UPA-era minister Salman Khurshid’s statement that his party, the Indian National Congress, has Muslim blood on its hands would come as no surprise to a researcher unfazed by the general public impression of the oldest political organisation of the country. The admission of the guilt, nevertheless, hardly goes to the credit of Khurshid who found himself in an overbearingly Muslim environment at the Aligarh Muslim University where he could not have brazenly defended its communal politics. The grievance is as old as the period when the British had begun contemplating freeing India. Or, at least since the day the Muslim League was formed pre-Partition. Especially after the demand for Pakistan gained currency in the community, the League would communicate to its constituency that the only thing Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi wanted to ensure in the name of negotiations for a united India was making Jawaharlal Nehru the first prime minister of an about-to-be-freed nation. If that is far behind the present lot of Indian Muslims, consider this: At least one spine-chilling riot unfolded in the independent country every decade, claiming lives of hundreds or thousands of civilians, with Muslim casualty being higher in every deadly episode. The cause of the act of a student of the AMU of singling out the Congress for sacrificing Muslims, which forced Khurshid into his confession, must be explored. In the 1992 riots of Mumbai under the Congress government of Maharashtra, for example, some party leaders were seen and heard making announcements, threatening Muslims that they would be butchered in some time by armed mobs. This was reminiscent of the role of the INC in the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom. This generation would feel a chill descend their spines if they were told the real-life stories of the 1969 Gujarat riots, under the Congress rule, where the provocation was no way as grievous as the Godhra carnage of 2002. Without making a compendium of communal conflagrations in the country, where the INC would be found guilty on more occasions because it has ruled the country longer, it can be inferred that Muslims stick to the oldest party in certain States and consider it a ‘secular’ ally in others for reasons of contemporary history and politics.
Muslims and Hindus, by and large, do not find the INC wanting for identical reasons. While Hindus hold that the party blatantly appeases Muslims, the Muslim complaints against the INC vary, depending on individual educational backgrounds. The learned in the community have two basic grouses: One, the party kept the community backward deliberately; two, it failed to protect the vulnerable in life-and-death situations like riots. The lower strata share the second belief. The problem with the assessment is the fact that the community has been noticed voting en masse — not necessarily for the INC but for any force that is most likely to defeat the BJP in a given constituency — which kills the chances of several parties experimenting with agendas of uplifting Muslims simultaneously. For, other than compulsive or indoctrinated insecurity and relatively real fear for life, some typical issues that drive the Islamic society are properties of Waqf Boards, Urdu education, an off-and-on urge for reserved berths in education and employment, etc. One hardly or never runs into a Muslim group demanding, say, modern schools in their ghettos and loans for setting up businesses.
Worse, they invite foreigners such as Bangladeshi and Rohingya infiltrators to this country, unmindful of the strain it would cause to the economy even if no illegal immigrant turns out to be a terrorist. Poor Muslims suffer the most as a result; the first resources the infiltrators would claim are subsidised food and education. Do Muslims ready themselves for this hardship so that the demography gradually acquires a Muslim skew, which would help the community wield greater political clout? Or is it a religious injunction that, if a fellow Muslim is in trouble, he must be helped — his nationality should not count — even at the expense of one’s own nation? Shockingly, the founder of the AMU, Syed Ahmed Khan, is a much-reviled figure in fundamentalist sections of Indian Muslim society and almost the whole of Pakistan. If, like Sir Syed, the INC were to appeal to Muslims tomorrow that they should stay away from politics until they improved their economic lot, the party reduced to 44 Lok Sabha seats four years ago would perhaps be left with none in 2019. Who, therefore, is the enemy of Muslims? INC? BJP? An assortment of ‘secular’ parties? Or Muslims themselves?
It is time the INC, all me-too socialist, not-so-secular parties on the one side and the Islamic society on the other mulled over this constant cribbing that holds the country’s progress hostage. Rahul Gandhi, who has taken the British-era divide-and-rule policy to bizarre levels, playing musical chairs between mausoleums and temples, must stop the tomfoolery forthwith. For all their flaws, the Left did not preside over riots unlike the Mamata Banerjee government of West Bengal. They must figure out why their charm was lost in Muslim society. And between the Samajwadi Party of Uttar Pradesh and the RJD of Bihar, they must explain what they have given to Muslims other than the fear of ‘saffron’ to keep their votes captive. At the same time, Muslims must ask themselves how evolved their demands have been, which were never fulfilled, due to which they remained backward. As for blood, we ask the community an old question again. Despite the fact that most communal riots see more Muslims than Hindus killed, why are most riots also triggered by some provocative action from the Muslim side, be it getting into a murderous spree of innocent people because a copy of the Qur’an fell off a vendor’s cart when a policeman tried to clear the way for vehicular traffic in 1969 or planning a cold-blooded massacre of Hindu pilgrims in 2002? All big parties have politicians who have participated in riots from either community. If neither community has people interested in strife, a politician is not a fool to further an agenda that has no constituency. For the tension and mutual distrust to end, modernity must be embraced by all. Since provoking people is an easy way to guarantee votes in large chunks, a social leader, and not a political one, must rise and be accepted among Muslims. The reactionary forces among Hindus will run out of business.