Kaleem Kawaja


The 140 million strong India’s Muslim voters were wooed by various political parties during the recently concluded Parliamentary election. All parties treated them a little differently.  BJP wanted them to consider themselves as “Mohammadiya Hindus”.  The Congress party talked of giving equal rights to Muslims but took no steps to redress their injustices leading many commentators to proclaim  that the difference between Congress and BJP is only slight.


Us phool ki khushboo say mujhey koi kaam nahin haiy,


Jis phool ki putti pur meray logon ka naam nahin haiy.


(I have no use for the fragrance of that flower, The flower garden where my people are not allowed in.)




BJP: Bhartiya Janata Party;


BSP: Bahujan Samaj Party (Mayawati);


RJD: Rashtriya Janata Dal (Lalu Yadav);


SP: Samajwadi Party (Mulayam Singh);


OBC: other backward classes;


SC: Scheduled caste;


ST: Scheduled Tribes;


Lok Sabha: Lower house of Parliament;


Rajya Sabha: Upper house of Parliament


The five phase fifteenth general election for the Indian parliament has just concluded.  Like other communities the 140 million strong Muslim voters were wooed by various political parties.  The difference for Muslims was that almost all parties treated them a little differently.  BJP – the bête noire of the Muslims casts a doubt on their nationalism and told them to prove it by voting for a change in their centuries old Indian-Muslim culture and value system and accept that they are “Mohammadiya Hindus”.  It denigrated tolerance towards Muslims with phrases like pseudo-secularism, minoritism, appeasement of minorities.  The Congress party had perfected the game of double-talk by speaking forcefully to give equal rights to Muslims but in practice taking no steps to redress the injustice and brutality to the community from police and government authorities,  or removing their intense economic backwardness.  Many commentators in India said that the difference between Congress and BJP is only slight; while BJP practices hard Hindutva, Congress practices soft Hindutva.


Smart Tricks: Other parties that claim to be secular and sympathetic to Muslims, e.g. Samajwadi party (Mulayam Singh Yadav), Rashtriya Janata Dal (Laloo Prasad Yadav), Bahujan Samaj Party (Mayawati) also learned lots of tricks for forming vote-banks from Congress party.  These parties’ only help to the Muslims has been that they stopped anti-Muslim riots.  While they shout from roof tops that they want to give equal space to Muslims, in reality in the last 25 years in their respective parties they never allowed any Muslim leader, no matter how loyal or competent or high performer, to become a senior leader.  Each of them won the Legislative Assembly elections in their respective states (UP, Bihar) with solid Muslim support several times, but they never made any Muslim a senior cabinet minister.  Thus the SP stalwart Azam Khan and the BSP stalwart Naseem Siddiqui were made ministers of second rank ministries like Urban Development, Environment etc in U.P.  In this election we saw that finally Azam Khan rebelled against the top SP leadership.


In fact once when some senior Muslim activists in RJD asked Laloo Yadav as to why he does not have a senior Muslim leader represent the large number of RJD Muslim voters, he said, “I am the leaders of the Muslims”.  In Assam when the United Minorities Front led by Golam Usmani became popular among Muslim voters, Congress promised Usmani that it will make him chief minister of Assam, but actually made him senior minister for a couple of years as the price for merging the United Democratic Front in the Assam Congress party. Recently in Bihar Nitish Kumar of Janata Dal similarly co-opted the emerging Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz led by Ali Anwar by giving Rajya Sabha seats to Ali Anwar and other leaders of his party.    


Thus after all these years of Muslims voting with much loyalty for SP, RJD, BSP, not a single prominent leader in any of these parties is a Muslim.  In the recent parliamentary election, BSP supremo Mayawati gave 20 tickets to Brahmins who are 8% of UP population, while it gave only 14 tickets to Muslims who are 18% of U.P. population.  At the same time during the parliamentary tussle in 2008 for the US-India Nuclear Treaty, Mayawati opposed the accord by saying that she was doing it to protect the interests of the Muslim community.  A few years ago SP supremo Mulayam Singh played another smart trick by proclaiming that he will close government schools in the afternoons on Fridays so that Muslim students can offer Juma prayer.


