whom the non-Muslim readers would know personally would not exhibit such traits if the non-Muslim readers were to analyze dispassionately, rather than making baseless presumptions, and indeed, most Indian Muslims are of Hindu ancestry and so, they share the same genes as the Hindus – Hindu religious lore also refers to treacherous human beings like the Kauravas wanting to burn the Pandavas in a wax palace; so, treachery was not unknown to India before the advent of Islam, as royal family feuds among the Nanda and Gupta rulers also demonstrate, and some of the worst atrocities in history have been committed by the likes of Hitler and Stalin, who were not Muslims, nor was Chengiz Khan who was an animist), but like many people in other communities in different contexts, some (not all) Muslims are in the stranglehold of anachronistic ideas like a global pan-Muslim fraternity and the upholding of Islamic law, other than having prejudiced notions of an exaggerated sense of victimhood, and I have dealt with how to ideologically combat Muslim extremism in some depth in this article.
Sacrificing animals as a religious ritual is indeed not exclusive to Muslims, and ‘bali’ has existed among Hindus too, something Gautam Buddha (who lived centuries before Jesus and Muhammad) had opposed (and even Emperor Ashok the Great consumed meat of peacocks, which he stopped after embracing Buddhism, though interestingly, Buddhists in China, Japan, Bhutan, Vietnam etc. do consume meat, as do most Sikhs, Christians, Jews and Parsis, and what is halal for Muslims in terms of dietary regulations and the mode of slaughtering some animals is identical to what is kosher for Jews and several sects of Christians, and that is true for the practice of circumcision for males as well, which even has health benefits), and still continues in many Hindu temples across India, especially in West Bengal during the Navratri season. Also, it may interest some to know that the story of Prophet Abraham associated with Id-ul-Zuha is found in the Old Testament of the Bible too, which the Jews and Christians also believe in (those regarded as prophets by the Jews are regarded as prophets by the Christians too, with the addition of Jesus, and those regarded as prophets by the Christians are regarded as prophets by the Muslims as well, with the addition of Muhammad). And obviously, not all of Arab cuisine is non-vegetarian either, with Arab vegetarian dishes like strained yogurt using labneh cheese and sweet dishes like zlabia, that’s very popular in South Asia as jalebi!
Terrorism, even terrorism citing a theological basis, is not a Muslim monopoly. As you can see here, very many instances of terrorism globally, even in the name of religion, have been carried out by those identifying themselves as Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and even Buddhists, the victims of the acts of terrorists from each of these religious groupings not always being Muslims. However, just like most people of these religious groupings are not terrorists or supporters of terrorism, and they do not believe that their religion preaches terrorism, the same is the case with most Muslims (and not supporting terrorism applies to even most of those Muslims with other regressive and not-so-liberal attitudes on other issues like gender and homosexuality).
It is possible to quote any scripture (allegedly out of context according to its liberal adherents) to justify malpractices, like some verses in the Bible namely Deuteronomy 13:12-15, Samuel 15:3, Leviticus 24:16 and Matthew 10:34 seemingly advocate violence against “non-believers” and the Purusha Sukta of the Rigved, an ancient Hindu scripture, is taken by some to justify caste discrimination, but these verses do not define the entire religion. This article mentioning an anecdote from the British parliament does make an interesting read in this regard, as does this video make an interesting watch in this connection. There are Quranic verses like 2:256, 5:2, 5:8, 5:32, 6:108, 6:151, 10:99, 49:13, 60:8 and 109:6 preaching peace, religious tolerance and human brotherhood, as does the letter from Prophet Muhammad to the Christian monks of St Catherine’s monastery and there are episodes from Prophet Muhammad’s life, as per Islamic lore, indicative of such an approach too, such as his allowing a woman to throw garbage at him daily and his succeeding in ideologically, winning over her by way of humanitarian affection. Those suggesting that peaceful verses in the Quran are superseded by violent verses (which the vast majority of practising Muslims globally regard as contextual) would do well to note that verse 109:6 appears towards the end of the book, and indeed preaches nothing but peace, and the Quran and Hadiths devote considerable space to talking about honesty (there’s an anecdote of Prophet Muhammad punishing a Muslim for stealing from a Jewish gentleman’s house), kindness, forgiveness, humility and striving for socioeconomic egalitarianism.
