This vicious cycle must end
Majoritarian communalism is wrong. So is minority extremismUpdated: Feb 21, 2020, 19:59 IST
Over the past few days, two incidents have come to light, which highlight the dangers of minority extremism. Waris Pathan, a leader of the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), said that “[we may be] 15 crore [150 million], but are heavy on 100 crore [1 billion]”. He was suggesting that Muslims can prevail over Hindus, in what can only be interpreted as a threat. In the second instance, at a rally against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or the CAA, in Bengaluru, in the presence of AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi, a young woman activist chanted “Pakistan Zindabad”. Any citizen is entitled to free speech, and sedition charges against her do seem excessive, but the political context made it appear like she was backing Pakistan against India, even though she, subsequently, raised the “Hindustan Zindabad” slogan. These incidents happened a few weeks after Sharjeel Imam suggested Muslim protesters should cut off Assam from the rest of India.
To his credit, Mr Owaisi condemned the woman activist’s statement. He also, in his all criticisms of the CAA, has spoken the language of constitutionalism (although the has not commented publicly on Pathan’s statement). At Shaheen Bagh, which has emerged, symbolically, as the key site of the anti-CAA protest, the Tricolour, the Constitution, the national anthem, and national icons have been repeatedly invoked. Muslim protesters have often condemned communal rhetoric. In fact, it is this approach which has given the otherwise Muslim-dominated protests an inclusive character, and neutralised any criticism of these protests being “anti-national” or “communal”.
This newspaper has consistently criticised comments of leaders from the majority community that are divisive and border on hate speech. The same principle applies to those from the minority community. If there are grievances, Indian democracy, through elections, constitutional rights, and independent institutional mechanisms, provides avenues to articulate them. In fact, it is these rights which have allowed the protests to continue. But as soon as leaders or activists convert their grievances into open threats, incite violence, or suggest coercive tactics, it is unacceptable and merits condemnation. As soon as activists make the protests about India-Pakistan, they lose the moral high ground. Majority communalism is dangerous; but minority extremism is as dangerous. India needs to step back from this vicious cycle.