National and International Issues

The State of Muslims Under the BJP Rule

The Muslim population spread out in this vast country constitutes the largest religious minority. Their sheer size of over one hundred seventy-two million or 14.2 percent of the population is a number larger than the population of many countries around the world. Democracies around the world ensure representation of ethnic, linguistic, regional and religious minorities in order to be inclusive. Any test of a true democracy lies in how effectively the political, constitutional and all fundamental rights of all citizens, disregard to religion or colour of skin, are protected. The Indian constitutional system doesn’t have any affirmative provisions or guaranteed minimum or maximum numbers for the minorities in the elected assemblies. They have to work for their representation through the competitive party system. Liberal democrats would argue that even scattered minorities divided into multiple constituencies can influence electoral outcomes by creating voting blocs. Theoretically, it sounds like a good argument, but practical politics depends on the level of development of democracy, social structure, class and other hierarchies, and whether or not the system is competitive or dominated by a single party system. The Indian system has transformed itself from one single-party (Congress) to another single-party (BJP) political order with so many regional parties aligning with either of the two. The one-party dominant system by itself may not work against the interests of the minorities, but it leaves very little bargaining power and influence for the minorities in the electoral process. On the other hand, competition in the political arena creates bigger space for minorities.
Democracy and constitutional norms don’t work in the same way in every country. The difference lies in political climates, social conditions, political cultures, attitudes of peoples, and dominant ideas and beliefs. These are all dynamic processes subject to change and dependent on so many variables. The fact is, which is confirmed by every report and study, that the political conditions in India under the rule of BJP have worsened for all minorities, but more so for the Muslims. The party has a communalist, violent past, espouses fascist ideas of Hindu supremacy and aspires to create Hindu state in the image of its Hindutva ideology. While the Hindutva crowds cheer many “India shining” slogans, for the Muslims, it is the darkest period of their history. With such a huge number, their representation in the elected assemblies from local councils to the Lok Sabha — the national Parliament of India — has shrunk significantly. They are discriminated, persecuted; and violence against them has been on the rise. The argument of this piece is that with the decline of competitive politics, secular political culture and rise of fascistic tendencies, the Muslims have fared the worst of all other minorities. But there is also a history to it; history of hate, violence, and anger directed at the Muslims of India, as a collective punishment for the independence of Pakistan.


The sad truth of the Indian politics is that despite the fact that the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi presided over the massacre of thousands of Muslims as the Chief Minister of Gujarat state then, the party kept winning majorities. It has played out the Muslims as an “enemy” within, and the other in electoral politics to its advantage. This speaks a lot about how India swerved so fast to the side of communalised majority. Equally tragic is the surrender of constitutional institutions, including the Supreme Court of India to the fascism of BJP. It leaves little room to maneuver for any persecuted minority.



The Rise of BJP
The social and ideological roots of the BJP lay in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), literally, “National Volunteer Organisation”. In fact, it is a paramilitary organisation with a uniform, indoctrination, training and fighting its real and imagined enemies. It was the RSS that organised gangs that created communal frenzy and attacked Muslim minority at the time of Partition, as the colonial order collapsed. Such an organisation had the support of the police and other state agencies, as they either looked to the other side or joined the crowd in the mayhem. It advocated then, and even now, that Muslims be expelled to Pakistan, the Muslim majority state. In most of the communal incidents over the past seventy-years, the RSS and many other similar outfits sprouting out of it have been involved in violent acts against Muslims. With Indian Congress, the party that won independence for India staying dominant for decades, the RSS and many such communalist parties were on the margins. 
The decline of the Congress for many reasons, chief among them internal power struggles after the passing away of its founders, and the eclipse of the Nehru family that kept the party largely unified, opened the political space for regional parties. There was another factor as well, the coming together of communal organisation under one banner and creating the present BJP – a coalition of Hindu conservative and extremist groups. The economic turnaround, which incidentally happened during the Congress rule has generated a new middle class that is conservative and Hindu nationalist. In many cases, it is the class transition of lower Hindu sections that have made it to the ranks of the middle class. The rise of the BJP is mainly due to the fact that this new middle class has embraced the ideology of Hindutva. It is quite in contrast to the liberal character of the middle classes elsewhere, and the old middle class of India that supported secularism and constitutional rights of all minorities, including Muslims.


How can one explain why 14.2 percent Muslim population of India doesn’t have even 1 percent representation in Lok Sabha — the Indian Parliament – today? Every study done on their representation in the military and civil bureaucracy suggests their numbers have kept declining, and are now at terribly insignificant levels. While the Dalit, lower Hindu castes and other minorities have fixed representation in civil services and the educational institutions, the Muslims don’t.


