By Zafar Agha
Bihar: Communities in decline often fail to distinguish between friends and foes, ending up paying a heavy price for their folly. It would appear after the Bihar election results that Indian Muslims are yet to learn from past mistakes and are continuing to commit political blunders that hurt their own interests.
It appears that a large enough section of Bihari Muslims voted in Bihar for Assaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) over others. It undoubtedly helped the party win five seats and enable polarisation of votes on communal lines in others in the Seemanchal region. Whether Owaisi stood in the way of victory and defeat of either side is for psephologists to analyse. But by disrupting an essentially direct fight between the BJP and the opposition alliance, and by turning 20 crucial constituencies into three or four cornered contests, Owaisi achieved a result that worked in favour of the BJP.
By becoming the single largest party in the ruling alliance, BJP finds itself in a position to dictate terms to a lame duck chief minister and much weakened Nitish Kumar. Political interests of the community have neither been served by the defeat of the Maha Gathbandhan or by clipping the wings of Nitish Kumar against an openly hostile BJP.
The number of Muslim MLAs in the newly constituted Bihar Assembly has come down from 24 to 19. And for the first time there is not a single Muslim MLA in the ruling alliance. Muslims in Bihar, if not Owaisi, must share part of the responsibility for this decline.
Bihar is one of the few states in the country where major communal riots have not taken place in the last three decades. In 1992, when the Babri Masjid (mosque) was pulled down and half the country witnessed violence, rioting and arson, and later in 2002 following the train set on fire in Godhra, Bihar remained riot free.
When mob lynching became a norm in many BJP ruled states after Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, Bihar reported no such barbarity. Besides, communal peace continuously for three decades was conducive for the Muslims in the state to progress in many ways. Will the peace last is a question that only Time will answer.
While obviously, Owaisi’s communal politics must be held partly responsible for placing Bihari Muslims at the mercy of the BJP, there are still many Muslims in and outside Bihar who defend Owaisi and his brand of politics. Their argument is that Owaisi is the only political leader who frankly and forthrightly stands up for the “Muslim cause’’ both inside and outside Parliament. He does not shy away even publicly stating that he would never say ‘’Bharat mata ki jai”. For many Muslims it is gratifying to see that he ‘exposes vote bank politics of the ‘secular parties’.
Indeed, Assaduddin Owaisi is one of the few politicians who boldly and publicly stand up for Muslim causes. But that is what his politics is all about. He consciously and cleverly plays up Muslims’ victimhood to win their sympathy. It is the same politics that the BJP under Narendra Modi plays to cash in on the Hindu victimhood. Basically, both are the two sides of the same coin, helping each other to thrive.
Bihar election results are a classic example of BJP and AIMIM helping each other to grow in the state. The BJP is the single largest party in Bihar while Owaisi has manged to win five assembly seats in the state where his party had none till now. While one polarizes Muslims, the other polarizes Hindus.
But how far does the new Muslim messiah’s politics really help the ‘Muslim cause’ really! Who — Muslims or Owaisi — is the gainer of AIMIM’s brand of politics? Look at the status of Hyderabadi Muslims who have been the backbone of the AIMIM for many decades now and you get a clue about it. The AIMIM shares power at the Hyderabad municipal level as well as represented in the Telengana assembly. But the AIMIM, which is almost as old as the Republic, has not made much significant difference to Hyderabadi Muslims or Muslims living in other parts of the country.
Densely populated Muslim localities in Hyderabad are as squalid as they are in other cities. But one does get to hear allegations about the Owaisis-dominated Trusts growing from strength to strength with educational institutions like medical college, engineering college and many other educational institutions spread across Hyderabad. Owaisi’s critics say that they might be having the tag of minority educational bodies but they charge fees like other private institutions.
Besides, Owaisi’s much acclaimed politics of ‘Muslim cause’ is not a new phenomenon at all. It is an old strategy of Indian Muslim leaders to play up emotional Muslim card to garner the minority community sympathy to succeed as a Muslim spokesman. Ambitious Muslim leaders have often played up Muslim passions without bothering for its consequences for the community or the country.
I still remember the stubborn stand of the Babri Masjid Action Committee during the long period of mosque-temple tussle in Ayodhya. ‘Babri masjid nahi hataey ga’ (Babri mosque will not be moved at all). ‘Once a mosque, always a mosque’. It used to be the rhetoric of the committee with Allah ho Akbar slogans in public rallies. Similarly, Muslim Personal Law Board took up the cause of Triple Talaaq for over three decades with ‘no-compromise-on-personal-law’ stand.
Indian Muslims paid a heavy price for the emotional rhetoric in both the cases! Babri mosque is history now. Instead, a grand Ram temple is coming up on its site. The country’s Parliament has already passed a law banning Triple Talaq. Playing up the Muslim card helped the BJP to openly play up the Hindu card to build up majoritarian politics that now overwhelms Indian Muslims so much so that they are virtually reduced to second class status.
Indian Muslims must learn from these experiences. If Muslim bodies engage in raising rhetorical slogans like Allah ho Akbar (God is Great), RSS outfits will go for slogans like Jai Sri Ram rhetoric. Its consequences can never be good for the minority community. Instead, the BJP will benefit from a Hindu backlash to consolidate its majoritarian politics as it has been doing since Muslim outfits like Babri Masjid Action Committee began taking up Muslim causes.
It is simple political logic; one brand of communalism will generate another brand of communal politics. And in this game of competitive communalism, the minorities will surely end up paying a very heavy price— something that they ought to have realized by now.
Bihar is not just a blunder. It is political hara-kiri on the part of those Muslims who opted for the blunt ‘Muslim-cause-politics’ of Assaduddin Owaisi. He loves to play with fire to bargain for a few seats without bothering for consequences.
If Indian Muslims do not learn from their mistakes now, Allah bhi unhey nahi maaf kare gaa (even Allah will not forgive them) — as they themselves often love to say. It is high time for the community to learn to distinguish between friends and foes.