SEEMA MUSTAFA | 15 JULY, 2018
Secularism is the way out not identity meetings
A Venomous attack on the Muslims by the BJP via the Congress this time. Launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and seconded by able Minister of Defence Nirmala Sitharaman whose abilities clearly lie outside her ministry. One spoke of the Congress being a party for Muslim men, and the other directed her venom at a meeting Congress President Rahul Gandhi had with Muslim ‘intellectuals’. Sitharaman suffering from a major Jawaharlal Nehru University hangover, being a product of it, spoke of this innocuous meeting as what she liked to describe as a ‘tukde tukde’ policy. Clearly the term carries some import for the woman heading the Defence Ministry.
Of course there is nothing of the tukde tukde in the BJP policy where the two senior leaders of the government keep a stoic silence when it comes to the lynchings that continue---cow, braids, child abduction--- as mobs are deliberately directed towards innocents the roads, who then are beaten and killed with bestial ferocity. Even as Sitharaman was hissing out her anger against the Muslims per se, an innocent man with two others was set upon by a crazed mob in Karnataka, he was killed and the other two seriously injured. As these lynchings have demonstrated over and over again the police force is either complicit, or outnumbered in each case where the mob has its way, and terror spreads across the countryside.
But this of course, is not tukde tukde. Perhaps Sitharaman, so evocative with her words, might like to break her silence and find some terms to describe this mob frenzy, and these lynchings with more and more impunity given the felicitation by her esteemed colleagues of those released on bail for similar crimes in say Jharkhand (Jayant Sinha) and still in jail in Bihar (Giriraj Singh) .
I, predictably my colleagues tell me, was not on the list of Muslim intellectuals invited by Salman Khursheed for a tete a tete with Rahul Gandhi. He put me out of a quandary really (call it sour grapes if you want) as I would not have known whether to accept or decline the invitation. Simply because of my longstanding opposition to the Congress party’s insistence on labelling what needs not to be labelled.
Let me start with another invite I did receive. As a Muslim of course, What else? Now in this current discourse no other identity of mine matters. I am labelled a Muslim and with it a traitor, a Pakistani, a terrorist, take your pick. As I am no longer a journalist, a woman, a professional, an India---I am plain and simple a Muslim. The BJP has taken this to inhuman levels, lynching and killing to segregate the Muslims and project them as the ‘enemy’, the ‘other’ threatening the ‘us’. The Congress has not gone that far but created the ground for this kind of vicious exploitation. And by all accounts has not learnt, that there is a word ‘secular’ in the Preamble of the Constitution that cannot be strengthened by such politics, but can only acquire meaning when the equality and rights of all are defended vigorously, and justice dispensed without partisanship.
So the invite was for an iftar party by Rahul Gandhi. And of course the Minorities Cell of the AICC conferred the honour on me. I had to politely decline. This was easy. As I never go for iftar or for that matter any religious parties. This does not make me better or worse than others, it is just a decision I took a long long time ago. Just like as a journalist working with good editors over the years I was taught that media space cannot be given to religious rituals and assertions for a host of reasons that can make for another article.
Several Muslim liberals did go, and yes insofar as the Congress was concerned it was a good intervention at a time when iftars are being frowned upon, and Muslims treated as dirt. A political statement that needed to be made in these trying times by a political party. Besides the effort by the AICC to reach out to a larger section of Muslims again indicated a break from the mullah-maulvi past, and gave comfort to many who did attend that at least “someone cares.” It is unfortunate that an iftar party becomes the “I care” message in a vitiated environment where the minorities are scared and isolated.
But then the meeting with Muslim intellectuals that has got Sitharaman’s goat. The Congress could have used this to shift from past practise, to stop singling out the minorities for such discussions, and realise there can be no minority strategy. There can only be an Indian secular democratic strategy to counter hard core communalism. And as such if intellectuals are seen as an important component then those of all communities---including Muslims--should have been invited for the brainstorming or whatever it was. And thereby made it clear to the minorities that they do not speak for themselves, but are indeed part of the pluralistic mix that is India.
The Congress party is uncomfortable with Muslims. It has a heavy preponderance of Muslim leaders who too are uncomfortable with Muslims. And their advice, taken by the Congress top brass, swings from ‘hands off Muslims’ (invisibilization) to ‘go with Muslims’ policy, both that isolate the minorities and do little good. In Gujarat after 2002 a terrified Congress actually advised then party president Sonia Gandhi against even visiting the widow of slain Congress leader Afsar Jafri’s wife, lest it irritate the majority community. This policy was exercised by the Congress when it came to power in 2004, and particularly the second term, reflected in the ‘crackdown’ on Muslims (most acquitted by courts) in the wake of terror incidents; and through Kashmir and Pakistan with ‘no talks’ being the bottom line.
After 2014 the Congress moved into invisibilizing the Muslims, with elections being fought without even recognising this segment of the voters in speeches, in the campaign and even in terms of ticket distribution. It was as if the Muslim voter did not exist, and the community also accepted this cloak of invisibility telling visiting reporters during crucial elections in UP and Bihar for instance, “we are voting where we are, the others are more important.” Meaning “we know if we speak out the vote will be communalised so let us be.” Pragmatic but the question arose then and remains now: Why? Why is there such an environment that the minorities feel silence is their best option, and that even the so called secular parties are right in ignoring their existence but remaining assured of their vote?
Under Rahul Gandhi this policy has been discarded. Or there is clearly a re-think. But unfortunately the same Muslim leaders with little vision are in charge, and instead of parading Mullahs they are now bringing in Muslim intellectuals for discussions. Why? Solutions and understandings from a composite table of those concerned about the destruction of the idea of India will always be more dynamic, with the ability to withstand the rigours of time, than those emanating from identity tables. After all secularism in this country is being protected even now by the composite whole, and not by the minorities who neither have the capacity nor the ability to face the onslaught of the Hindutva brigade.
Secularism has been attacked by the right wing working overtime to destroy the concept. But it remains the red rag, protected so far by the Constitution of India, and adhered to by those who believe in a vibrant, pluralist, diverse and united India. This needs to be revived by the Congress and the Opposition with the minorities then automatically coming under the larger whole. Secularism means the protection of minorities, the implementation of rights and freedoms enshrined under the Constitution, for if this is done without partisanship the minorities like all Indians will flourish too. After all then India will not sit and watch a lynching or a wrongful arrest or threats and abuse silently, and raise a voice against it regardless of who is being targeted. In the process the minorities, the Dalits, women, the Adivasis, the poor of India will find their voice as they remain on the receiving end, with every passing day making their plight worse.
So Rahul Gandhi while one appreciates the shift away from the silent mode of the Congress, effort of any and every political party today wedded to the Idea of India that the Constitution should be to imbue Secularism with new meaning, and a radical strategy that cuts through the barbed wires that are currently enclosing it from swathes of Indian citizens.