It is essential for Muslims to analyse the setback in Gujarat and decide policy options for the 2014 general elections.
In Gujarat we are often questioned about our role in the freedom movement and hence our patriotism. Few Hindus are aware that Gandhiji’s original trip to South Africa was sponsored by a Gujarati Muslim, Dada Abdullah.
By J. S. Bandukwala
Narendra Modi has once again succeeded in securing a huge victory in the Gujarat Assembly elections. This is inspite of a split in saffron votes due to Keshubhai Patel, together with the opposition of substantial sections of the RSS family and BJP top leadership. This result is bound to demoralise Muslims, not just in Gujarat but even all over the country. It is essential that Muslims analyse this setback, before deciding on policy options especially in the context of Modi’s passion to become the Prime Minister of India.
Foremost in our analysis is to find the core reason for Modi’s victory. It does not lie in the development propaganda suggested by many pundits. Gujarat growth has been heavily tilted towards the rich and the upper class. The distribution angle has been missing. The poor have not benefited. This has been borne out in a number of studies that have been published in this election period. Yet Modi has received huge support from tribal, Dalit and backward class voters. The correct reason lies in the feeling among Gujarati Hindu population that “in 2002, Modi taught Muslims a lesson they will never forget.” This is the base of his political success.
Gujarat is perhaps the most communalised state in the country. This predates the horrors of 2002. Non Gujaratis are troubled by the reality of the birth place of Mahatma Gandhi being so deeply anti-Muslim. But we must realise that Gandhi, in his own lifetime, was never a popular figure in Gujarat. Gujaratis were far more influenced by Swami Dayanand Saraswati , K.M.Munshi and the sack of Somnath by Mahmud Ghazni about one thousand years ago. Note that in the immediate aftermath of the 2002 killings, a peace march to Sabarmati Ashram, was prevented from entering inside, by the custodians of the Ashram, who were old Gandhians. What conclusion should we draw? Rather Narendra Modi has been very successful in exploiting this latent anti Muslim hatred into a powerful political weapon to win elections. For with a Muslim population of just under 10%, it is easy to inflame the remaining 90 % on communal grounds.
Where do we go from here? Bearing in mind Modi’s plans for 2014, we must alert Muslims of other states, in particular Bihar, UP, West Bengal and Assam. These four states have Muslim populations ranging between 20% to 30%. The BJP is weak in these states. The communal polarisation will not be as easy as it is in Gujarat, especially as there are powerful third parties that seek Muslim votes. These four states send about 200 Lok Sabha members, as against 26 from Gujarat. Muslim leaders of these states must ensure that there is no political alignment by any third party with a Modi-led BJP.
Indian Muslims have paid a heavy price of partition. Since independence communal riots have made our lives miserable. The cycle of killings, attacks on our women and the “terror arrests” of our youth, has crippled us. The sense of insecurity has led to ghettoisation all over the country. This has only widened the gulf between Muslims and non Muslims. In a political sense we have been reduced to second class citizens in our own country. In Gujarat we are often questioned about our role in the freedom movement and hence our patriotism. Few Hindus are aware that Gandhiji’s original trip to South Africa was sponsored by a Gujarati Muslim, Dada Abdullah. Similarly the Indian National Army of Subhas Chandra Bose was sponsored by another Gujarati Muslim, Abdul Habib Marfani. Netaji felt so thankful to Marfani that he addressed him as Sevak- e-Hind.
Ambitious politicians and businessmen, seeking to grow out of this ghetto environment, have used their Muslim name to secure advantages from those in power. But in the process they move away from the community itself. This worsens our plight, as talented Muslims who could have tackled these problems, abandon the vast mass of Muslims. No wonder Muslims are orphaned in every way. We rank at the bottom of the national social, economic and educational ladder. Yet any attempt, such as Mishra and Sachar Commissions to improve our lot, is met with stiff opposition particularly by the RSS/BJP. In the absence of enlightened leadership, the community in desperation has turned to our ulema to guide us on non religious issues. This too has further hurt the community, as the ulema just do not have the world view or the larger national perspective to lead this unfortunate community.
The only way out is for the community to rise on its own feet. Our focus must be on quality education and business. We desperately need more professional people, such as doctors, engineers, scientists and management experts. The community also needs industrialists and those who generate wealth. They must devote at least a few hours every week to the cause of community uplift. In our present state we cannot put limited financial resources to operate our own good schools or universities. We must aim to support those bright students who seek admission or are already studying in established educational institutions. We have implemented this scheme in Gujarat, through the Zidni Ilma Charitable Trust. This year we selected 125 girls and 153 boys and used Zakat and and other charities to help them to the tune of Rs. 40 lakhs. But the actual financial demand is at least ten times more. Inshallah each of these students will become a backbone of the community in the years to come. Further we have to take special care of the children of those killed in the riots and those languishing in jails. Normally the absence of the father, with the mother uneducated, leads to the children abandoning their education to become child labourers. We just cannot afford this horrifying frustration among our young. This trust looks after all their educational expenses.
Finally we have to continue our fight for justice for the victims of 2002 and the fake encounters. The BJP/RSS often accuse us of living too much in the past. They like to quote the example of Sikhs who have moved on from 1984 riots. But there is vast difference between the two cases. The Congress has apologised for the role in 1984. Rather the present Prime Minister was brought in to calm Sikh uneasiness with the Congress. But Modi and his friends have never once uttered the simple words of remorse and sorrow for what happened in 2002 and afterwards. More important the RSS treats Sikhs as part of the larger Hindu community. But they treat Muslims as the outsider. We are fortunate that the Supreme Court and civil rights activists have been so responsive to our call for justice. We have obtained many convictions, including senior politicians and high police officers. That maybe our best bet that Inshallah, in future we may not have a repeat of the tragedy of 2002. That must be our highest objective. (www.TwoCircles.net)
Dr. Bandukwala is the state president of Peoples’ Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), and president of Zidni Ilma Trust (http://www.zidniilma.com).