Very many mainstream Muslims do indeed believe that Islam is the only religion that can lead to God since the advent of Prophet Muhammad, as mainstream Christians believe the same for Christianity since the advent of Jesus, but that doesn’t entail intolerance towards those of other faiths. To explain this with an analogy, if a certain coaching centre (analogous to Islam or Christianity, going by the mainstream interpretation) claims it is the only one that can get students admitted into say, IIT (analogous to heaven), and even encourages its students to get students of other coaching centres and those not taking any coaching to join that particular coaching centre, it cannot be equated with forcing others to join their institute or killing those not willing to do so. In fact, both the Bible and the Quran preach the message of peaceful coexistence with other religious groups (the relevant verses in the context of the Quran have already been cited, and Rom. 12:18 and 1 Tim 2:2 may be cited in the context of the Bible).
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, levelling 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’ve 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, as you can see here and here, there are several other apostates of Islam who have stated that while they personally left Islam thinking that the extremist interpretations are correct and moderate ones wrong (as is the case with apostates of many other religions), they have equally explicitly emphasized that that doesn’t in the least mean that they believe that most people identifying themselves as practising Muslims support violence against innocent people.
And in fact, even speaking of the West, a report submitted by Europol, the criminal intelligence agency of the European Union, showed that only 3 out of the 249 terrorist attacks (amounting to just about 1.2%) carried out in Europe in 2010 were carried out by Muslims. Even in the United States, most terrorist attacks from 1980 to 2005 were not carried out by Muslims. Speaking of India, a column by Praveen Swami in our newspaper The Hindu (‘Terror data give lie to Giriraj Singh’s slur’, May 15, 2014) and one by Samar Halarnkar in the Hindustan Times (‘Naxal or jihadi?’, February 17, 2010) also eloquently point out that most terrorist attacks here aren’t carried out by Muslims. And no, I am not in the least seeking to undermine the heinousness of the crimes committed by some in the name of Islam by pointing to others having committed similar crimes under other ideological banners, for a more highlighted wrongdoing is no less of a wrongdoing than a less highlighted wrongdoing, but only to point out that viewing only Muslims as villains, and that too, all or even most of them, would indeed be grossly incorrect. However, despite jihadist terrorists being a microscopic minority of Muslims, Islamist terrorism has become a bigger global threat for its well-coordinated international network since the 1990s. And, let us not forget that when we had the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, the victims included Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim police officer who died fighting the terrorists (and by the way, there are more French Muslims in the local police, including those who have died fighting jihadist terrorists, than in the Al Qaeda unit in their country), Mustapha Ourad, a Muslim who was one of the magazine staff members killed in that attack and there was Lassana Bathily, a Muslim shopkeeper who gave sanctuary to many innocent civilians during the hostage crisis in Paris that followed. Even in the context of the more recent attacks in Paris, a Muslim security guard Zouheir, risking his own life, prevented one suicide bomber from entering a packed football stadium. More recently, Kenyan Muslims laudably protected fellow bus commuters, who were Christians, from jihadist terrorists. In India too, most of the terrorism is not by Muslims, as you can see here and here.
And yes, let me also very unambiguously clarify that I do not shy away from acknowledging and condemning Muslim extremism or countering equally, if not more, ludicrous conspiracy theories advanced by Muslim propagandists (as you can see in this article). Indeed, Indian Muslims must, as very many of them do, acknowledge the very many Hindus who have raised their cause in the judiciary, media etc., carried out relief work for Muslim riot victims and even protected Muslims during communal riots, as also that they (Indian Muslims) enjoy better civil liberties and security of life and property in India than their counterparts in Pakistan and many other Muslim-majority countries, as also that Islamic theology is not at loggerheads with Indian nationalism. They must also not harbour exaggerated notions of their victimhood.