About 3 years ago the Congress party declared with much fanfare the formation of the Sachar Committee to investigate means to remove the economic backwardness of the Muslim community.  But it has been two years since this report was submitted and the Congress party which is in power has not yet brought it for discussion in the parliament.  Yet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made repeated statements that Muslims will be given first choice in development opportunities.  Also recently Singh announced that he is unhappy that not enough Muslims have been given Congress party ticket for parliamentary election.  Mr. Singh, why have you not taken any action to back your strong pronouncements?  Why are you insulting the intelligence of Muslims with such silly statements? 


Secularism or Development: Another very smart trick that all these parties that swear to be secular and friends of Muslims, are playing is that, they constantly scare Muslims from the fearful eventuality that BJP may come into power and make life hard for them.  They constantly tell Muslims that their number One priority should be to ensure that only secular parties win elections.  Whenever Muslims ask these parties and their leaders that the development help to Muslims is unsatisfactory and this issue must be highlighted, the top leaders of the secular parties tell them that they should concern themselves mostly with ensuring that secular parties win the election, and that they should not spend their energy and resources on other issues.


At the same time for the leaders of various OBC caste communities and Dalit communities the most important issue is to fight and highlight issues of development for their respective communities, not ensuring the win of secular parties.    Thus today all secular parties have made the Muslim community alone responsible for the political struggle to ensure that the Indian society remains secular.   Most Muslim leaders and activists spend a lot of their time and energy on interfaith efforts, championing secularism etc.  They have little time left to highlight the economic needs of their community.  Let alone the upper caste Hindus (Brahmins, Shatriyas, Baniyas), even lower caste Hindus (OBCs, SCs, STs) have not been charged with the political responsibility to ensure the secular structure of the country.  In fact all upper caste and lower caste Hindu communities are now fighting mostly to get development for their respective communities in their respective regions.  It is easy to see that with this smart game these parties have silenced the voices of all those Muslim leaders who demand development and educational & economic opportunities for their community.  Whenever any of them tries to highlight the need for development for the Muslims he/she is told that they are straying from their community’s  most important need, which is to keep India secular.


At the same time most of these secular parties have only given lip service to the development needs of Muslims.  How often in the last two years did you hear that the senior leaders of these secular parties took initiative in parliament to implement the Sachar Committee report or even to bring it for debate in the parliament.  Yes, they made a few advocacy statements.  But with their awesome political power and their often proclaimed claim of being friends of Muslims, why did they not at least organize a debate on the Sachar Committee report in the parliament?  In contrast whenever issues of OBC, SC, ST communities came up, they made sure that those issues were debated in parliament and legislation favorable to their communities was enacted.  I bet that if the Sachar Committee report was debated in the parliament in the last one year, no party could oppose its implementation, given the stark facts of backwardness of Muslims, and the need of all parties for the Muslim votes.


Look at how BSP has almost never emphasized that Muslim Dalits should be given the same reservation opportunities as Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist Dalits.  Look at how SP and RJD have almost never emphasized that all Muslim OBCs should be given the same reservation opportunities as Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh OBCs.  Not even after the Sachar Committee highlighted that infraction.


Go to various discussion forums on internet, newspapers, electronic media etc and see for yourself that a large number of Muslim leaders, activists, and commentators are spending most of their time speaking against terrorism, against religious obscurantism, for a secular society etc.  It is very rare to see them focus on the economic development of Muslims.  This despite the fact that today Muslims are the most economically backward community in India.  Even the implementation of the Sachar Committee report, that was the focus for the Muslim leaders for a few months after its publication, has now fallen off their respective radars.


