In a democracy, the majority of the citizens is capable of exercising the most cruel oppressions upon the minority. —Edmund Burke
In the Gujarat election campaign, Prime Minister Modi stated that Pakistan is supporting Ahmed Patel as Gujarat Chief Minister and that it is a “matter of concern.” The critical question is what is ominous if Ahmed Patel did indeed become the chief minister? He is, after all, an Indian citizen with a right to run for political office.
Shockingly, here, an Indian Muslim, because of their religion, is automatically identified with Pakistan’s interests. As the nation celebrated the Republic’s 69th anniversary, the one dangerous trend—solidifying since 2014—is the excision of the Republic’s secular foundations by the political invisibilisation, as well as the demonising of the Muslim in every social sphere.
While the egregious violent attacks against Muslims (and Dalits) have garnered expected outrage, including abroad (the New York Times, for example, has written an unprecedented sixteen editorials critiquing the Modi government for its embrace of religious extremism, intolerance and the curbing of freedoms) what has not is the Hindutva project of abolishing Muslim political representation. For, it is insidious and executed through perfectly “democratic” methods.
After all, people might ask, what is democracy other than the enforcement of the will of the majority? The answer is that Hindutva’s electoral majority does not want Muslims to be politically represented.
This is what Alexis de Tocqueville called the “tyranny of majority” as early as the 19th century.
The last four years have seen a terrifying demonstration of this tyranny in action.
The 2014 Lok Sabha Elections were thus an alarming landmark in Independent India’s history. In a first, a party came to power without having a single elected Muslim Member of Parliament. The BJP fielded only 7 Muslims (5 in J&K and Bengal alone) out of 482 candidates. The total Muslim representation in Parliament fell to 4%, the lowest since 1957.
Muslims constitute 19.2% of the Uttar Pradesh population, that is about 4.3 crore people, as big as Argentina’s population. Yet, the BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate in the last state assembly elections. Muslim representation drastically fell from 17.1 % to 5.9% in the UP Assembly.
In Assam, (Muslim population: 34.2%), the BJP has one Muslim MLA out of 61. In Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra (16.9%, 14.5% and 11.54% Muslims respectively), BJP has no Muslim MLAs. In Maharashtra, the BJP won with 122 MLAs and fielded one Muslim, who lost.
Since Mr. Modi became the Gujarat Chief Minister in 2002, the BJP has not fielded a single Muslim candidate either in the Lok Sabha or the Assembly Elections. Political cleansing has ensured that Muslim representation in Gujarat Assembly has declined from 6.6% in 1980, to only 1.6% now (Muslim population: 9.67%).
All this leads to the terrifying fact: of the 1416 BJP MLAs now in the country, there are 4 Muslims. That is 0.28% when the Muslim population is 14.2%. The exclusion is simply staggering. Contrastingly, as Rukmini S.’ analysis shows, the non-BJP ruled states had (in November 2014), 300 Muslim MLAs, representing 13% of the MLAs.
The bogey that the BJP has ridden on to power is “Muslim appeasement.” This is a myth. Muslim representation in parliament in the Congress-dominant era of 1952-1977, ranged between 2% and 7%. The highest representation was in 1980; even then it touched only 10%, less than the overall Muslim population.
In UP, the Muslim representation in the Assembly ranged between 5.9% to 9.5% in the period 1951-1977, much less than its population. Only as late as 2012, it touched the highest representation of 17.1%, but again fell short of its overall population share. Even in Bihar, where the “secular” Congress and Janata Dal/Rashtriya Janata Dal parties have been accused of pandering to Muslims, the highest representation was only 10.46% in 1985.
Similarly, Muslim representation in the Armed Forces, judiciary, police and civil services is significantly less than the population share. So let us not delude ourselves that the BJP is rectifying some anti-Hindu historical injustices by reducing Muslim representation. The argument that the BJP does not field Muslims because it cannot find “winning Muslim candidates” is again devious. More deceptive is the claim that the BJP is beholden to protect Muslim women who, for example, voted in large numbers for it in the UP elections, a claim which is not factual (a question: why does the BJP, the champion of Muslim women, not field them in elections?).
That the majority can indulge in extreme oppression of the minority in a democracy does not mean that we abolish it. Instead, what is needed a radical deepening of its structures so that the most marginalised get representation. The first step would be to recognise there are no monolithic majorities and minorities. The raison d’être of the Hindutva project is to deny the hideous reality of caste and class and build a monolithic Hindu community (which is deeply iniquitous in practice). Recent events from Una to Bhima Koregaon demonstrate that. But, unlike the Muslim, the BJP is willing to make some symbolic gestures to the Dalit.
While society others the Muslim, the Muslim community is itself riven by caste and class. Thus, the Ashrafs (the forward castes among Muslims, constituting only 15-20%) have been the overwhelming beneficiary of communal politics and its small gains at the expense of the Pasmandas (backward and Dalit Muslim castes) who are also the main victims of violent bigotry. In UP Assembly of the last two decades, as Gilles Verniers shows, the Ashrafs cornered 70% of the MLA positions, a figure which would be typical (or worse) for India as a whole. The Ashraf political and religious elite themselves have been a major barrier in the material and democratic empowerment of the Muslim community.
The BJP is ruling 19 of the 29 states now, but has Muslim representation—that too minuscule—in only three. It has made a “Congress Mukt Bharat” its rallying cry. But what is immediately manifest is the march to a Muslim Mukt Bharat. Its terrifying denouement will be especially catastrophic for the Pasmanda Muslim, who is subject to the “double-bind” of religious as well as caste discrimination, and who even during the “golden age” of secularism was on the absolute margins of the nation’s socio-economic parameters.
A democracy will be brittle when its minorities are systematically subject to a political apartheid and denied political representation. Certainly, no democracy can be a real democracy when its oppressed castes and classes, cutting across religions, are fatally pitted against each other on the basis of religion.
The article was originally published in The Indian Express.