Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fettered by fear, Muslims fritter away their vote

Fettered by fear, Muslims fritter away their vote
By M J Akbar

Indian Muslims will get development the day they vote for development. For sixty years they have voted out of fear, so that is what they have got from those they elected: the politics of fear. Fear is the menu, recipe and diet: and the Muslim voter laps it up with the appetite of the traumatized.

Fact and fiction are employed seamlessly in the advertising of fear. A history of riot, and the threat from organizations like the Bajrang Dal are sewn into wild conspiracy theories by ‘leaders’ of the community to shape minds on the eve of an election. I could not believe some of what I heard after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. One was utterly aghast to hear, during a public gathering of some very worthy persons, the suggestion that we could not be sure that the terrorists had come from Pakistan. It was an appalling exercise in denial by mindsets that had either been unhinged or had turned utterly manipulative.

For secular politicians, the Muslim vote comes at an easy exchange rate. Other communities demand rice and roads. The Muslim needs nothing more than the old ploy used to help children go to sleep: stories of ghosts and monsters at the door.

When the community wakes up after sleepwalking to the polling booth, and demands legitimate needs like jobs for the young and health clinics for women, the politicians offer a large shoulder on which they can weep. No other segment of the Indian electorate can be appeased by a sob story.

Politicians will always maximize the spread of assets at their disposal in the search for an extra vote; why should they waste economic benefits on a voter who will sway to the whine of emotions rather than take a cold count of schools and sanitation? There is now a disconnect between Muslims and the benefits of democracy, a break engineered by community opinion-makers who get rewarded for such services with little dollops that wind up into their personal assets.

Fear used to be a factor with some other communities as well, particularly Dalits and tribals. Humiliation and exploitation were a constant of their experience. But they have moved on, either by asserting themselves through their own political formations or by maximizing the price of their support where parties like the BSP or Jharkhand Mukti Morcha do not exist. The sharpest player of this intelligent game is Mayawati. The results are evident. There is a good study waiting to be done comparing the employment levels, educational services and municipal services in Dalit residential areas and Muslim areas between 1947 and 2007.

Even without empirical data I can assert that there is a sharp improvement in the former and stagnation if not decline in the latter. The Dalit has punished neglect. The tribal has learnt to vote on the sensible planks of development and security: he knows that he cannot eat rice, at whatever price it is offered, unless he is alive. The Muslim has crawled repeatedly back into the sterile womb of fear. That womb will deliver nothing. The midwives of this vote fatten on fees collected by periodic declarations of false pregnancy.

Only one state is an exception: Kerala. Untroubled by the guilt of Partition, the Malayali Muslim can rally around the banner of an All-India Muslim League, which is a bit of a misnomer. It is not an all-Indian organization; it is a local Muslim party. The Kerala Muslim, with sufficient self-assurance to meet political and economic challenges, has always behaved like an equal, which is why he is treated like one. He has prised out the benefits of progress through the pressure points of a democratic polity.

There could have been a similar story in Bengal, because the Marxists are committed to both secularism and progress for the underprivileged. They were the first to empower Bengali Muslims, through land reforms inspired by three authentic Marxist heroes, Promode Dasgupta, Harekrishna Konar and Jyoti Basu. That won them the loyalty of the rural vote. But two fallow decades are forcing a shift in Muslim sentiment; it is not ready to be taken for granted any longer.

The Bengal CPM is in a bit of a bind, perhaps because it is not cynical enough to exploit the politics of fear with the dexterity displayed by other parties anxious for the Muslim vote. One senses the first stir of change in Bihar, where Nitish Kumar has begun to include Muslims within his development-based governance. The pace may not overly perturb a snail, but at least a process has started. But if the voter does not honour this start with support, then it will be back to fulmination and hot air.

Fear locks and freezes the mind. A closed mind can never liberate a community from poverty.

Appeared in Times of India - December 14, 2008


Najam Gilani said...

Sir, with all due respect, which the depth of your intellect, sincerity of your thought and summit of your stature deserves, I beg to differ with the views express here. You said “ Indian Muslims will get development the day they will vote for development. For sixty years they voted out of fear; so that is what they got from those they elected: the politics of fear”.

Its not that for all the sixty years Indian Muslims have voted out of fear, its only that for all the sixty years Indian Muslims have voted for-----security of life and property. Its pretty normal and natural for ordinary blokes who are bereft of any mighty influence in the corridors of powers to feel scare from scare mongers.

There may be thousand problems with Indian Muslims but if in all these sixty years if they have not been able to capitalize their votes, the problem lies with national political leadership. More than that the problem lies with liberal/secular intelligentsia. The problem lies with social/political activists. The problem of our national political leadership is that it has never allowed the space to the Muslims to become part of the mainstream. They kept them in isolation, knowing quite well the fruits of it. It breeds insecurity. And it is far easier for an insecure person to succumb to threat, pressure, and request. It has been a well thought out strategy and the planners/executors of it have benefited themselves immensely.

The problem of our national political leadership-----it seldom thinks in terms of win win situation, it thinks, if it needs to win, somebody got to loose, in this case the sacrificial goat has been----the Muslim community.

The problem also lies with liberal/secular intelligentsia and social/political activists. For all these sixty years they have just been a sensitive observer without any substantial protest against the exploitative politics of government and political parties. They shout, not from the streets but from the rooftops.

If in all these Sixty years If Muslims have not voted for development, then who else has? Congress remained in power for so long.Did it voters voted for development issue?(it doesn't constitute of Muslism alone)From mere two seats Bhartiya Janata Party rose to national prominence. Did it voters voted for devlopment? In the last assembly election of Uttar Preadesh, Bahujan Samaj Party got thumping majority. Did it voters voted for devlopment? Did people of Gujarat voted for development when Narendar Modi got his second term in Office? Did people of Maharashtra Voted for development which has kept Shiv Sena in absolute power for so long? Did people of West Bengal have voted for development, which has kept the Communists in power for so long?

The reality is, “We the Indians” don’t vote for development, we only vote for our own insecurities. The only worthwhile change has been the recent assembly elections of Delhi, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, wherein the voters have voted for development and Muslims were also part of it.

balapur said...

Do we contribute how systematically as how even the municipalities in Muslim majority towns manage water and electricity supply during Hindu festivals while nothing happens during Muslim ones. How Christmas is slated to be celebrated with a 10 days break without taking into account Eid, two days prior to the proposals of the festival, so far away at the end of the month. Even schools refusing Eidul Azha off while even regional festivals are forced to be celebrated by all sighting 'All relgious Education'. The sheer 'surgical' discrimination of things Muslims while pampering smaller relgious groups with a percentage of single digit entails a revolutionary change of mindset.

sidmalani said...

This is spot on! I think people in a democracy should think individially. Not as a community. Unless people think individually and for development and good governance, politicians will exploit it.