Many Muslims are rather disheartened by the increasing marginalisation of Muslims in the Indian polity. A number of commentators on the community politics have been ruing the fact that Muslim voters were a non-factor in the just concluded Gujarat elections. They bemoan the fact that till a few years ago the Muslims who looked like kingmakers have now been relegated to be nobody in electoral politics in the country.
There is no denying that the marginalisation of Muslims in politics in the country is a fact that cannot be negated. In Gujarat where Muslims make around ten percent of the total population, merely three Muslims have made it to the state assembly in the elections that were being touted as the semi-final before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Nonetheless, if looked in the right perspective, this may not be worse performance than how the community performed in the last assembly elections in the year 2012. That election had sent merely two Muslims to the state assembly.
Gujarati Muslims’ share in the state population should have ensured at least 18 Muslims are sent to the state assembly. But this is a dream that has remained unrealized till now with the average Muslim representation in the state assembly never going beyond seven to eight seats. In the assembly election held in the year 1985, the Muslim representation in the state assembly was 7, despite the fact that the Congress party had romped home with a staggering 149 seats in the assembly elections.
Despite being relegated to the political oblivion, Muslims in Gujarat are not complaining. On the contrary, they are using the opportunity to improve their socio-economic condition in the state. This is a conscious decision that has been made by the community trying hard to come out of the impact of brutal anti-Muslim pogrom in the state in the year 2002.
Muslims in Gujarat are also not complaining the fact that Congress leaders are neither courting them as they did in the past or even mentioning their names. The fact that newly anointed Congress president Rahall Gandhi visited dozens of temples across Gujarat while campaigning during the assembly elections hasn’t dispirited them much. They are least bothered about it at the moment. But the issue is being exploited by the likes of Asaduddin Owaisi and others of his ilk who are calling Rahul’s temple visits as soft Hindutva.
Owaisi has tried to paint Congress not just as an organisation trying to metamorphose into a soft Hindutva party, but a BJP copycat. The firebrand Hyderabad MP tried to paint the Congress and the BJP with the same brush. While lambasting the Congress and the BJP, Owaisi said, "Both national parties, in no way, tried to give a message that they are interested in getting Muslim votes (in Gujarat). They deliberately avoided talking about Muslim empowerment and Muslim representation, and the proof is that BJP did not give a single ticket to a Muslim. Congress gave six tickets and only three are now elected…They might win elections like this but our democracy will lose”.
If that was not enough, Owaisi, whose party has been accused of siding with the BJP and polarize Hindu voters in its favor, lambasted Rahul Gandhi for visiting temples and gleefully refusing to pay respect at dargahs and mosques. "The temple-hopping which we have seen in the Gujarat election campaign was nothing but deliberate political marginalisation of Muslims of Gujarat which is not good for our democracy and polity in the long term…Our forefathers wanted a participative form of democracy wherein each and every section of the society would be represented whether it's assembly or parliament or any election. That is not happening”.
While Owaisi is not alone in claiming that the Congress party is resorting to soft Hindutva and the marginalisation of Muslims in politics, the Hyderabad MP himself has been accused of doing the BJP’s bidding. Soroor Ahmad, a Patna based political analyst told this writer sometimes ago that "Owaisi is only helping the BJP to polarize Hindu votes".
Notwithstanding the stand taken by Owaisi, there are many Muslim social activists who believe that the community was excessively politicized and tried to play a larger role in the politics than its own size. They believe it is now time to reflect the follies that have been made in the process and plan for the future.
While Muslims tried to empower themselves politically over the years, their representation in government jobs touched a nadir. They didn’t pay much attention to educating the uneducated among the community or establishing themselves in business. There is no denying that there is some bias when it comes to Muslims getting government jobs, nonetheless, this bias seems to have been overblown.
Muslim organisations instead of working to remove illiteracy from among community and establishing quality schools, continued to parrot oft repeated refrain about discrimination. Even organisations with resources and support from the community confined themselves to constructing madrasas, mosques or rudimentary schools that couldn’t provide quality education to Muslim kids.
Philanthropy among Muslims, that was so pervasive in the past, seems to have confined itself in supporting construction of mosques and madrasas. If you are trying to establish a quality school, there is very little chance you will get support from a philanthropists or Muslim organisations.
The lack of space in politics for Muslims may prompt them to look inward and work on their basics. Muslims in South India are already doing it and thousands of schools and colleges established by Muslims there are proof that they have finally woken up to the importance and need for excellence in education. Muslims in north India need to realize it pretty fast to remove the stigma of being the most backward community. If they consciously decide to reduce their involvement in rabble rousing that over-indulgence in politics naturally entails and silently work on improving their lot, it will help them in the long run.
More columns by Syed Ubaidur Rahman:
Sify columnist releases book on Indian Muslim freedom fighters
Assembly elections: Politically marginalized Gujarati Muslims refuse to be provoked
Are madrasas anti-national? A historic perspective
Mainstreaming terrorist outfits in Pakistani politics
Indian Muslim leadership: Why the blinders need to be removed
Has startup culture left Indian Muslims untouched?
Instant talaq: Supreme Court majority judgment not enough
Jamiat Ulama's meet with Modi a welcome beginning
Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based writer and commentator. He has written several books on Muslims and Islam in India including Understanding Muslim Leadership in India.