In the 1970s and 1980s, a very common term — TINA, or short for ‘there is no alternative’ — was used in political discussion. The Congress was an all-pervasive, dominating party to which one didn’t have any national, political alternative. In the late 1960s there did emerge some regional parties but they remained confined to particular regions. As a reaction to the Emergency, parties opposed to the Congress of Indira Gandhi came together to form the Janata Party, which disintegrated within a few years. The Janata Dal of VP Singh met with the same fate in 1990. Gradually there emerged the NDA, led by the BJP, to challenge the monopoly of the Congress. Though we don’t hear the term TINA anymore, among Muslim voters the factor is still a dominant political concept. In any political discussion among the Muslims the dominating question is: What is the alternative to the Congress?
For the past two or three decades, the Muslims have been searching for an alternative to the Congress, which, most of them hold, is responsible for their present terrible socio-economic condition. Most of their leaders, the Muslim media and their Ulema criticise and denounce the Congress for four years and 364 days but on the day of the election they are told ‘there is no alternative, vote the Congress to stop India from becoming a non-secular Hindu State’.
There emerged some regional alternatives and the Muslims flocked to them in the hope that they will give them development and a share in power, but these hopes were belied. The Muslims supported the CPI(M) in West Bengal for nearly 30 years, asking for nothing in return except security and development. However, the party neither provided development nor emerged as a national, secular alternative to the Congress. The SP, the RJD and factions of the Janata Dal were supported by the Muslims to overcome this TINA factor. However, these parties not only remained confined to regions but also played the old game of the Congress in exploiting the real or imaginary fears of the community with regard to Hindutva political organisations. The Ram mandir issue, exploited by the BJP to counter the Mandal effect, alienated the Muslims further.
The community has experimented from time to time with an exclusive Muslim party. From Abdul Jaleel Faridi’s Muslim Majlis to Syed Shahabuddin’s Insaaf Party to Mohamed Ayub’s Peace Party, they tried various alternatives but failed to enthuse the community and were dubbed by the Congress and the SP as ‘vote katwa’ parties that were indirectly helping the BJP.
As the Muslims started looking to the NDA as a possible alternative, the 2002 Gujarat riots pushed them back into the lap of the Congress and they voted for it with a vengeance in 2004 and 2009, not out of conviction but again because of the TINA factor. Today the Muslim voters are at the crossroads. Like other voters in the country they are disappointed with the performance of the UPA and want to vote it out of power, but in a well-orchestrated atmosphere of hate and fear they are told ‘there is no alternative’. AAP presents itself as a secular alternative to the Congress but it is too early to say whether it can emerge as a national alternative.
If the Muslims want to be part of the national political mainstream, they will have to find an alternative soon. The Muslim intelligentsia should come forward to provide solutions and alternatives. If no steps are taken to remedy the situation, both by those who claim to be their well-wishers and those who exploit their isolation to fuel their own political ambitions, those who have been trying to lead Muslims on the path of non-democratic alternatives will succeed. Both the UPA and the NDA will have to change their attitude towards Muslims, who are looked upon as mere voters to be manipulated.
Shahid Siddiqui is a former MP and editor, Nai Duniya
The views expressed by the author are personal