Also, to my Muslim countrymen, I must say that those of you (I may emphatically assert that I am not in the least generalizing all of you, as is clear from what I have been saying all along in this piece) 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 politicians like Azam Khan (who hasn’t even been charge-sheeted for his alleged role in the riots in Muzaffarnagar and Sahranpur, unlike Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi, who were duly convicted and spent some years in jail, after which they were rightly or wrongly conferred bail, 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’ etc., rather than ‘Hindu oppressors vs. Muslim oppressed’, which would actually be half-true or even false in many contexts), other instances of violence against innocent Hindus (take, for instance, the recent news of a Hindu boy in Bihar being murdered by Muslim extremists for marrying a Muslim girl, or the killings of innocent Hindus in a communal riot in Rampur over a petty issue of some Hindu farmers’ cattle having strayed into Muslim peasants’ farms or how before the Dadri incident, an innocent constable in Maharashtra was killed as a retaliation against the beef ban in that state, or how very many innocent Hindus were killed by Muslim rioters in Muzaffarnagar in 2013 and Gujarat in 2002 and not only the reverse), anti-Jewish hatred within your community, the forced displacement of the Kashmiri Hindus, also known as Kashmiri Pandits (as for rebutting the conspiracy theories and rationalizations offered about the exodus of the Kashmiri Hindus from their homeland, have a look at this piece), Shia-Sunni violence (which has occurred in India in places like Lucknow), the intolerance towards 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 or forcing them to wear burqas in many 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, Muslims, not genuinely caring about the rights of others, why do you expect others to care for the rights of Muslims?).
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.
If the BJP has pandered to Hindu communalism, the SP has pandered to Muslim communalism.
The issues that the Muslims of Uttar Pradesh face are largely similar to those faced by the Hindu majority – poverty, corruption, lack of economic opportunities, bad roads, erratic electricity, lack of effective policing, judicial sluggishness and so on. However, it is often made out to be the case that only Muslims in particular are backward, as if every Hindu is well-off and no Muslim is, which is certainly not the case, and very many upper caste Hindus are also to be found working as domestic servants, drivers (our family has had Brahmin drivers from UP), labourers etc. While it is true that Muslims as a whole are indeed relatively more backward, the blame for that relative backwardness may not lie primarily with the Hindus or even the political class. Indeed, while Indian Muslims have a long scholastic history in the Sultanate and Mughal periods, it is a fact that following the Revolt of 1857 in which many Muslims had fought alongside many Hindus to restore Mughal glory, for about half a century, Muslims were largely (obviously, this doesn’t apply to each one of them) reluctant to embrace modern education offered by the British (even though many continued their traditional education, not of much relevance to the modern economy, and this was what led Sir Syed Ahmed Khan to set up the Aligarh Muslim University and campaign for modern education among Muslims), unlike Hindus, who had resolved this debate much earlier, which created a huge gap, not easy to bridge, for many Hindus subsequently became well-off, while many Muslims had remained backward, and the progeny of the well-off also were well-off, while the economically backward for generations find it difficult to come at par with the well-off. Keep religion aside, I would like the Muslim reader to ponder over whether his/her descendants are likely to be more well-off than his/her maid’s (possibly Hindu maid’s) or not. And while I believe that poverty, like terrorism, has no religion and should be seen as a purely human problem (the not-so-well-off upper caste Hindu should not be neglected just because many others in his community are well-off as compared to other communities), it is a fact that special schemes relating to Muslims’ education and employment have been launched in India by governments at the centre (including the current Modi sarkar, as you can see here and here) and in Uttar Pradesh, and yes, while there may be problems in their implementation, that is indeed an issue with very many schemes, not only those meant for the religious minorities.
There is no evidence of Muslims anywhere in India being perennial victims of discrimination at the hands of the state or society at large. I am not denying that there are some Hindus here and there with a discriminatory mindset (and while two wrongs never make either right, there are such people of many communities across the globe, not to speak of discrimination among Indian Muslims themselves on sectarian, gender and linguistic lines – for example, since the 1980s, in Aligarh Muslim University, professors who are not Sunni men don’t practically have equality of opportunity as those who are), but Indian Muslims, even in rural areas, often study alongside Hindus in the local schools. While some have suggested that Muslim-majority areas are particularly backward as compared to Hindu-majority areas, it is easy to carry out a study only of a certain section of the society and point to its woes as though those woes are exclusive only to that section and not the nation as a whole (I’ve visited Hindu-majority slums in pitiable conditions), and interestingly, a study in Uttar Pradesh revealed that regions which were backward in terms of girls’ toilets were also, in general, backward in terms of infrastructure (including boys’ toilets), for which the local panchayats/municipalities and the state government are indeed to blame, which negates the allegation of a specific gender bias, and likewise, another such study on access to schools, hospitals etc. and quality of roads can negate the allegation of communal bias, and my acquaintance Mr. Shams Tabrez from the Bhagalpur district of Bihar tells me that some Muslim-majority villages in his district are better developed than some Hindu-majority villages, which may well be true for many districts in UP too.