The sad truth of the Indian politics is that despite the fact that the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi presided over the massacre of thousands of Muslims as the Chief Minister of Gujarat state then, the party kept winning majorities. It has played out the Muslims as an “enemy” within, and the other in electoral politics to its advantage. This speaks a lot about how India swerved so fast to the side of communalised majority. Equally tragic is the surrender of constitutional institutions, including the Supreme Court of India to the fascism of BJP. It leaves little room to maneuver for any persecuted minority.  
Exclusion and Marginalization
On December 6, 1992, it was during the first tenure of the BJP leading a coalition government when its stalwarts led the attack on the historic 16th century Babri Masjid, a mark of Muslim identity and culture. Under its present rule, against all the norms of justice, the Supreme Court of India has given the verdict in favour of the BJP, allowing it to build Ram Mandir where once the masjid (mosque) stood. The manifesto of the party, as old as the founding of the RSS, has made it very clear to erase the traces of about one thousand years of Muslim rule. It has reconstructed the image of a Muslim as an ‘alien’, outsider, and not a native son of soil. This ahistorical and fictional construction at popular level, and so obvious in the political narratives, has lent power to the BJP to take draconian laws to exclude Muslims from representation in every national institution. How can one explain why 14.2 percent Muslim population of India doesn’t have even 1 percent representation in Lok Sabha — the Indian Parliament – today? Every study done on their representation in the military and civil bureaucracy suggests their numbers have kept declining, and are now at terribly insignificant levels. While the Dalit, lower Hindu castes and other minorities have fixed representation in civil services and the educational institutions, the Muslims don’t. 
Subramanian Swamy, a leading and influential voice in the BJP, has recently argued that the “Muslims don’t deserve the same rights as everyone else living in India”. He has gone further in his bigotry by saying “We know where the Muslim population is larger in number, there is trouble — because the Islamic ideology says so”. In one of his tweets he posted the following, “Muslims have religious but not cultural rights”, meaning they have to embrace the Hindu culture. Every expert in cultural studies would be rather shocked by such a comment, as cultural attitudes and beliefs of the people are rooted in religions.


Subramanian Swamy, a leading and influential voice in the BJP, has recently argued that the “Muslims don’t deserve the same rights as everyone else living in India”. He has gone further in his bigotry by saying “We know where the Muslim population is larger in number, there is trouble — because the Islamic ideology says so”. In one of his tweets he posted the following, “Muslims have religious but not cultural rights”, meaning they have to embrace the Hindu culture. Every expert in cultural studies would be rather shocked by such a comment, as cultural attitudes and beliefs of the people are rooted in religions.


Along with hateful narratives, the BJP has pursued informal and formal strategies to marginalise Muslims from the mainstream national economic and social life. It is not uncommon in some parts of India where members of the majority Hindu community refuse to trade with Muslims and sell them properties, if they happen to be on sale. Some Muslims have to change their names to Hindu names in order to survive in the market, particularly the owners and workers of restaurants. It is the formal measures, like National Register of Citizens (NRC) that has turned tens of millions of Muslims into stateless aliens, have hurt the Muslims gravely. The NRC was created in 2003, and since then, systematically it has proved to be an effective instrument to deny citizenship rights to Muslims in areas like Assam.
The conditions of Muslims in the Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K) would require a separate essay, but here suffice to say that their state has been dismantled by a controversial constitutional interpretation. By the time of writing these lines, the people in Srinagar Valley have been under lockdown for more than 223 days and counting. Their leaders are jailed, under house arrest, and in the meantime the killing of Kashmiri youth at the hands of the security forces has become a matter of routine. There are not many places as miserable as the Muslim majority areas in the IOJ&K.
Taking a leaf from Israel’s policy of fragmentation, disempowering and ghettoization, India has embarked upon a scheme of turning IOJ&K from majority Muslim areas to minority. The citizens here have lost the protection of Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian Constitution, as it has been annulled, paving the way for the implementation of long-standing agenda of the BJP.


Taking a leaf from Israel’s policy of fragmentation, disempowering and ghettoization, India has embarked upon a scheme of turning IOJ&K from majority Muslim areas to minority. The citizens here have lost the protection of Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian Constitution, as it has been annulled, paving the way for the implementation of long-standing agenda of the BJP.


Conclusion
Never have Muslims in India lived in such desperate conditions as they do under the rule of the BJP. They are gripped with fear, insecurity and suffer from anxiety for their future violation of their human rights are well-documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and many other independent right groups. The voices within India for their support are politically feeble and very few. The world community remains as a silent spectator, more interested in investment and trade opportunities with India than raising voice against the violation of the rights of Muslims. Not sure how long this dark night of BJP rule would last, but two things as conclusion are very clear. First, the world community can live with injustice, as along as its own interests are not hurt. It is not used to making moral choices when it comes to material interests. Second, injustice, persecution and state-sanctioned violence never remain unanswered: they provoke reaction and resistance. Only time will tell when it happens.


The writer is an eminent defense/political analyst who regularly contributes for print and electronic media. Presently he is on the faculty of LUMS.
E-mail: [email protected]
 

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