For the secular parties that represent various lower castes this trick is working very well.  Their respective communities (OBCs, SCs, STs) have made very impressive economic gains across the board.  With reservation in tow, and no need to expend their energies for issues other than economic development, their communities’ economic  growth is a forward moving graph, whereas Muslims are trapped with the responsibility to maintain a secular society in the nation.


Muslims’ made to feel guilty: Whenever some Muslim community leaders have tried to break this viscous trap and said,  let us emulate Sikhs or Dalits or OBCs and form a political pressure group or party to highlight the extraordinary economic backwardness and need for development, they have been discouraged, decried and made to feel guilty for pandering to communalism.  Now why is it that no one castigates the Sikhs for the Akali party that openly advocates the socioeconomic and social issues of the Sikh community?  Why it is that no one castigates Dalits for forming BSP party, or OBCs for forming SP party to advocate the issues of  their respective castes?


The situation of the Muslim community is such that most in the Muslim intelligentsia and the secular parties decried when the Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) was formed in Assam in 2006 to do advocacy for the impoverished and harassed Muslims of Assam who are 30% of Assam’s population.  Also the Muslim intelligentsia and the secular parties decried the formation of the Ulema Council that was formed in 2008 to fight the horrendous police targeting of the Muslims of Azamgarh on the false charge of being prone to terrorism.   Other than brief “barking sessions”  no Muslim leaders in SP or BSP or RJD were allowed by the bosses in the respective parties to protest emphatically the unfair actions of police against the Azamgarh Muslim youth.  When the BSP Member of Parliament from Azamgarh, Akbar Ahmad Dumpy protested in the parliament by wearing a kafiyah (Arab head dress) he was scolded by BSP supremo Mayawati who threatened to not give him ticket for the parliamentary election.


A smart trap: Thus the secular parties have put the Muslim community in a box where its freedom to emphasize to the various secular parties that they fulfill their pledges and ensure economic development for the very backward Muslims is very limited.  Instead they have been rewarded with the burden to carry the heavy cross of fighting for and ensuring that the Indian society remains secular.  The result is obvious.  After more than 40 years of the success of secular parties in the nation’s political spectrum who championed the growth of OBCs, SCs, STs, while their respective communities have made very impressive economic gains, the Muslim community’s economic situation has continued to decline further.


These secular parties (SP, BSP, RJD, Congress) have won repeated elections with the votes of Muslims whom they promised to help, but as we can see now instead of doing anything significant to remove their economic backwardness, they have ignored that crucial aspect of the lives of the Muslim community.  Instead they have imprisoned Muslims in a box with the burden of being about the only community that is made to carry the cross of ensuring that India remains secular.   Are Muslims the only community that is affected by the quality of secularism in the Indian society? Do not the other communities too need a secular society as much?


Conclusion: First it was the Congress party that perfected this game of Muslim vote bank politics by giving them lip service; then other secular parties (SP, RJD, BSP) learned the same game with the slight twist that they stopped communal riots against Muslims.  But neither has done anything significant to remove the awful and continual downward slide of the Muslims down the economic ladder. 


How long will the Muslim community allow BJP to intimidate it by threatening to take away their right to their centuries old identity?  How long will the Muslims allow the secular parties to keep them trapped in the box of lip service, vote bank politics and accept the burden of being the only community that has to carry the burden of maintaining India secular, while it is not given the opportunity to emphasize economic development for their community? 


How many Gopal Singh Commission reports, Sachar Committee reports, Rangnath Misra Commission reports have to be published and made a charade of by a variety of political parties and governments, before Muslims will wake up and take their political and social destiny in their own hands?  Why is it that the Muslims can not form political pressure groups that cleverly mix Muslims and other suffering Indians, and that conduct strong advocacy for the economic development of their very backward community?  Let some other communities fight for a secular society for some time and give a break to the Muslims.


How long will Muslims keep on voting for the secular parties in large numbers enabling them to rule, but not insist that they provide socioeconomic development to them post-haste.

Top - Home