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Sunday, June 15, 2014

End of minority tokenism: Narendra Modi offers modernization, and not sops, to the Muslims

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End of minority tokenism: Narendra Modi offers modernization, and not sops, to the Muslims

By Nistula Hebbar, ET Bureau | 15 Jun, 2014, 10.53AM IST
 
The Muslim community in India, the second largest in the world, has seen its parliamentary representation come down to its lowest ever since independence, at 22 MPs with not a single one from the politically important state of Uttar Pradesh. While the Narendra Modi government has not ended the ministry of minority affairs, often accused by the ruling BJP of being symptomatic of the tokenism that ruled the secularism of the previous regime, the prime minister in his utterances till date has made it very clear that a "new deal" for the most significant minority in India was what he is looking at.
 
In an interview to an Urdu daily he had categorically stated that "there is a need to strengthen constitutional and statutory bodies and not to abolish them. The need is to make them [Muslim community] productive and strong so that they could do solid work instead of continuing with the existing system which takes symbolic measures." Therefore, while institutions would persist the idea is to make them redundant to the discourse.

The "Good" Muslim
 
The BJP and the Jana Sangh before it haven't had the smoothest relationship with the Muslim community, and for long the demographic character of most Indian states and Lok Sabha constituencies was considered so peculiarly designed as to preclude the possibility of a Hindu majoritarian party from coming to power. Thus the earlier NDA government, which came to power on the strength of coalition numbers did try to implement the agenda of the Sangh Parivar, but had to keep their core issues of abrogation of Article 370, uniform civil code and the construction of a Ram temple in abeyance.

On the other hand, the Vajpayee government did give good sized Haj subsidies, hosted iftaar parties and gave India its first Muslim president in APJ Abdul Kalam to complete a full term. There are nuances of course to this engagement, which will now appear full blown in a BJP-majority government.

In the literature left behind by Sangh Parivar ideologues there is a very clear demarcation between Indian Muslims who are patriotic and those who cleave to a pan-Islamic identity. The formation of the Hindu Mahasabha from the embers of the 1919 Khilafat movement is perhaps the reason for this distrust of a larger Islamic identity. Whatever it was, the BJP has always maintained, as does Narendra Modi that, Indian Muslims, like India's Hindu citizens would be treated no better or worse than any citizen. Kalam, a veena-playing scientist who gave India its nuclear bomb and made it a nuclear power house, was a perfect example of this kind of Indian Muslim. Minority affairs minister Najma Heptullah's assertion that the fast dwindling community of Parsis were far deserving of a "minority community" title was another.
 
The reference to madrassa modernization in President Pranab Mukherjee's address to parliament was a reference to a more direct enunciation of this idea.

Modernization and Islam
 
According to Tufail Ahmad, director of the South Asia Studies project at the Middle East Media Research Institute in Washington, the advent of the Narendra Modi government should be looked at as an opportunity by the Muslim community. "While previous governments kept Muslims embroiled in emotional issues of quota and secularism, the Modi government came to power by overcoming this type of divisive politics," he says.

"Muslims in India whose population is estimated to be up to 180 million in 2014 cannot be called a minority, they are India's second largest community. They can't persevere under this complex anymore or allow themselves to be manipulated," he adds.

Ahmad goes on to say that the opportunity that the Modi government represents is particularly important in the way that the community can free itself from the orthodoxy of the clerics. "Islamic clerics who are the most organised section among Muslims are responsible for teaching obscurantist ideas.

The Modi government must confront opposition from orthodox institutions like the Darul Uloom Deoband and begin the modernization of governmentrun madrassas," he added. It isn't clear whether or not this very optimistic prognosis is apt or that the Modi government is quite ready for that battle yet, but the electoral mandate has suggested a tectonic shift.
 
The subtext of Modi's mandate is not as important for the BJP or even the Muslim community which each will learn to do business with the other. It is a time for parties which for years enjoyed support among the Muslim population to recalibrate secularism.

The engagement through clerics or pandering to the most orthodox elements of the community is clearly not going to be enough in future political battles. The template of the past 62 years is broken.

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