'Space shrinking but not closed for Muslims down south'

Why should Muslims take the responsibility to defeat any political party? They should put forward their demands to all political parties, vote for whichever party accepts it, says Muslim legal expert

'Space shrinking but not closed for Muslims down south'

Naheed Ataulla

Angry over Muslim traders downing shutters on March 17 to protest against the Karnataka High Court verdict on the hijab (headscarf) conflict, managing committee of the Hosa Mariguda temple in Kapu of Dakshina Kannada district wanted that stalls owned by Muslims be barred from participating in theauction organised for Suggi Mari puja held on March 22 and 23. The same demand was madeat many such temple fairs which were being held after two years due to the pandemic in Udupi, Shivamogga, Chikkamagaluru and other districts.

*On March 24, RDPR minister K S Eshwarappa on the floor of the legislative assembly said, “Some day in the future Muslims and Christiansin the country will associate with the RSS.”

*In January 2020, BJP MLA G Somashekar Reddy, representing Ballari City, had cautioned Muslims participating in Anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests of dire consequences. ``We Hindus are 80% in India and if the 17% Muslim population damages our property, we just cannotstand by and watch,” Reddysaid. He suggested minorities need to adapt to Indian culture, if they wanted to live in India.

Such threats are in contrast to the assurance held out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who after winning a historic mandate in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections had reached out to the minorities. In his speech on May 25, after being elected as leader of the National Democratic Alliance, Modi said hewanted the newly-elected MPs to ``remove the imaginary fear from theminds of minorities,” for which he had received appreciation fromeminent Muslim groups.

However, the “imaginary fear” seems to have got translated into areality with reportsofhate speeches against the Muslims, call for genocide ata religious conclave in Haridwar, moral policingby right winggroups, the hijab row, polarisation of votes in the recent Assembly electionswith the latestbeing a movie ‘The Kashmir Files’ used as a propagandafor pitting Kashmiri Pandits against Muslims. “The silence of the political leadershipover allthesehasmadethe Muslims to wonder whether they have been reduced to second class citizens with no space andidentityin theabsence ofsupport from their community leaders,” a political observer said.

Prof Muzaffar H. Assadi, political scientist and Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Mysore, said the space is shrinking but not completely closed for the minorities. According to him the BJP is using the democratic processto legitimize theirrule -for this, the power of vote, which is recognised is being used. According to him, the AAP's huge mandate in Punjab makes one to suspect the BJP's handiwork.

“Somehow they want the narrativeof ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ to be alive but we still have Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Telangana, Maharashtra and Odisha where their process is not complete. We are reading too much into the election results of the five states,” he added.

To substantiate the pointthat spacehas notclosed as yet, hesaid Karnatakais a caste-based and not a completely Hindutva stateand for the BJP to move into this is not easy. But a new form of ghettoization was happening in the coastal belt, a reflection of the Gujarat model which needs to be broken. This was happening with ghettoization in the apartments in Mangaluru, he observed.

On the debate thatpolarisation of voteshelped the BJP to return to power in Uttar Pradesh, Faizan Mustafa, Vice-Chancellor, Nalsar University of Law, Hyderabad and legal scholar feltin terms of development,the BJP did better than previous governments. The votes were not really polarised on religious lines, some of the Muslim women who votedfor the BJP were beneficiaries of welfare schemes.“My experienceis one shouldn’t read too much into electoral losses orvictories.The identity of such a huge community (Muslims )cannot wane because of electoral losses of a political party,” he maintained.

Regarding theperception that BJP shuns giving tickets to Muslim candidates and the Muslims do notvotefor the BJP, Mustafa asked: “Why should Muslims take the responsibility to defeat any political party? They shouldput forward their demands to all political parties and whichever party accepts it, vote for them. To preservesecularism cannot be the burden of Muslims alone because when they decide to support one political party or oust any party thencounter polarisation happens. Don't take the responsibility for ensuring secularism and democracy. All citizens should be equally concerned about the democratic erosion.

All political parties are the same, put forward your demands and whoever is willing tomeet your demands sympathetically, one should vote for them.”

Bengaluru based theatre personality and social activist Zafer Mohiuddin stated there is an identity crisis among the Muslims. Theyare living in fear and feel marginalised. “You are questioned on your fundamental right to wear hijab saying whether Islamor Quran prescribes it. On the other side a narrative of hatred is built by promoting films such as The Kashmir Files, he added.When it came to voting, the Muslim votes were getting scattered with secular partiesnot coming together on a single platform. It's time all non-BJP partiesunitebefore the 2024 parliamentary elections to counter the BJP, he added.

Former head of Malayalam department in Calicut University, M.N. Karassery, feared that a two-third majority for the BJP in the next Lok Sabha polls would raise concerns not only about the Muslims identity but also a possible change in the description of India as a “Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic”.

“The BJP would prefer to drop the words ‘Secular’ and ‘Socialist’ from the Preamble, which former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had introduced through the 42nd Amendment,” Krassery, who is also an activist and writes on gender justice, said.

Woman writer from Kerala M.A. Shahanas said the hate politics of BJP is reflected in their decisions, where religious symbols are banned but a move to introduce Bhagvad Gita in the syllabus is on.

Lack of Muslim leadership

Prof Mustafa said the community does not have a strong leader as it is not a homogenous one and in different states, there are different leaders. “We definitely need a moderate, progressive, leader who can not only bring all these people of the community on one platform but also be able to talk to the political parties and ensure a give and take under the broader scheme of the Constitution. We have examples of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad,” he added.

Karassery, who hails from Kerala, where Muslims account for 27% of the total population, maintained there is no pan-India leader from the community now such as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Humayun Kabir or Rafiq Zakaria. The likes of persons like AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi are perceived to be in cahoots with the BJP, he claimed.

Assadi stated the absence of Muslims in the civil society was also a reason for concern and the Hijab row was one such. “We had Islamic feminists controlling the issue when the need was for Muslim feminists. Moves like this will only help in consolidating the identity of Hindus,” he added.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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