The arrival of the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) as a Muslim political party to reckon with on a national scale has been welcomed by some liberals. Last week, Swaminathan Aiyar welcomed the party’s victory in some seats in Bihar with cautious optimism.
He wrote in The Times of India that though Muslim parties have existed in parts of India (Kerala, Assam, Hyderabad), there was no all-India party to represent Muslims of India who constitute just under 15 per cent of the population.
Aiyar is only emphasising something I have been talking about for nearly a decade. (read here, here). In principle, no democracy can deny the right of each community to represent itself through leaders who can articulate its interests and concerns fearlessly.
The problem is that we are willing to accept that Muslims, Christians or various castes have a right to their own party, but this right must be denied to Hindus and Hindus alone. Anything Hindus do to unite and fight for their rights is opposed as communal, while the rest are automatically given a free pass to the secular club.
This is evident from Aiyar’s claim that an all-India Muslim party is needed because of the rise of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He writes: “Under Vajpayee, the BJP was still a centrist party. Under Modi, the Hindutva fringe has become mainstream. Lynchings and other attacks on Muslims have made that community very apprehensive. Social media is chock full of trolls painting all Muslims as anti-national traitors.”
Even ignoring the usual nonsense about lynchings being something that happens only to Muslims – he seems not to have heard of Kamlesh Tiwari, Ramalingam, the Palghar sadhus, or the murder of several Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) members in several parts of the country – Aiyar has got his cause and effect all wrong.
It is not the rise of the BJP that provides the justification for a Muslim party, but rather the BJP has risen because all other “secular” parties adopted minority vote-bank politics and sold Hindu interests down the drain.
Historically, too, Hindus began asserting themselves only in reaction to Muslims seeking separation for themselves. Long before Veer Savarkar gave us the idea of political Hindutva, Syed Ahmed Khan said that Hindus and Muslims were separate nations.
A Muslim University preceded the setting up of a Hindu university, the Muslim League was established well before the Hindu Mahasabha or the RSS, and so on. Hindus have always been in reaction mode.
The Jana Sangh and, later, the Bharatiya Janata Party, were seen as Hindu parties only because the so-called “secular” parties ostracised Hindu aspirations and identity as somehow unacceptable, while the same logic did not apply to other religion or caste-based parties. It was this hypocrisy that forced Hindus to accept the BJP as their only hope. So, Aiyar is wrong to imply that a Muslim party has a right to exist because the Hindus already have one in BJP.
This is a moment of truth for the BJP, which is actually morphing into another type of Congress as it existed in the pre-Indira Gandhi period. It is trying to be more “secular” than the secularists, complete with special emphasis on special scholarships for minorities.
If there is any lesson to be learnt from the rapid collapse of the Congress party, it is this: Muslims may ultimately never trust a “secular” party. Despite the fact that both Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi went out of their way to woo Muslims, from backing the ill-fated Khilafat movement to accepting separate electorates and Partition, Muslims backed Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League. The 1946 elections, which were seen as a referendum on Pakistan, went completely in favour of Jinnah. Congress-backed mullahs and Deobandis lost to Jinnah and his appeals for Muslim separatism.
The mistake the Congress made then was to presume that Muslims will back secularism, when Islam has no place for secularism at all. Muslim support for secularism is opportunistic, and where they talk about it, as Asaduddin Owaisi of AIMIM does often, it is little more than an effort to build a separate Muslim party that stands in contrast to other “Hindu” parties. Secularism is short-term strategy until full Muslim power is realised through demographic change and occasional intimidatory tactics.
The lesson for the BJP is simple: don’t fail like the Congress by abandoning your core Hindu constituency for “secularism”, which is neither fish nor fowl. Nobody, except Hindus, believes in it, and hence it is worthless in the Indian context. If Muslims and Christians want to convince us otherwise, they can start by explicitly abandoning the idea of converting the whole of India to their faiths. Otherwise, secularism is just a ruse to eviscerate Hindus by demanding special privileges for themselves while denying the same to Hindus.
The BJP can win a few elections by virtue of a silent Hindu vote, a vote which all other parties have so far abandoned. But the space for a truly Hindu party remains vacant, and is only partially filled by the BJP. It has to take the whole space or face splinter movements that will seek to fight for Hindu interests more openly.
A true Hindu party has to do the following.
One, it must seek to unite castes and fight narrow sectarian tendencies within the Hindu fold.
Two, it must build Hindu economic strength and identity, especially by freeing temples and making them centres for community advancement and spiritual regeneration. Efforts to empower rival religions by legitimising “halal” certifications or Islamic banking must be stoutly opposed.
Three, it must start changing the educational curricula so that Hindus know about their 5,000-year heritage without being made to feel apologetic about it. Leaving only Hindus deracinated while allowing rival religions to build their identities unhindered is a recipe for Hindu suicide or genocide.
Four, it must educate Hindus about the realities they face against converting faiths, whether through marriage or outside it. Hinduism needs to become a proselytising religion in order to defend itself against its rivals. Women must be empowered to carry the Hindu identity forward in their own way. The key to rejuvenation lies with women, and not just men priests.
It is only the rise of a Hindu party that can deliver justice to Hindus – and the minorities. Equal rights can only be negotiated from a position of strength. Any party that is secular and minoritarian is anti-Hindu by definition. It cannot deliver justice to the minorities, for it will not have the self-confidence to do so.
If the BJP is to avoid the Congress’ fate, it must reassert its Hindu identity so that it can deliver justice to all. A party that represents no one, will deliver justice to none. Both Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi failed to realise this. Will the BJP repeat their mistakes?
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