Even politicians of a more neutral tone were also heard asking their Muslim followers to take off their taqiya cap and hijab if they wanted to appear in campaign rallies.
With only a few months away from the general election, India, which holds the largest Muslim minority and is the third largest Muslim population after Indonesia and Pakistan that constitutes 14.2% of the 1.35 billion population of the largest democracy of the world, has been politically orphaned. The battle lines are drawn for the upcoming general election as it was the case in 2014, between the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the right-wing Hindu party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the supercentenarian Indian National Congress-led opposition party of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Recent legislation that has been ratified by both houses of Indian parliament, brutally dominated by the BJP led NDA, levels the battlefield, to say for the least, totally oriented in direct line with upper-cast Hindus of the country. No political party hesitated to take a political stand in passing those bills which go vocally against the will of minorities, and especially against the Muslims of the country.
Although the Muslim population of India traditionally forms a notable chunk of the Congress party’s vote bank post-independence, the community started deserting the party after the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 and the lack of attention in addressing many Muslim issues that were rampant during 1980s, especially issues pertaining to the required legislation for safeguarding the personal law of Muslims based on Sharia law. By that time, regional parties had been inviting low-cast Hindu leaders into politics in order to showcase ample representation in the political scene of the nation, like the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal Party. They have successfully coaxed the Muslim community out of their respective regional politics, masquerading as their saviors to ensure at least a political survival.
The last four and half years have been a difficult time for the Muslim community in India in regards to the ruling BJP, mainly because of the growing feeling of being second-class citizens, alien and unwanted. The BJP has been, to an extent, successful in putting into practice the modus operandi of their hate strategy towards Muslims that resulted in an alarming number of mob lynching and cracking down on Muslim entities throughout the country. In line with the ruling BJP, the opposition party of the Indian National Congress also opted to tread the same way, but softly and delicately. The result was that it caused unrepairable hurt and despair to the Muslim masses who had previously always enjoyed a moderate consensus within the Indian National Congress Party.
The Muslims of the INC were sidelined during this tenure. Senior leader and opposition leader of the party in the upper house of the parliament Mr. Gulam Nabi Azad lamented a few weeks back of being unwanted in party campaigning for state elections due to his Muslim identity, and in addition to that, media reports state that Mr. Ahmed Patel, who contested from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Gujarat state, was asked to abstain from making public appearances during campaigns for the party because the INC was worried of the counterproductive results and unhappiness of middle-class Hindu voters. Even politicians of a more neutral tone were also heard asking their Muslim followers to take off their taqiya cap and hijab if they wanted to appear in campaign rallies.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced the new strategy of nefariously abandoning Muslim matters by not paying an iota of attention towards the issues pertaining to the very existence of the community, considering them as nonexistent in his world. During his campaign for the general election of 2014, he went to an extent of stating that Muslims are tantamount to invisible. Instead of contesting this strategy of the BJP and its Prime Minister Modi, the opposition Congress started emulating this winning strategy of the BJP in state elections. Since then, the visibility of Muslims started deteriorating in the electoral process and reached an all-time new low in the political history of the country. The ill-intended policy of the INC of deliberately neglecting Muslims could be the last nail in the coffin of Muslim politics in India.
In the latest move by the government of India, and in an attempt to harness the upper-cast elite Hindus who dominate almost all facets of Indian society, the ruling BJP introduced two new bills in a recently concluded parliament session in a bid to create job reservations for the economically backward upper-cast people, which the government hopes will ensure more votes in their favour. Despite the fact that this bill vocally harms the interest of already struggling Indian Muslims and will make their path to social empowerment even more difficult, the Congress party cast its votes in favour of this bill and eventually got it passed. Instead of contesting such a bill in Parliament, the Congress party became part of a big electoral ploy that may ensure the end of Indian Muslims’ recuperating measures in the country.
Muslim political parties, small in size and number, consistently fail to make inroads into the fortress of regional parties and lack the willingness to go beyond the interest of its leaders caught in the fear of provoking their “secular” counterparts. Until or unless these Muslim regional political parties come up with more realistic strategies of representation that give shape to a new model for Muslim politics in the country, the world will sit and watch how a community is being devastatingly orphaned and made politically irrelevant.