‘My Father, Let My Country Awake’
When a gravely ill Lenin had discovered a future leader in Leon Trotsky, the latter reminded the former that it would not take a month for the Soviet State to disintegrate, if a person adhering to Jewish Faith or Judaism became its leader! Later, a subordinate comrade said: “What a wonderful man… although he is a Jew.”
Even in Independent India, possibly no one embracing Islam has ever dreamt of becoming the Prime Minister (of India)! In his essay ‘Debating Muslim Political Representation‘, Hilal Ahmad has analysed the Parliamentary Elections in India from 1952 to 2004 in order to shed light on how many Muslim representatives should be there in the Lower House of the Indian Parliament, and the actual number of people who were there. This calculation helped Ahmad find the percentage of deprivation (of Muslims in India), which was 57.14% after the first Parliamentary Elections (1951-52). Despite being the largest Minority Community, the Muslims have failed to secure their places in the National Politics in a country that is Secular in nature (as per the Constitution). Moreover, India is the homeland of around 195 million Muslims (2020 estimate) even after being divided into three parts on the basis of Religion in 1947. India’s Muslim population is about the third-largest in the world and the world’s largest Muslim-minority population. The South Asian nation accommodates nearly 10.3% of the global Muslim population. According to Ahmad, the share of deprivation decreased to 16.95% in 1980, when the Lower House had 49 Muslim members (the highest so far since 1947)! And then, the scenario started deteriorating. When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had formed the Government with an absolute majority in 2014, it did not have a single Muslim MP… in a rare first in the Indian Politics!
The fluctuation of numbers can be measured not only in terms of the changing character of Politics, but also in terms of Social Change. India witnessed the rise of many small parties in the 1970s, as the Political Society wanted to reach the Muslim Community. With this, more Muslim candidates got an opportunity to contest elections. The Indian National Congress (INC), the oldest political outfit of the country, had fielded the maximum number of Muslim candidates in various constituencies at that period of time. In 1980, out of 49 Muslim MPs, 30 belonged to the INC! Apart from the INC and the two Communist Parties (Communist Party of India (CPI) and Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M)), no party had more than one Muslim member in the Lower House of the Parliament for long. After the rise of the BJP in 1980, Hindu Conservatism replaced Secularism in Indian Politics. As expected, the number of Muslim parliamentarians, too, decreased.
Why did the Muslims not come to the forefront of the newly formed Indian State in 1947? Perhaps, the Political History of Indian Independence and the concept of Nationalism have the answer. However, why do they remain cornered even in Liberal and Pluralistic India? Indeed, it is a very complex issue.
It may be said that firstly, the INC had made a serious attempt to sell the legacy of Secularism to the voters in past. However, the Grand Old party did not even try to sensitise people about the real essence of Secularism. The INC used to follow the path of Secularism, publicly. At the same time, it also nurtured the concept of Hinduism. The concept changed in the 1980s, with the rise of the BJP!
Again, there is still confusion over the question of Muslim representation. The Muslims, it is apparent, wondered if Liberal Hindus could be their representatives! As the number of Muslim representatives in the Indian Parliament decreased from 1999 to 2017, the House remained silent on community-related issues, especially on lynching of Muslims and mistreatment with Muslim prisoners. The position of Muslim women in India is even worse, as their representation in the Parliament is less than 1%! In 2019, only four of 543 or 0.7% members of the Lower House were Muslim women, who comprise 6.9% of the general population.
Finally, the concept of Secularism has become a satire as the country is constantly engulfed by sectarianism, narrow-mindedness and regionalism. The political leaders are only appeasing the religious leaders in the country in order to boost their vote-banks. With India becoming more and more proud of its Hindu identity, the minority voices wither away.
Here lies a deeper (and more complex) issue. How do the Secular parties, especially the INC, view Muslims in National Politics? In the 2019 Parliamentary Elections, the INC did not allow Shakil Ahmed, a veteran party leader and two-time MP, to contest from the Madhubani Constituency in eastern Province of Bihar. The top INC leadership thought that Ahmed’s candidature might allow other parties to accuse the Congress of appeasing the Minority Community, and might also polarise the voters. A local voter reportedly said that Muslims, too, want better roads, schools, colleges and jobs. So, he urged the political outfits not to consider the religious identities of voters while preparing electoral strategies. Shakil Ahmed had served as the INC’s spokesperson, General Secretary and Minister in his own capacity, and Islam is not his only identity. INC leader Rahul Gandhi, once, said that Muslims did not have a national leader of that stature after Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (November 11, 1888 – February 22, 1958). Certainly, names, like Ghulam Nabi Azad or Salman Khurshid, are not as popular in the southern part of the country. Who is responsible for this… the Muslims or the INC?
Regrettably, it seems, what the INC has been promoting Secularism as a different form of Pluralism for the last seven decades, but not Secularism, in a true sense! Individuals can be Secular, so can a Society, if they are Homogenous. However, the Indian Society is not Homogenous, and this is a harsh reality! It may have been possible, had the INC considered Shakil Ahmed’s candidature for another five years. Then, perhaps, one could think of building such a society. The Indian Citizens, especially the Muslims, would have benefited from it. Unfortunately, the Indian Communists, too, have mostly appeased the Muslims in an attempt to win elections, thus, becoming pseudo-Secular.
It is the time for India to learn a lesson from the US, where the Rev Raphael Warnock, a pastor at the same Atlanta Church where Civil Rights icon Martin Luther King Jr once preached, became the first Coloured person ever elected to the US Senate from the State of Georgia in January 2021. It is to be noted that Georgia is a State that has a long history of Racist Politics, dating back well into the 19th Century, and for an African-American man to be elected to the US Senate from Georgia was a historic moment. One should not forget that Minorities are minor in number, not in importance!
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