On the whole, Hindus and Muslims harmoniously coexist in educational institutions, workplaces etc., with very many Muslims emerging as prominent public figures in all walks of life, and the discrimination that Muslims do face in India is usually sporadic, especially on occasions like looking for accommodation (which even the Sikhs faced when Khalistani terrorism was a big issue, and without seeking to undermine the problem, the fact is that one doesn’t look for accommodation daily, and it is not as though Muslims never get to stay in Hindu-majority localities), and yes, people of many other communities are also, from time to time, slurred or maltreated based on say, the regional denomination, in the very diverse country that India is (we all know that “Bihari” is cited as a slur and so is “Madrasi”), but on the whole, a Muslim can indeed achieve great heights in India if he/she is meritorious enough and if coming from a weak economic background, has the grit to overcome all possible obstacles, as is the case with economically backward Hindus too, as examples like APJ Abdul Kalam, Lal Bahadur Shastri, RA Mashelkar, Nawazuddin Sidduqui and Irfan Pathan demonstrate, and Indian Muslims enjoy better civil liberties and security of life and property than their co-religionists in Pakistan and many other Muslim-majority countries.
Nor is it the case that only the Muslims are victims of communal riots, and to cite some relatively recent examples in Uttar Pradesh, one can point to the Jat victims of the riots in Muzaffarnagar and the Sikh victims of the riots in Sahranpur, and in terrorist attacks, most victims are usually Hindus.
In fact, even during the horrendous Hindu-Muslim riots in the Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh, Azam Khan from the Samajwadi Party allegedly had a hand from the Muslim side, with a sting operation suggesting his involvement in telling policemen to not fire at Muslim rioters, and he is accused of having provoked Muslims into rioting against Sikhs in Sahranpur as well. But the man roams free, not even facing trial, while our ‘secular intellectuals’ are only crying hoarse about how Maya Kodnani, after being convicted (among some hundreds of others in connection with the riots in Gujarat in 2002) and spending some years in jail, has been granted bail on health grounds (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 on, rather than ‘Hindu oppressors vs. Muslim oppressed’, which would actually be half-true or even false in many contexts), just as they were quick to rightly blame the SP government for the terrible condition of Muslim riot victims displaced from Muzaffarnagar in camps where some died of the cold while Akhilesh enjoyed the Saifai Mahotsav, but they did not bother to examine that the Jat riot victims too had not received their due compensation from the state, nor did they ardently condemn Azam Khan as much as they condemned Hindu politicians allegedly involved in the riots. Some intellectually honest left-liberals too have mustered the courage to point this out, one of them being Shivam Vij. To quote him–
“A prominent anti-communalism activist held a press conference last year to release a fact-finding report on the Hindu-Muslim violence in Muzaffarnagar and the adjoining areas of western Uttar Pradesh. ‘The Amit Shah effect is showing,’ she said. Throughout the press conference, she described the UP government only as ‘the administration’. When asked about the role of the ruling Samajwadi Party in the state, she merely said they also had a lot to answer for.”
“While it is true that Amit Shah had been appointed the BJP’s UP campaign chief just a few months before the violence, it was actually SP leader Azam Khan’s diktat to the police to go slow against the violence that really fuelled it.
Despite this, the secular activist could not so much as name the SP, let alone demand the resignation of Azam Khan or his chief minister.
It is not that she couldn’t see their faults, but if she started targeting them, she would be joining the BJP in doing so. This is a central problem with the liberal intellectuals trying to save secularism in India.”
And as if this was not enough, just before the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, Azam Khan tried to communalize India’s victory in the Kargil war, crediting it only to the Muslim soldiers in our army! This rightfully drew condemnation from several Indian military veterans, including those who happened to be Muslim. Thereafter, in the wake of the recent ISIS attacks in Paris, Khan, while acknowledging them as unfortunate, said it was debatable as to whether they were unjustified, given French policies in the Middle East (not very different from the argument advanced by Hindu rightists about the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002, citing the burning of the railway coach at Godhra). About him, Ramachandra Guha, a very prominent left-liberal intellectual, has opined–
“As an Indian, I think the fact that the most important Muslim leader in our most populous state is Azam Khan is a disgrace to Muslims, to Uttar Pradesh, and to India. He has a known track record in polarizing Hindus and Muslims.”
