Indian Muslims are in a dilemma. At a time when the nation is getting polarised, they are not sure which pole should be their destination. From the most powerful Muslim scholars to the common man in the streets of Aligarh, they are all asking the same question: “Who should we vote for in 2014?” I have never seen Muslims so unsure, confused and fearful of the future as they are today.
Muslims across the board have lost faith in so-called secular parties like the Samajwadi Party, the RJD and the BSP. They understand clearly that these are casteist parties which use Muslims as a vehicle to achieve power; they are neither secular nor interested in the welfare of Muslims. Parties like the BSP are focussed on the security and empowerment of Dalits and use Muslims as a ladder to achieve their goal.
Muslims had lost faith in the Congress after the demolition of the Babri masjid and the terrible Mumbai riots that followed. However, the NDA rule of six years and the failure of the ‘secular’ third front made them look again at the Congress under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi.
They believed she would be much more sympathetic to their plight and unlike past Congress leaders, would not use them as a mere vote bank. The UPA I, with its promise of implementing the Sachar Committee recommendations, gave them some hope. In 2009, Muslims by and large voted for the Congress hoping that concrete steps would be taken for their uplift.
However, today they are disappointed with the performance of the UPA on every front, especially with regard to promises made to them. Every Muslim leader I talk to in private, including the Congressmen and the Ulema close to the Congress, admit that the party has taken Muslims for granted for too long. What Maulana Mehmood Madni said publicly is echoed privately in every conversation: “Don’t take the Muslim vote for granted. Don’t browbeat us into a corner by instilling the fear of ‘Modi’”.
Muslims also have enough political maturity to understand that Muslim political parties will be counterproductive and will do more harm to the cause of secularism and will help Hindutva parties in polarising society. The Peace Party, the Ulema Council, the Welfare Party and older parties like the Muslim League or Muslim Majlis have been rejected in every election since Independence.
The Muslim masses followed ‘secular’ leaders like Nehru, Indira, Bahuguna, VP Singh, Mulayam, Lalu, Jyoti Basu and Sonia. But in the last 64 years, every one of them has disappointed the Muslims so thoroughly that they now have no faith in anyone.
The dilemma is that while Muslims have lost faith in so-called secular leaders and parties, they see no hope in Modi or the BJP; they don’t find an Atal Bihari Vajpayee to moderate a Modi. Muslims are apprehensive, rightly or wrongly, that if Modi becomes prime minister, he will turn the country into another Gujarat, which was labelled the laboratory of Hindutva.
They are being told that their very existence, their Shariat, personal laws, even religion, will be endangered. A large section of Muslims doesn’t want to vote for the Congress or the Samajwadi Party but is left with no option by the Modi brigade.
Muslim intellectuals and leaders are concerned at the growing polarisation in society. They can see that it is not only the BJP but the ‘secular’ parties too that are fuelling this fire of religious and communal polarisation. The demand for a separate Muslim political organisation is growing by the day.
Everyone from JNU students to villagers from Moradabad is pressuring Muslim leaders to form a party of their own. They want a ‘Muslim Kanshiram’, a ‘Muslim Mulayam’ or even a ‘Muslim Modi’ to emerge. They are searching for a messiah who will empower them and make them equal citizens in a democratic India. But most Muslim intellectuals know that a Qaid-e-Azam of the Indian Muslims will release a communal genie from the bottle.
At the moment, there are, broadly speaking, five views among Muslims. The first is the traditional view that Muslims have no option but to vote for the Congress in order to stop the BJP from coming to power. This view holds that only the Congress can protect the minorities.
The second view is that, in the name of secularism, Muslims have been taken for a ride for too long. Muslims want secularism but they also want jobs, education and security. Therefore, they should look for an alternative to these parties. Since there cannot be a national alternative, they will have to look for state-wise alternatives like the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, the BSP in Uttar Pradesh or the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi.
The third view is that Muslims should get out of this vote-bank syndrome and vote for individual candidates. In any constituency, a good, relatively honest and secular candidate, whichever party he or she may belong to, should be identified and voted for. This was the view earlier espoused by leaders like Syed Shahabuddin.
The fourth view is that Muslims should form a Muslim Democratic Alliance — a confederation of Muslim and minority parties. They should work for the consolidation of the Muslim vote, BSP style, and then bargain with other groups and parties for an alliance. This alliance should be secular and nationalistic in outlook but should focus on the problems of minorities. The common masses are eager to see this coming together of all Muslim parties.
The fifth view is that Muslims should get out of this secular-communal divide and try the BJP for a change. A small but growing section of Muslims argues that in reality there is no difference among all these parties. They believe that ‘secular’ parties will also take them seriously only when they start voting for a national political alternative, which can only be the NDA, as even the Left doesn’t take the talk of a third alternative seriously.
From the chaikhanas of Jama Masjid to Facebook and Twitter, the Muslim community is currently engaged in a heated debate. Nothing has crystallised but the community is genuinely worried and fearful about its future. The next few months are crucial.
Shahid Siddiqui is editor, Nai Duniya, an Urdu weekly and a former Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal