Jaundiced vision of secularists
But the 'secular' parties are, in fact, anything but that; they practice an insidious and opportunistic 'reverse communalism' that has historically done incalculable harm to the nation, and continues to undermine India's progress, security and stability.
An interesting manifestation was the anti-Bush demonstrations orchestrated during the American President's brief visit. The most vociferous protests among the 'secular' parties came from the Left formations, particularly the CPI(M) - a coalition partner in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Government. They have, of course, the right to protest and to project their perspectives - though the incontinence of language and the crudity of attacks launched by some very senior leaders is poor testimony to their cause and their conviction.
What is significant, however, is that, despite the extraordinary 'cooperation' of the media - specially the proliferating television news channels, who held tiny crowds of a few dozen, and occasionally of a couple of hundred in very tight frames, helping substitute an artificial frenzy for numbers - it was clear that the 'secular' protestors had rather poor support.
Failing to mobilise adequate support from their own ideological fraternity, the CPI-M had no compunctions in falling back on the stratagem of a 'multi-party' demonstration that relied overwhelmingly on the capacities for communal mobilisation of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, and it was only through the efforts of the latter that the substantial gathering at the Ramlila grounds at Delhi could be cobbled together.
A look at the various photographs and video images in the media demonstrates that the crowd at the Ramlila grounds was overwhelmingly Muslim - with hardly a peppering of 'secular' protestors. Much of the ire of the communally mobilised protestors was directed against the 'Danish cartoons' and other issues somewhat distanced from the context of President Bush's visit to India.
Critically, however, when 'secular' parties hitch their wagon to communal mass mobilisation on emotive sectarian issues and an 'Islamic' anti-Bush platform, they participate in a dangerous and subversive trend, contributing directly to the greater radicalisation of sections of the Muslim community, and enlarging the centrality, within the national political space, of communal formations such as the Jamiat. This is not the first time that the Communists have made an ideologically irreconcilable compromise with communal forces, as their (and the Congress's) extended partnership with the IUML in Kerala demonstrates.
The conduct of the top leadership of the ruling Congress in the run-up to State Assembly election in Assam is another case in point, and will have disastrous consequences for the security and stability, not only of this State, but also for the wider Northeast, where illegal Bangaldeshi migrants are continuously expanding their presence.
The pronouncements on bringing amendments to the Foreigners' Act to 'protect' the Muslims - including the very large number of illegal aliens in the State who have acquired voting rights and are courted by the Congress as a vote-bank - fall into the same category of misconceived communal manipulation with disastrous long-term consequences. Once again, the Congress is being misled by immediate electoral calculations to act directly against the national interest.
In Uttar Pradesh, we see a deafening silence among the 'secular parties' on the issue of the 'reward' of Rs 51 crore announced by a Minister for anyone who 'brings him the head' of the Danish cartoonists who had dared to caricature the Prophet. Interestingly, while 'secular' parties invent convoluted justifications for the failure to implement the country's law for this act of incitement to crime, and while some of the Minister's coreligionists flock to congratulate him for his 'courageous' defence of Islam, the Organisation of Islamic Countries has seen fit to condemn all such 'fatwas' and announcements calling for the death of the Danish cartoonists as 'un-Islamic.
The fact is, all major 'secular' parties in India have had the consolidation of the 'Muslim vote-bank' as one of the crucial elements of their political and electoral agenda, and they have tended to believe that supporting the extremist - rather than the moderate - Muslim stance is more productive in delivering the 'Muslim vote'. The 'Hindu vote' is believed to be split across the various national and regional formations along caste, language and parochial lines, as well as between the 'secular' and 'communal' camps. It has, consequently, been accepted - outside the Sangh Parivar - that communal mass mobilisation of Hindus is either not possible, given the fragmented nature of the community, or that it is, in some sense, not politically desirable.
Despite overwhelming evidence that the Muslims are also an enormously diversified community across regions and classes in India, the same considerations have not guided perspectives on the country's principal minority. Interestingly, communal Hindu formations are also increasingly vulnerable to this intellectual blindness - witness, for instance, Mr LK Advani's and, more recently, Mr Jaswant Singh's pronouncements on Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
This blindness has afflicted Indian politics for decades, and the affliction has extended to some of the nation's greatest leaders. Gandhi, the Mahatma on so much else, was utterly wrong in his orientation to the Muslims and this was abundantly clear even in his first major and disastrous intervention in the country's politics, the Khilafat Movement.
The then famous Ali Brothers, who are now entirely forgotten by all but a few historians specialising in the period, with whom Gandhi formed a partnership of dishonour to lead the Movement, openly stated that a Muslim thief was better than Gandhi, simply because he was Muslim; Gandhi swallowed the insult in silence. When there were rumours that the Afghans could invade India, one of the brothers, Mohammad Ali, declared: "If the Afghans invaded India to wage holy war, the Indian Mohammadans are not only bound to join them but also to fight the Hindus if they refuse to cooperate with them." Gandhi had no comment on this. Worse, Gandhi, the apostle of ahimsa, repeatedly justified Muslim violence.
In the wake of the collapse of the Khilafat movement, the Moplah Rebellion broke out in Kerala, with Muslim mobs inflicting untold savagery and rapine on Hindus. Gandhi first denied these atrocities and later, confronted with incontrovertible evidence, described the Moplahs as "god fearing" people and declared that they "are fighting for what they consider as religion, and in a manner they consider as religious".
It is these double standards that created India's eventual partition. Regrettably, they survived that catastrophe, and continue to dominate India's 'secular' polity even today. There is, in fact, a comprehensive failure among the Indian political classes - across ideological and partisan boundaries - to understand the minority psyche.
The backwardness and abysmal poverty of the Muslim community in India even 58 years after Independence is a symbol both of the decline of its own leadership, and of the bankruptcy of the exploitative vote-bank politics of secular formations. You cannot fill people's stomachs with religion and silence their real needs - health, education, productive capacities and skills - with dogma. This, tragically, remains the unqualified agenda and objective of India's political leadership.
But the tokenism of 'representation' in the Army and Government services and the continuous manipulation of communal sentiments will go no way in correcting these distortions. The solution lies in non-discriminatory efforts for the development of all the poor in India, and that includes the country's minorities.
(Published in The Pioneer, March 4, 2006)