However, the Muslim-appeasing politics of the SP does not stop at a senior leader engaging in divisive talk or even allegedly fuelling violence. It has also reflected in their public policies. Akhilesh Yadav constituted special tribunals to deal with matters related to waqf property in a speedy fashion, though he did not do so for heinous crimes like rape! The most brazen example of minority appeasement was the attempt at releasing all the Muslim terror suspects without trial, something fortunately disallowed by the High Court. More recently, Akhilesh Yadav sacked one of his own ministers, Ompal Nehra, for suggesting that both a Hindu temple and a mosque be constructed at the disputed site in Ayodhya with the cooperation of both Hindus and Muslims, and if Yadav thought this was an inappropriate thing to say and not in line with the SP stance when the matter is pending with the Supreme Court, that may well be justified in and of itself, but given that he has retained someone like Azam Khan on the other hand tells you something about the nature of the politics he plays.
In this regard, I would also like to highlight how favouring Muslim extremists does actually help to boost Hindu extremism, making some Hindus see Muslims as the shamelessly favoured ones. A Muslim friend of mine has recounted in a blog how he, concealing his own Muslim identity, interacted with a Hindu extremist autorickshaw-driver who complained that in a local riot in his village in UP, the police arrested the Hindu rioters but spared their Muslim counterparts, which is not surprising given the free run Muslim mobs got in the rally in Azad Maidan in Mumbai under Congress-NCP rule or more recently in Malda in West Bengal (which is not to, on the other hand, deny that Hindu extremists have also been sometimes given a free run in parts of India, but two wrongs do not make either right).
In fact, several people from UP point out that since Yadavs and Muslims form the core vote-bank of the SP, the police is often reluctant to lodge FIRs against criminals from these two communities, and indeed, the police has actually been filled with Yadavs, with allegations of cases, if registered, against Yadavs being dropped. Playing caste politics among Hindus makes it politically expedient to tilt in favour of Muslim voters, but Muslim voters themselves do not all vote for one party, with some even voting for the BJP, especially in the latest national elections, and the solution doesn’t lie in trying to consolidate Hindu votes or Muslim votes behind one party as a means of asserting religious identity, but in being united as Indians to take on problems confronting us and embracing development that is based on job creation, with good education, health care (allowing private players, especially low-cost ones, to compete in these domains) and law-and-order facilities.
In the larger picture, the SP has failed the Muslims of UP as much as it has failed the Hindus. They may have sought to shield Muslim rioters and tried to release Muslim terrorists (which is unacceptable) but didn’t care enough for the innocent riot-affected, both Hindu and Muslim. They may have instituted waqf tribunals, but they were not functional for long. Even the other schemes and the likes for the minorities floated by them have not been implemented properly as has been rightly pointed out in this article, just as many of the schemes floated for UPites in general have not been. Economic development in general hasn’t happened to any satisfactory extent, which would be good for UPites, irrespective of religion. Thus, while the SP may have a generous attitude towards Muslim extremists, they have failed the ordinary Muslim of UP as much as they have failed the ordinary Hindu, and so, their or even any other party’s divisive tactics should not allow UPites to turn against each other, and Muslims must realise that the ‘secular’ parties and the very blatantly communal MIM (its leader Asaduddin Owaisi, believed to be moderate compared to his brother, has spewed venom against Jews and Ahmedias, the latter regarding themselves as Muslims, though these two tiny minorities could have never oppressed Indian Sunnis or Shias, something those left-liberal ‘intellectuals’ portraying Muslim communalism to only always be a by-product of oppression by non-Muslims, should ponder over) are playing token games of identity politics, development necessarily being sector-dependent and holistic based on vocation and economic class, irrespective of caste or religion.
The average UPite must reject the BJP and the SP. Till such time as the AAP enters the electoral fray in UP, how about giving the BSP yet another chance? And yes, even the MIM, with its communal politics, should not be given any support, and voting for it will only divide the anti-BJP votes, thus strengthening the BJP.
(Image Courtesy: http://www.ndtv.com/elections-news/ban-on-amit-shah-lifted-azam-khan-refuses-to-apologise-557835)