Muslim friends in Uttar Pradesh what has changed for them since Narendra Modi
became Prime Minister in 2014, and particularly since Yogi Adityanath became
chief minister in 2017.
There is a
general environment of fear, they said. There has been no big riot, but
anything can happen anytime. They are at the mercy of the most majoritarian
government ever. As the fake charges against Dr Kafeel Khan in Gorakhpur
showed, even a good Muslim is a bad idea.
is more over-powering than an actual riot. It is a sword hanging over them, it
can fall any time. The Hindutva-inclined Hindus describe this situation as
‘showing Muslims their place’.
manifests itself the most in trains. Many Muslims say they avoid taking meat or
even eggs during train travel. And if someone asks their name, they become
nervous. They wonder why a stranger is asking their name.
incidents of lynching of Muslims across north India have made this fear all too
real. All you have to say is “Gau Mata!” and summon a mob to beat a Muslim man
to death. The charges of cow smuggling or beef eating do not need to be proved.
Once a Hindu says the cow is under threat, it must be.
curious that a community facing such persecution on the basis of religion is so
silent. There have been few protests by Muslims against these acts of communal
persecution. You see the protests by Marathas, Jats, Patels and Dalits – and
you notice how Muslims make the least noise against the injustice meted out to
What is the
reason for this silence? It is mostly fear, my friends said. Nobody wants to
stand up and speak out for fear of further reprisal. This has been happening
for a long time. Since the fall of the Babri Masjid, there have been fewer and
fewer Muslims wanting to speak as Muslims in mainstream public discourse.
Hindustani proverb about fear comes to mind – “jo dar gaya, who mar gaya”. If
you cower with fear, you might as well be dead.
silence is costly. In the absence of Muslims speaking as Muslims for Muslims in
public discourse, their advocacy is done by liberals and secularists. The voice
of these left-liberal activists suffers from credibility when Muslims
themselves are silent. In any case, the “Hindu secularist” is more
delegitimised by years of propaganda than the Indian Muslim.
nothing like a community speaking for itself. When a community does so, it is
most difficult to delegitimise its voice. It becomes difficult to do
whataboutery or pretend that no one lynched a man.
is also strategic. Muslims realise that the BJP and its Hindutva ideology want
them to assert themselves, and then use it to tell Hindus, ‘Look how Muslims
are being so assertive!’ The sight of a Muslim is an opportunity for communal
polarisation. Muslims have internalised the idea that they must keep quiet.
strategy has had some success. The BJP had hoped Muslims would rise up and
protest in a big way against its campaign on triple talaq. This would have
helped the BJP show them as regressive and polarise against them. Muslims, like
secular parties and activists, largely remained quiet over it.
Yet the BJP
uses Muslims as a dartboard to polarise anyway. One result of this strategic
silence is that opportunist mullahs seeking 15 minutes of fame have occupied TV
studios. They dance to the tune Hindutva wants them to, playing the bad,
intolerant Muslim. From TV and Twitter, from statements by BJP leaders to
anonymous WhatsApp content, the Hindutva machinery polarises anyway.
needs ‘bad Muslims’ for polarisation – a Muslim who defends beef eating, a
Muslim who defends misogynist family laws, a Muslim who gets provoked into
violence, a Muslim who commits a petty crime, and so on. Hindutva politics
requires Muslims to abide by the law more than a Hindu needs to. Hindutvawaadis
have a right to break the law and get away with it, but if a Muslim does
something wrong, the entire community is to be blamed.
Muslims appear to be on the right side of the moral argument, the BJP will not
be able to blame them. After all, Dr Kafeel Khan had to be given bail when
enough noise was made about his case. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has to give
lip-service to the lynching issue when enough noise is made. You don’t have to
be an Azam Khan to speak up.
increasingly feel their voice wouldn’t be heard, and that protesting would have
no impact. The BJP has risen to power without seeking the votes of Muslims. The
BJP workers who go around canvassing don’t even enter Muslim-dominated
There is no
question of the BJP giving a Muslim a ticket to contest. As a result, Muslims
have no access to power, and the state behaves as if Muslims are not among the
stakeholders. This is the reality, never mind the claims of ‘Sabka Saath Sabka
have the least access to power today, but there are many others who feel
virtually disenfranchised, such as Jats in Haryana, Yadavs in UP and Bihar,
tribals in Jharkhand and Dalits across India.
government of the day is not the state. There is a constitutional claim that
Muslims have over the state. Giving up this claim is suicidal.
reason for this silence is that the community has forgone the idea of having a
political leadership of its own, at least in north India. In post-Partition
India, it is a bad idea to have a ‘Muslim party’. As Asaduddin Owaisi knows, it
immediately attracts comparison with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of
particularly gave up their voice and leadership since the fall of the Babri
Masjid. They were persuaded by ‘secular’ parties that allying with caste
politics will be in their best interest, thereby becoming the last coach of the
soon change. Millennial Muslim youth were not born when the Babri Masjid fell,
so they don’t have that fear which secular parties exploited. This is a
generation who have Owaisi’s videos on their smartphones because they like that
Owaisi speaks up for them.
greatest contribution is that he is telling Muslim youth to stand up and be
themselves, and not live in fear like the Babri Masjid generation. The
smartphone generation of north Indian Muslims is looking at start-ups and
self-realisation, not resigning themselves to the fate of electoral politics.
The days of the ‘sarkari Musalman’ making hay in the secular parties are
will still need to vote for secular parties. Some Muslims have floated the
suicidal idea that the community should boycott the 2019 elections. Doing so
will only give the BJP 400 seats in Parliament.
It is true
that ‘secular’ parties today are unable to give voice to the problems faced by
Muslims because the moment they do so, it will help the BJP polarise.
the more reason why Muslims need to have their own voice. And, there needs to
be a distinction between electoral politics and non-electoral politics.
Kumar, Jignesh Mevani, Hardik Patel, Chandrashekhar Azad are only some of the
recent names who have made some impact in politics without flirting with
political parties. The political parties came running thereafter.
movement, for instance, does not depend on how many Dalits are ministers.
Muslims need the most is to assert their constitutional rights regardless of
electoral politics, make interventions in the mainstream public spaces,
speaking as Muslims and for Muslims, and not rely on secular parties or
activists to have their voice heard.