The outcome of the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh is a clear setback for all those who were expecting a repeat mandate for the secular parties in the most populous state of India with a considerable Muslim population. A split in votes for the secular parties handed over a landslide victory to the BJP. But most secular regional parties have a limited appeal and petty interests to pursue and have no capacity to capture the national imagination. The BJP has a much larger ideological canvas and the party has gathered strength by dint of decades of dedicated service, sacrifice and struggle of its cadre, howsoever negative it might appear to some. This stage is inevitably reached when all other alternatives have fallen out of favour either through incumbency or sheer attrition.
The situation of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh is unenviable today. Maybe a foretaste of what is to come is available in the onslaught against abattoirs and meat shops and the hate being spewed from some corners. This moment should trigger introspection as to how Muslims squandered opportunities to improve their lot.
Let it be said that Uttar Pradesh has been the birthplace of all sectarian movements, orthodoxies and obscurantist tendencies among Indian Muslims. Muslim clerics panning out from the state have been purveyors of myopia, phobias and darkness. Little did they realize that their hackneyed formulas and a politics resting on the fulcrum of identity would only push Muslims into a blind alley, with no scope for marching forward. A religious minority with a heavy baggage of historical and cultural discord should have learnt to pursue the path of peace and reconciliation and sought progress in sunrise sectors like education, employment, entrepreneurship. But the cleric-led Muslim leadership merely played upon grievances of a minority which had tumbled from a privileged position. Theological seminaries proliferated in the state, antipathy to English persisted and regressive voices gained strength among Muslims.
No purpose would be served by moaning over the past. But there might be difficulties if necessary lessons are refused to be learnt. Uttar Pradesh Muslims must encourage a new leadership which identifies the challenges clearly. Identity-related struggles have plunged them into crises, one after another, and have even pulled Muslims from elsewhere into its vortex. Efforts for excellence in modern education would have propelled them into schools, colleges, factories, banks, universities, research institutes, trade, commerce, industry, legislature—sectors where fault lines of religions and caste get dimmed and those of distinction on the basis of talent, performance and excellence are etched. Sadly, this was not to be.
Indian Muslims as a whole need to be wary of regressive forces among them. Unfortunately, several ‘dawah’ organizations and televangelists have pushed them into an unwarranted supremacist mindset which hinders their integration and adjustment in a plural society like India. There are risks involved in romanticisation of the past. Such individuals and communities have a problem being part of a society that is mandated to deal with all faiths equitably under a democratic framework.