Have Muslims made their peace with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi? To answer this question, we must narrow our search down to a few cues: servitude, subjugation, co-option, compromise or happy reconciliation? A more neutral question would be: how is Modi managing the minority community?
In a recent TV interview, Mahmood Madni, the youngest among the illustrious Madni clan of Deobandi clerics, made some mellow comments on the issue. He agreed on some points: Modi has successfully secured Muslim votes; Muslims have faced far greater injustices in so-called “secular” spaces outside Modi’s sphere of influence; and that much has changed. He then tempered his comments with a confusing statement: “There is no development without justice… and there has been no justice for Muslims in Gujarat.”
For an effective answer to whether Muslims have made peace with Modi, we have to depend on political theory which can provide a framework to understand Modi’s public administration vis-à-vis Muslims. Relying on Madni alone would not be enough.
Modi’s politics is largely monolithic, a spell of efficient, unilateral politics in which power equation is defined in terms of his political vision. It is an established political theory that large, monolithic political cultures offer little space for diverse political activity and discourse, eventually leading to co-option of dissidents. For example, Hindus during Aurangzeb’s reign complied with jizya, a discriminatory tax that Islamic rulers levied on non-Muslims.
This could partly explain Modi as an electoral choice for Muslims. Once the monolithic structures weaken, however, conflicting positions start playing out again. The conflicts between Hindus and Muslims and indeed Hindu and Islamic revivalism, absent in much of the early Mughal rule, began to rise with the advent of the British, who were looked upon as a religiously neutral force.
Madni could not have been unaware of Gujarat’s ground realities. Historically, the Deobandi ulema have been immensely “creative” — to borrow Francis Robinson’s description — in taking political positions, whether in opposing the creation of Pakistan, or backing Gandhi instead of Jinnah or getting the British to legislate the Shariat Act in 1937.
A cleric with sharp political sensors, Madni has often sought to align his community-centric outlook with larger goals of common citizenship, in line with Deoband’s historical “creativity”. He also has to assert himself over his older rival: his uncle Arshad Madni. Privately, he held that the Ayodhya verdict to split the ownership of the disputed land be accepted. Publicly, he advocated an appeal in the Supreme Court. Both Madnis had, however, united to oust Deoband’s Gujarati rector Maulana Vastanvi after he took a less-than-extreme position on Modi.
During the course of my reporting on Muslim politics, I have followed Madni to Gujarat. His Rajya Sabha term has ended, and Gujarat is his best bet if he were ever to contest an election because of his strong following among its Sunni Muslims. A harsh assessment of Modi may make him fall at the first hurdle.
Yet, Madni could end up being too clever by half. He may well have to choose between Gujarat and Deoband, a conservative establishment whose inner quarters cannot accept Modi. He can’t make peace with both.