The Muslim response to the BJP victory is muted so far but the party’s supporters must not gloat over their dismay.
Among Muslims in their mid-forties and beyond, the BJP’s stunning victory in Uttar Pradesh evoked a sense of deja vu. Those younger will have little or no memories of December 6, 1992 when thousands of cheering kar sevaks tore down the 16th century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, used as hate symbol since the mid-1980s. Since 1984, when the movement for the “liberation” of the Ram Janmabhoomi was launched, the disputed structure was projected as a motif for perceived humiliation heaped on Hindus by Muslims. Its demolition was mass revenge, not a surreptitious act like in December 1949 when the idols were installed in the stealth of the cold night. The agitation was directed against the government and Muslims, accusing the former of not enabling Hindus to redeem their honour and the latter for imagining they were still the rulers. The arguments were faulty on both counts, but a calibrated agitation ensured it gaining ground.
The demolition of the shrine by volunteers of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad was under full public glare and witnessed by top leaders of the BJP. The events in the temple town caused multiple riots across the country in which thousands of people were killed. Communal riots were nothing new in India, what made the difference was that these events marked a transition in the way most people looked at inter-community relations, how Muslims must “behave” and what can be the limits of their “expectations”. The demolition, events thereafter and the government’s response to these legitimised majoritarian elation. Thereafter, it was no longer politically incorrect to claim Muslims were a pampered lot.
Post-demolition, even Muslims not driven by religious sentiments became aware of what it meant to be a Muslim in India. It was almost like being conscious all the time that they were the “other”. The same sentiment prevailed among Sikhs in the 1980s when the turban on their heads had become a wrong flag to unfurl. A large number of Hindus too were disturbed by the emergence of majoritarianism as a credible idea but barring activists, no one felt personally threatened.
The demolition marked the time when India gave up the fight against social schisms on the basis of religious identity.
Unquestionably, the BJP’s landslide win in Uttar Pradesh heralds a moment when the social isolation and electoral irrelevance of Muslims is at its peak. The victory has spiked Hindu jubilation as well as Muslim anxiety.
The BJP leaders may claim that sections of Muslims, specially women, voted for them, but the cadre believes no such argument. For them, this triumph is a conquest achieved mainly due to Hindu consolidation. The main promises of the BJP campaign were lapped up by people but they linked these with a common sentiment: dislike, bordering on hatred, for Muslims. The reasons behind this mood being dominant were many, but the biggest was the BJP’s success with its pitch that Muslims were an appeased lot. If one breaks down the campaign-turning speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he argued that if Muslim graveyards were permitted in villages then Hindu cremation grounds too should be allowed, if there is electricity during Ramzan, it must also be provided during Diwali and likewise for Id and Holi. His clincher: there must be no discrimination, a statement which implicitly argues that preferential treatment was provided to Muslims. Akhilesh Yadav provided evidence to the contrary, but it was no use. Mr Modi succeeded in elevating his credibility with the masses and untruths or partial truths appear nothing but gospel.
The sense of unease post-demolition Muslim has increased manifold in the past 25 years and the BJP’s victory is just a facet of this. The problem for Muslims is not whether the BJP government will discriminate against them or not, and whether the Prime Minister’s sabka saath, sabka vikas will actually be non-discriminatory as the BJP claims. The real trouble is with the implicit – the rise in falsity-based sense in society that Muslims pose a threat because of unchecked demographic expansion, disproportionately growing economic affluence and increasing participation in anti-national activities.
Within hours of the swearing-in of a new government in Uttar Pradesh led by Adityanath Yogi, the municipal authorities in many districts launched a crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses and meat shops. In the past few days, there have been conflicting reports of vigilante groups burning meat shops. There is nothing wrong in taking action against businesses that do not have required clearances and licences, but these must be by the State and not by mobs. Moreover, a sense of discrimination will prevail if only those businesses are targeted in which Muslims are engaged.
The demolition of the Babri Masjid was a major cause for rise in home-grown terror. Continuing discrimination by the State coupled with use of Muslims as captive votebanks has further widened the social schism between communities.
The Indian State has accepted from the time the UPA was in power that self-radicalisation is a major worry and every terrorist act is not triggered by international jihadi forces or from across the border. The current political and social reality leaves little scope for redressing grievances. Both people and the State will jump to conclusions that deepen social animosity towards the community.
The elite among Muslims will find ways to survive, either by passively accepting their plight or by striking patron-client relationships with the regime.
The educated may take the lead in the emergence of a new leadership. But with little inclination to remove community-specific backwardness as indicated in the Sachar Committee report, there is fear that the rational voice may get drowned.
The Muslim response to the BJP victory is muted so far but the party’s supporters must not gloat over their dismay. The BJP has to keep in mind that this victory is not an end in itself. The bigger question is where does the party go from here?