It has become customary to debate the political behaviour of Muslims before every election. Central to the debate has been the voting pattern of Muslims. The magnitude of the public discourse on the question is so powerful that the individual Muslim fails to judge things as an Indian citizen and a voter. Unable to come out of religious-community identity, she/he loses the value of his/her vote to the oligarchy of the community — the ulema and politico-religious organisations. It also leads to what many consider a myth: Muslims voting en bloc. This phenomenon has also infected other sub-identities and the political class of the country deserves the (dis)credit for the degeneration of our system into a dysfunctional democracy.
There has been “research” which disproves Muslim en bloc voting. But it is unlikely to be digested as practical experience negates such theories construed through preconceived hypotheses. The voting pattern is related to objective and subjective conditions affecting Muslim psychology over the years. Muslim masses have been deprived of the subjective conditions which could have led to secularistion and democratisation in post-Independent India. Objective conditions like the creation of common sympathies, cooperation and mutual trust, which existed across rural and semi-urban areas, have been devalued in the political discourse.
The foremost subjective condition affecting Muslim political behaviour has been leadership. This assumed significance due to Partition and the propaganda that preceded it. There is no doubt that the Constituent Assembly had significant Muslim representation. What is noteworthy is the nation ignored their past — most of them were votaries of the two-nations theory and leading lights of the Muslim League. The assembly included Muhammad Saadullah from Assam, Z.H. Lari from the United Provinces, Tajamul Hussain from Bihar and Muhammad Ismail from Madras. Their inclusion was the first mistake the Indian leadership committed in its enthusiasm to prove themselves secular. These leaders were preferred to those who stood with the Congress and opposed Partition.
The debate itself revealed most of the League leaders wanted to perpetuate their politics and Muhammad Ismail went to the extent of demanding a separate electorate for Muslims. Lari wanted reservation on religious lines. The national leadership, led by Jawaharlal Nehru, legitimised their politics which led to leaders of backward Muslims like Abdul Qayyum Ansari to play second fiddle to former League leaders.
A myth of Hindu majoritarianism, which was a colonial ploy, remained deconstructed even after Partition. In 1870, a report prepared by W.W. Hunter “proved” that Muslims’ decline was due to Hindus. After 69 years, the Muslim League’s Pirpur Report in 1939 derided Congress governments in the provinces as Hindu Raj. And after another 69 years, in 2008, the Sachar Committee maintained similar premises of denial and discrimination. All three reports lacked substantive facts.
In the 1946 elections, the Congress was projected as the imaginary enemy representing Hindu majoritarianism. In the post-Independence period, secularist politics and Muslim leadership supplanted it with the RSS-Jan Sangh. However, the latter were not significant players in the national discourse or politics till the 1960s. They were struggling to come out of the isolation and slandered image post Gandhi’s assassination. Nevertheless, Nehru and his brand of politics projected a larger than life image of the RSS, which helped to strengthen its own support base. He called his detractors, however credible, forces representing the RSS. This is a classic example of giving a dog a bad name and then hanging him.
Ram Manohar Lohia foresaw the resurrection of millat (community)-based politics when Muslim leaders organised a convention in Delhi and Lucknow in December 1947. He issued a press statement on December 28 stating: “There is no harm in Muslim leaders meeting, but with the objective to putting an end to all Muslim politics.” Events, however, occurred contrary to Lohia’s advice. The colonial discourse of Hindu poverty vs Muslim poverty, Hindu unemployment vs Muslim employment, exclusive minority educational institutions, have endured.
The state’s neutrality, even encouragement, to this discourse based on a binary between religious communities masked by minority rights has marginalised the appeal of rational voices like A.A.A. Faizee, social scientist Moin Shakir and Justice M.H. Beg. A reverse secularisation has been encouraged by politicians in their lust for votes. Moin Shakir, a Marxist social scientist, observed post-Independence developments and wrote that Muslim organisations “fall back on the romantic view that Islam alone is a perfect religion , while all other religions are imperfect… The political ideology of Muslim organisations is opposed to the ideals of nationalism, secularism, democracy and socialism.”
The reasons for non-presence of Muslims in the BJP could be easily comprehended. The question which might make those who declaim the politics of the RSS-BJP uncomfortable is why has there been a mere symbolic presence of Muslims in the Left and other non-BJP national parties? Political support in the form of votes should not be confused with active membership. It reminds us of the past when Muslim delegates in the Congress sessions were far less than Christian and Parsi delegates in proportion to their population.
There is a need to see the question beyond majoritarian theory and minority rights. How to address the democratisation and secularisation of communities is a major challenge. Mutual trust and sympathies are key to the success of secularism and democracy and they can be achieved through a moral consensus which, it seems, is missing from existing realities.