strategic interests require social peace. Neither aggression nor withdrawal
will help (Santosh Kumar /HT)
succeeded in addressing issues related to the Muslim minority, notwithstanding
the entire array of constitutional rights and guarantees? An honest response
has to be necessarily in the negative.
three-quarters of a century after Independence, and in the wake of the
widespread and continuing protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA),
it is imperative to deal with the situation of the Muslim minority
straightforwardly and in all its implications. Without doing so, India cannot
achieve enduring harmony and balance, so important to realise its immense
of these linkages, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has based his governance on
“Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas”, but the words themselves, or even
the equitable spread of economic benefits, will not lead to complete faith in
the government’s motivations. Questions of identity and a role in the political
process and in different sectors of national life are involved.
provisions relating to fundamental rights, including those of the minorities,
are only enforceable statements of principles; they obtain life from State
policies and governance. Did Jawaharlal Nehru’s policies towards the Muslim
minority provide the right substance for their welfare and progress?
Irreligious himself, he sought to leave the community alone, and in doing so,
did he abandon them to retrogressive elements within it?
assertion of the community’s exclusive identity by its leaders may have
provided comfort and assurance, but it prevented it from moving sufficiently
ahead educationally, professionally and economically. Worse, Nehru’s
modernisation of only Hindu personal law, and not touching Muslim personal
codes, consolidated suspicions, and provided ground for the charge of
appeasement. For many, this seemed credible because of the community’s large
political support for Nehru.
successors largely followed his policies towards the Muslims. The focus was on
ensuring that the community did not feel that its religious practices were
being interfered with. What was clearly overlooked was that in some cases,
backward and iniquitous social customs were projected as essential elements of
the faith. This approach led to Rajiv Gandhi’s historic mistake of eroding the
Supreme Court judgment in the Shah Bano case. That decision became a turning
point in India’s evolution.
The rise of
the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) can be
partly traced to a gradual but growing feeling in the majority community,
especially after the mid-1980s, that the Congress ignored its concerns and
interests. On its part, the BJP gathered this sentiment within; inter alia, the
fold of the Ram
Janmabhoomi movement, which led to the events of December 6, 1992. The
destruction of the Babri mosque alienated the Muslims from the Congress, and
they looked towards regional leaders. The community also withdrew more into
itself, perhaps feeling that the Indian State was indifferent, if not,
passively hostile towards it.
massive victories in 2014 and 2019 gave the clear message to the Muslim community
that governments with an absolute majority could be formed without its vote.
This, along with the BJP’s pursuit and implementation of its publicly-stated
agenda, and the community’s perception that the State machinery was lethargic
to violent acts against its members, has made it fearful. Its response to the
CAA as a step towards the National Register of Citizens (NRC) represents
desperation and anxiety that it may be ejected from even its ghettoised spaces.
The game being played by political parties around the community’s response has
to be segregated from this emotion.
The CAA is
the Modi government’s response to the fact of routine persecution of minorities
in Pakistan, and the discrimination inherent in the theological constitutional
structures of Bangladesh and Afghanistan. It could have achieved its objectives
through different legal formulations, and also by including those who may
consider themselves Muslims, but are declared as not so and persecuted such as
the Ahmedis in Pakistan. That may have been preferable, but the fact is that
the CAA by itself should be no cause of alarm to Indian Muslims. It is the fear
that it will inevitably lead to the NRC that has blown the lid off Muslim
polity’s overriding objective has to be to make the Muslim minority a full and
active participant in all spheres of national life. This requires an acceptance
that new approaches are needed both on the part of the community and of the
larger society and polity. This will not be achieved either through continuing
old prejudices or hurling invectives. There is need for honest and in-depth
dialogues between the community and the political class, and different social
segments at the national and local levels.
interactions will have to confront the question, among others, of how to view
India’s historical evolution over the past 1,000 years. It is pointless to deny
that the events of those centuries do not bear upon the present, either through
attempts to find glory in them, or steps to obliterate their memory. Also, as
these interactions occur, there has to be a recognition that the public culture
of the first few decades of post-colonial India has gone, and a new public
culture is emerging amid enormous ideological contestation. While it will necessarily
be influenced by the notions of the dominant political elites, and infused with
greater Hindu elements, it has to be inclusive and progressive in keeping with
the demands of the digital age. The cultures of religious communities have to
naturally continue in private spaces without attempts at homogenisation.
At a time
when India’s external strategic interests face great challenges, it is vital
that social peace prevails. That cannot be achieved through either aggressive
assertiveness or sullen withdrawal. The way forward for all is reaching out,
understanding and compassion.
Katju is a former diplomat
views expressed are personal
Headline: Time to address Muslim anxieties
Source: The Hindustan Times