The five seats won by Asaduddin Owaisi’s All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) in Bihar’s assembly election is yet another pointer to the direction of Muslim politics in India. It is leading us to the Jinnah type of pre-independence politics, where the outward veneer will be constitutionalist and secular, but the inner core is Islamist and non-integrationist.
Owaisi, and other emerging Muslim leaders in India, from Badruddin Ajmal in Assam to some of the more radical elements of the Popular Front of India and the Indian Union Muslim League in Kerala, will act as pall-bearers to Congress-style Indian secularism.
Congress and various “secular” parties in many states have simply refused to learn anything from past Hindu mistakes of passing off minority communalism and appeasement as the route to Muslim integration into the national mainstream. It has not worked here, it has not worked in Europe and it will not work anywhere else, for Islam has an isolationist and exclusivist streak that resists integration and syncretism.
This can change only when enough reformist Muslims realise the dead-end their religious leaders are leading them to, and firmly reject the obscurantist, backward-looking and permanent victimhood politics they have embraced in many countries, including India.
Congress secularism has three elements: offering (fictional) protection against the Hindu “majority” who actually pose little threat to Muslims as the former are busy fighting among themselves; appeasement of the most rabid elements in Muslim society in order to bring in the bulk vote; and treating Muslims as Muslims only and not ordinary citizens whose religious identity is a personal matter.
This secularism is effectively minorityism, and panders to the worst impulses of religious regression. Congress-brand secularism is particularly dismissive of reformist Muslims like the late Hamid Dalwai or even an Arif Mohammed Khan.
The Congress’s secular experiments started with Mahatma Gandhi in the Khilafat movement, and once that failed, Muslims abandoned the Congress. It happened again in the 1946 elections, when the Congress used some “nationalist” Deobandi clerics to canvass for a composite nationalism (muttahida qaumiyat) and prevent Partition, but Muslims in minority Muslim areas completely rejected the idea and voted for the Muslim League and Partition.
The Islamist project involves using demographic change combined with occasional acts of intimidation and violence to get their way. This happened in the Moplah attacks on hapless Hindus of Kerala in the early 1920s, for which Gandhi offered no criticism. This happened again in the Great Calcutta killings and Noakhali, but despite spending weeks in Noakhali (in present-day Bangladesh) to ensure communal peace, recalcitrant Muslims forced Gandhi to throw in the towel and he finally asked Hindus in the region to be prepared to leave or die (the New York Times reported on this statement of Gandhi).
Post-independence, Muslims were allowed to continue with their own personal laws, and even a so-called constitutionalist like Owaisi is an ardent defender of the idea of separate personal laws. His secularism is Islamism couched in the language of constitutionalism.
Today, as Muslims get disillusioned with Congress-brand secularism, Owaisi and his ilk are recreating the same isolationist mindsets that led Muslims to seek a Jinnah as leader. Jinnahs are not created by someone wanting to become one; it flows naturally from making Muslims think they must always be treated as Muslims only, not citizens.
This has already happened to a large extent in Kerala, where Muslim interests are represented solely by a Muslim party (and increasingly by more radical versions), in parts of Assam (with the United Democratic Front being the thekedar of Assamese Muslims and illegal migrants), and in Hyderabad and other enclaves by Owaisi’s AIMIM.
It is now happening in eastern Bihar, and will probably extend to West Bengal, which is already more than a quarter Muslim. The impending demise of Mamata Banerjee’s politics of Congress-type minority appeasement will ultimately give the Owaisis the right entry point into Muslim politics.
The logic of Owaisi’s thinking is clearly mental separatism, if not literally so. It will ultimately result in the precisely the kind of pre-independence Muslim politics that led to Partition.
In TV channels yesterday (10 November), most anchors were questioning Owaisi on how his wooing of the Muslim electorate caused the Mahagathbandhan to lose in the Seemanchal and Kosi regions of Bihar, where Muslims are in substantial numbers.
AIMIM’s entry split the Muslim vote in some areas, thus enabling the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to fare much better in those regions. The media is clearly clueless on how Muslim politics is shaping up in India. When Muslims have no faith in secular politics of the Congress type, why would an Owaisi not jump into the fray for expanding his own political base?
From Hyderabad, he has jumped to Nanded and Aurangabad in Maharashtra, and now Bihar. At some point, one can expect him to spread his tentacles in Western Uttar Pradesh, which is close to becoming a Muslim-majority region in the coming decades.
Owaisi has the right credentials to become a Jinnah prototype in post-independence India. His party, which his father inherited from the Razakars who carried out a vicious anti-Hindu pogrom in the Nizam’s Hyderabad, talks the language of constitutionalism even while covertly furthering the cause of Islamism, including growth through demographic change.
This is one reason why he championed the cause of settling Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims in India, including in his own backyard of Hyderabad. When the BJP claimed it would send the Rohingyas back, Owaisi asked: “We want to ask the Indian prime minister, under which law you will send them back, which law?"
One such law is obviously the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA), which hopes to fast-track citizenship to minorities in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Owaisi has been at the forefront of the anti-CAA movement to make the law unimplementable. It is not the law that Owaisi wants to follow, but he will oppose any law that will prevent or slow down an increase in Muslim demographics inside India.
I have said this earlier, and I will say this again: Congress-brand secularism is a failure, and it can only lead to the creation of many Jinnahs, Ver 2.0, in Muslim dominant areas of India. Owaisi is a child of Congress secularism, and its ultimate nemesis. But the blame will, of course, be assigned to Hindutva and the rise of the BJP.
As usual, Left-liberal “secularists: will reverse the cause (Muslim isolationism) and the effect (Hindutva politics) to present the effect as the cause.
Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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