Are Muslims Fed Up With Identity Politics?

by Dr A.K Verma - Dec 3, 2014 10:49 AM
Are Muslims Fed Up With Identity Politics?

The invitation to Dr Murli Manohar Joshi to inaugurate a renovated madrasa in Kanpur could be the first sign that Muslims may be tempted to give the BJP a try and see how it feels to shun the minority shell and freely integrate with the national mainstream of citizenry.

The decision of a Sunni madrasa in Kanpur to invite local BJP MP Murli Manohar Joshi to inaugurate the renovated madarsa, and his acceptance of the same, appears to have caught all by surprise. The general perception is of Muslim antipathy, especially of Sunni Muslims, towards top BJP leaders who spearheaded the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid movement.

Is something happening between the BJP and Muslims? Is Muslim antipathy against the party getting diluted? There are developments at the grassroot level that indicate a rethink among Muslims leading to attitudinal changes in the community and dilution of its hostility against the party. The BJP too appears to be positively repositioning itself vis-à-vis Muslims, opening up to them in its drive for inclusive politics and creating an environment for Muslim-BJP rapprochement. The RSS reportedly playing an active role in this Kanpur madarsa invitation to Joshi is one such indication.

Madarasa In Srinrangapatna
Madarasa In Srinrangapatna

What are the reasons for such changes among the Muslims and the BJP?.

One, society is undergoing a structural transformation resulting in social stratification  transcending broad meta-classifications like Hindu/ Muslim and entering into narrow micro-classifications among various denominations of the Muslim community—Shia/ Sunni, Barelvi/ Deobandi, Ashraf/ Azlaf/ Arzal, Elite/ Pasmanda etc. This social differentiation has completely exploded the myth of a homogenised Muslim community and a ‘Muslim vote bank’.

That also brings to fore the clash of interests between the numerically small but dominant elite Muslims and the large group of poor and marginalised Muslims. The latter are looking for an opening. That is exactly like the late 1980s when the Dalits and OBCs were feeling suffocated in the Congress and looking for an alternative. This was provided by the Mandal Commission, leading to the assimilation of Dalits by Mayawati and Kansi Ram on the one, and, OBCs by Mulayam Singh Yadav, on the other. By focusing on development as its core agenda, the BJP has fired the imagination of various subaltern Muslim groups.

Two, Muslims have also become fed up with the overdose of identity politics that attempts to freeze them as ‘minority’ and dissuades them from integrating with the social mainstream. That not only leads to their poaching by anti-BJP parties by posing as defenders of secularism, but also instils fear psychosis among them vis-à-vis BJP.

This always degenerated Muslim-BJP relations to an ‘action-reaction syndrome’ and none of the parties could behave in proactive manner. The Muslim experience during the six months of Modi rule, as also their experiences in BJP-ruled states—Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and even Bihar (in coalition with Nitish Kumar’s JD-U)—seem to have diluted the ‘syndrome effect’ and made them a little more reassured and proactive as the Kanpur Sunni madarsa invitation to Joshi suggests.

The reason for this is quite obvious: despite the long innings of identity politics, development of several caste groups, including Muslims, has remained on the back burner. The difference between the attitudes of the Congress and the BJP towards Muslims has been fundamental. While Congress advocates the centrality of Muslim identity within the constitutional scheme, the BJP argues for full autonomy to Muslims, as to any other social denomination, within the rubric of Indian identity. Probably Muslims, especially the young, educated and ambitious, want to get out of this rigmarole and pursue a new trajectory.

Third, in the past 67 years since independence, a large number of Muslims have entered the middle class, become neo-rich and developed political ambitions. But, the question is: How could they achieve political empowerment? Non-BJP parties like the Congress, BSP and SP already have a long queue of established Muslim families and Muslim politicians with proven credentials. They would make the entry of latecomers almost impossible. So, the latter has the BJP as a window to fulfil their political aspirations. The party may give them quick route to political empowerment. Interestingly, the BJP too is looking for nationalist Muslims who could be roped in and give the party an inclusive orientation. That makes their coming together a possibility.

Four, Muslims have become entrenched in the political mainstream of Uttar Pradesh. In the recent Lok Sabha elections, though no Muslim was elected from UP, yet, the overall political representation of Muslims in the state is impressive. While, generally, the Muslim representation in the Lok Sabha is less than their demographic share (18.5%) of the population of the state, in the state assembly, their share (17%) is close to their population percentage.

However, in the third tier of the federal urban government, Muslims are over-represented (31%) in various municipal institutions in UP. That has given them political clout at the local level. They have also emerged from the menacing influence of political fatvas and diktats of the clerics and become a bit more autonomous in political decision making. That is the reason why 11% Muslims voted BJP in 2014 general elections in UP in spite of the fact that Modi—allegedly much hated by Muslims—was the party’s prime ministerial candidate.

On its part, the BJP government led by Modi has not treated Muslims as a separate entity but only as citizens of India. The decisions of the government to grant travel concessions for religious trips benefited Muslims more than Hindus in financial terms; his generous grants to Jammu and Kashmir for flood relief and the decision to celebrate Deepawali with them was a new experience for Kashmiris. And, recently, giving BJP tickets to a large number of Muslims in the state has entirely changed the Muslim perception of the BJP and Modi all over the country.

Muslims may be tempted to give the BJP a try and see how it feels to shun the minority shell and freely integrate with the national mainstream of citizenry. It is in this light that the Sunni madrasa invitation to BJP leader and local MP Joshi should be seen.

A K Verma is Director, Centre for the Study of Society and Politics, Kanpur.

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