By Saeed Naqvi
It is one of the great ironies of our times that Muslims are a problem for all political parties, except the BJP. In a totally different way, for Mamata too. Without Muslims as a foil, there would be no Hindutva gameplan. If, by some miracle, Indian Muslims were to vanish into thin air, the social edifice erected so far, around which politics is spun, would collapse. Communities and castes would splinter. A new adhesive would be required to put Humpty Dumpty together again.
For the Congress, Muslims are a squeezed lemon. It would be indiscreet for them to say so, but it is a fact they have internalised. Having been copiously used, the Muslim can now be discarded. The party may discard them but the far right, for its own reasons, can still allege a Congress collusion with minorities: “Look they are silent on Love Jihad, how our women are being exploited.”
Confronted with this “have you stopped beating your wife” question, the Congress looks the other way. The other day, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India expressed his exasperation with what he called the “Muslim question”. To navigate politics past communalism, it is important to set aside “the Muslim question”, he said. I suppose “setting aside” means ignoring the issue, not talking about it.
This is easier said than done. How do you set aside a community whose would be leaders pop up, like eager beavers, on the most aggressive channels only to be brutalised by the anchors? They may imagine their being willingly pummelled earns them brownie points with the Qaum and for their own next life, but in this life their rants only swell the ranks of the BJP. As a function of deep strategy, the Muslim must shut up.
That the BJP-led government has appointed an interlocutor for Kashmir is welcome because any talk is an advance on the jam in which Kashmir is. But anyone with minimal common sense knows that the interlocutor has not been appointed to proceed towards any resolution of the issue. That would require reaching out to Pakistan.
Such a scenario is unthinkable before the 2019 general election. And for a very simple reason. Indo-Pakistan talks would bring down the communal temperature. It would cause the saffron in the air to turn pale. National Anthem, Vande Mataram, lynching for the cow, Love Jihad, Ram Temple are all nudging the nation towards a crescendo, a climactic clashing of the cymbals. This carefully crafted backdrop would begin to fray if the interlocutor were to be infused with serious purpose.
In this national mood, with saffron as the dominant shade, political parties can quite sensibly avoid responding to issues the Hindutva tribe is tossing up to provoke Muslims, a sort of invitation for their most willing but least articulate spokesmen to rush to TV channels.
It is a toss-up whether these solo operators do more harm to the Muslim cause or the collective called the Muslim Personal Law Board. Both are self appointed and both, by the sheer quality of and frequency of their utterances, serve as multipliers for the Hindutva cause. A contrived feeling of pre-eminence in the wider community is so heady for this lot that it blinds them to the harm they do. It serves the Hindutva purpose to confer recognition on this growing multitude of spokesmen in the clerical mould, supremely identifiable as the “other”.
It is not that the Hindutva spokesmen on show are God’s gift to brilliant debates. They are quite as hopeless as the counterparts they have been set up to tease. Their job is to peg away at a nagging length on an issue in such a way as to invite bumbling responses and thereby add a few shades to the saffron already in the air.
If I am being carried away it is because the imagery in my mind derives largely from the Hindi belt, Maharashtra and Gujarat. There being no monolith in India, the communal interplay in the South, for instance, is different, except Telengana where memories from Nizam’s rule have faded but attitudes linger.
Communal politics in Kerala became possible because currents came together in the ’80s. The quadrupling of oil prices attracted labour from Malabar who returned with irritating new wealth, some of which went into the building of garish villas, the Dubai houses, quite out of character with Kerala’s austere skyline. Along with the nouveau riche came nouveau Islam, complete with hijab and other marks of assertion. The phenomena coincided with Nizam-e-Mustafa in Zia-ul Haq’s Pakistan. The huge play given to the 1981 Meenakshipuram conversions in neighbouring Tamil Nadu was the final cherry on the communal cake.
The RSS has, therefore, gained — though only enough to break its duck in the Kerala Assembly. But it is making inroads through its undeclared B team, the Congress. The purpose of this configuration is to devour the CPI-M.
It is this RSS-Congress interplay — which peaked during K. Karunakaran’s chief ministership — that makes CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury’s proposed line for the 2019 elections so reckless. He sees Narendra Modi as the ogre which all democratic forces, primarily the Congress, must combine to crush. His heavyweight Politburo comrade Prakash Karat says “plague on both their houses”. How can the CPI-M support the Congress which it fights tooth and nail in Kerala? And you never know when they start playing toey toey with each other.
Yechury’s basic anxiety is to recover the Kingdom of West Bengal lost to Mamata Banerjee. For this reason, the CPI-M coordinated with the Congress for the 2016 Assembly elections and came a cropper.
Mamata has mobilised the state’s 30 per cent Muslims as the central column of her support. While Mamata, with cent percent Muslim support, is willing to stand on the secular democratic platform against Modi, Yechury sees Mamata as the main enemy.
To take advantage of the confusion, the BJP has rushed to pre-empt the opposition by announcing November 8, the first anniversary of demonetisation, as Anti-Black Money Day. The Congress, JD-U, RJD, DMK, SP, BSP, Trinamool, etc, have sworn to dwarf BJP with their very own “Day of Shame”. Why is the Left missing from this galaxy? Because the CPI-M is unwilling to stand on the same platform as Mamata.
Instead, the Left will have their own show — day of protest. Does this not weaken the opposition against Modi?
No, no, no, Yechury’s voice wafts across. We shall walk separately but strike together.
(Saeed Naqvi is a commentator on political and diplomatic affairs. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org)