I would like to congratulate Prime Minister Narendra Modi for completing one year in office. I would also like to thank him for resolving my complex identity issues in just one year. For the past several years I have been straddling numerous identities, partly in my own search for political clarity. It has been one year since Narendra Modi took over as a Prime Minister of India and people have already started evaluating his achievements. I will leave untouched for now, the question of what he has or hasn’t achieved, but would like to highlight the foremost achievement for which he, along with his ministers, deserves ample credit. In span of merely one year, Modi has forcefully converted countless secular, free thinking Muslims, to Islam.
Before I begin to explain what I mean by this I would like to point out that Indian Muslims are nearly the only political community in India who are secular. I need only point out to the most important example to illustrate my point. Any psephologist will testify to the fact that caste-based identity politics is getting strengthened in India. Political parties consciously field candidates belonging to the dominant caste in a given constituency. For all his claims of non-sectarian politics, Arvind Kejriwal explicitly invoked his caste status as a baniya ahead of his massive victory in the Delhi Assembly elections of 2015, as did Narendra Modi by laying claim to the OBC status. In a recent TV show by Ravish Kumar in western U.P., the respondents had no qualms in admitting their preference for candidates of their caste. In the progressive circles of Indian intelligentsia, the development of Dalit politics is broadly seen as a positive development, and rightly so in my opinion. Late Prof. Rajni Kothari had a positive appraisal of caste as a force of mobilization in democratic politics. I think that I have made my point clear. One cannot think of Muslim identity politics in the same manner in India today. In fact, the very use of the M-word is not a very Kosher choice of terminology (imagine the use of the word Halaal in place of Kosher, for instance!).
The immediate retort to my argument will be the imagined “appeasement” of Indian Muslims by the Congress. Without entering into a debate about the material reality of this so-called appeasement, I would like to emphasize the larger point that whether Muslims have traditionally voted for Congress or, more recently, for the Aam Aadmi Party, we have never had adequate representation in the Parliament. The current ruling party does not have a single elected Muslim representative in the Parliament. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had strongly emphasized the importance of self-representation of Dalits and Muslims in decision-making bodies including the Cabinet. Even the promises of reservation for Muslims by certain parties have fallen flat on their face and, at some level, we always knew that these claims are fake. The only material difference that the claims of so-called secular parties have made to the situation of Muslims is that it has earned them the notoriety of being a pampered lot, thanks to the relentless false propaganda of some imagined “Muslim appeasement” by RSS. While the myth of a Muslim ‘vote-bank’ has been successfully passed off, nobody would bother to talk about the baniya vote-bank or the Jat vote-bank. In the Lok Sabha election of 2014, in which BJP and RSS consciously united the Hindu vote (asli Hindu) for Modi, nobody spoke of a Hindu vote-bank.
Were Indian Muslims not secular, there would have been many more of us in the legislatures. Having said that, the image of a ‘secular Muslim’ is not politically beneficial for anyone: we have Chetan Bhagat and Yogendra Yadav alike lecturing us on how to look for a “new leadership”- as if we have a leadership of our own in the first place. Even when these so-called intellectuals appeal to us to be non-sectarian, they address us in the collective, blissfully unaware of the diverse voting patterns, political ideologies, class positions and caste statuses that divide the Indian Muslims electorally. However, none of the politicians has been as successful as Mr. Narendra Modi in bracketing us into one single identity. Numerous Muslim youth who would otherwise refuse to base their primary political identity on their religion have been forced to identify as nothing but Muslims.
Famous French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre in his book Anti-Semite and Jew famously said, “The anti-Semite creates the Jew”. On the 16th of May, 2014 when Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, I felt betrayed. Not so much as a feminist outraged about the rapes of women in Gujarat in 2002. Not so much as a socialist worried about the ensuing capitalist hegemony, but primarily as a Muslim who had faith in Indian secularism. On the same day, the Supreme Court of India acquitted all the accused in the Akshardham Temple attack case, all of them Muslims of course, at the same time slamming Narendra Modi and the Gujarat police for falsely framing them in the case. Not only did it not make news, a bus carrying student protesters to the Gujarat Bhawan in New Delhi was abducted by the police and manhandled! As if these events were an indication of what was to follow.
And the new Prime Minister did not disappoint me one bit. In fact I was surprised by the remarkable swiftness with which the communal agenda was unleashed, that too with acquiescence of large sections of the society and the media. In the semester that followed I took a course on Minorities, as part of which we were asked to maintain a news collage related to minorities. I had long stopped subscribing to newspapers for the gory start that they give to my day. However for this particular course I started subscribing to two leading English national dailies. These were the months of by-elections in certain constituencies and what I discovered to my utter surprise was the active collaboration of Indian media in creating the twin myths of love-jehad and a predatory Muslim male, committed to nothing but increasing the Muslim population! That was until the complainant in the so-called Meerut gang rape and love-jihad case spoke out against her forced involvement and the false charges that she was made to level against her lover. It was only after the news of her family having received money from the BJP surfaced that the media decided to give it a rest.
I have been politically active for some time and have seen horrible cases of rape, exploitation, murder and riots being blacked out by the media and there was no way, logically, that love jihad should have been on the front pages of national dailies for three long months, especially when, during the same period, the Supreme Court of India had slammed right-wing groups for dividing the society on the basis of unsubstantiated claims of forced conversion of Hindu girls. Obviously, this latter part was not deemed good enough by our media to be reported. It is impossible in the first place for a primarily unsubstantiated news, to capture front page space for months without the collusion of the government and the media owners.
In the months that followed we heard cabinet ministers calling minorities “haraamzade” (bastards), proposing to declare Gita as the national book, cancelling the religious holidays of minorities, and what not. Open calls to turn India into a Hindu rashtra, blatant attempts to remove the words “secular and socialist” from the Constitution and to install statues of Nathuram Godse in temples and public spaces followed, but did not seem unusual- signalling the death of the secular streak that used to be outraged. Now there is too much to outrage about and very little reaction time. But every single time, I have been forced to respond as a Muslim. In that sense, I am a ‘Sartrean Muslim’, created by the anti-Muslim!
My only hope lies in the fact that Modi has not discriminated among the oppressed. Changes to the Land Acquisition Bill, easing of restrictions on child labour, massive cuts in public sector jobs and spending on health and education, marathon demolitions of urban slums inhabited by lower caste, working class Hindus and Muslims, desecration of churches, all-out attacks on environmental activists, imposition of upper caste hegemony on food habits – these are only a handful of “achievements” of the Modi government, not to mention the complete failure of the promise of development and return of black money. The only class of people that Modi has actually befitted is the 1% rich corporates. I would like to identify with the other 99%. My hope lies in the 69% who did not vote for Modi and in the new recruits to this 69% that Modi has managed to earn through his policies- a glimpse of which was seen in the Delhi elections.