New Delhi: The second sort of freedom that has come under attack presently is the ideated freedom of equal citizenship. In a democracy, equal citizenship is the ultimate reward of joining together to form a democratic polity. An ideal democratic state cannot recognize divisions of caste, creed, classes and so forth except insofar certain sections need affirmative action. The Indian Constitution sanctions reservations for scheduled castes and tribes alone and for fixed periods which for both valid and cynical reasons have been regularly extended.

Although the condition and status of scheduled castes and tribes remain dire and are attended with frequent violent upsurges that take the form of caste conflicts and Maoist violence in adivasi areas, there is, at the same time, an underlying unanimity that the state has to intervene in favour of these disadvantaged groups. The intervention is often without sophistication and understanding and succeeds to a lesser degree than desired. In case of adivasis, the crisis is further compounded by special industrial interests that clash with their way of life and sunder their non-titled but inherited ownership of the lands of their ancestors. Maoism in Central India was reborn with the 1991 reforms which provoked vast demands for mined products from tribal homelands. Unless a balance between growth and justice for adivasis is reached, Maoism will flourish and its violence may be difficult to contain.

Burdensome as the Dalit and adivasi issues are, they are not intractable. The injustice that undergirds their sense of alienation is recognized by the state although the pace of reforms could be faster. On the other hand, the third issue that bedevils Indian democracy and lies at the heart of the equal citizenship debate, the disposition of minorities, particularly Muslims, is infinitely more strenuous to untangle, and all the political contradictions related to this community, from secularism to beef to triple talaq, have now erupted on the national scene. In the manner that the Muslim question refuses to fade away, it would seem that Partition happened only yesterday, which is where it all began.

While Pakistan (East and West) came into being as an Islamic state as a mirror opposite of what India was expected to become, this country, however, did not transform into a Hindu nation as Pakistani leaders wishfully hoped. The miscalculation of M. A. Jinnah and his doomed secularism project are beyond the scope of this piece and will therefore be omitted from further discussion. The Muslims who migrated to Pakistan, by and large, were the raees and the salariat who owed their loyalty to Jinnah while the poor and dispossessed stayed behind without the option. After the 1965 war, Pakistan banned Muslim immigrants from India because their loyalty to the Indian state was proved beyond doubt by their valorous display in the conflict. In 1971, Pakistan was broken in two and it effectively destroyed the functionality of the Two Nation Theory.

While Pakistan was geopolitically declining and ceased to be a beacon of hope for Indian Muslims, competitive politics in this country yet kept the Muslim question simmering. The Congress party sewed together a “grand coalition” of upper castes, Dalits and Muslims to perpetuate its rule while, in fact, doing pitiably little to raise the lives of ordinary Dalits and Muslims. This “coalition” tottered with the rise of OBCs and the BJP in the 1990s, and the BJP became a credible alternative to the Congress. Today, the Bharatiya Janata Party has raced ahead of the Congress and is determinedly wooing Dalits and Muslim women to further undermine the Congress party.

The Congress strategy apropos the Muslims was to terrify them about the BJP and the Sangh Parivar and lock down their votes while doing little to advance their wretched lives. The Congress strategy came to be viewed by Hindus as “appeasement” and produced an anti-Congress backlash. Terms like “secularism” and “liberalism” were thought to have been abused and debased by the Congress party’s Muslim votebank politics. Joined with corruption and dynastic rule, this accumulated to unstoppable rage that brought Narendra Modi and the BJP to power with its own majority, but without resolving the Muslim question, which has, if anything, grown worse.

On one hand, the BJP/ RSS’s gau raksha programme has come as a fillip to criminal vigilant groups which have indulged in wanton killing of Muslims. Though the Prime Minister himself and the RSS leadership have publicly railed against vigilantism, they have had little impact on the ground. Local police have colluded or sympathized with vigilant groups. On the other hand, the atrocious practise of triple talaq has split the community between men and women, with the men desperately clinging to medieval conservatism, while the women are determined to embrace modernity. The turmoil in the Muslim community presents the BJP with an unprecedented opportunity to make political inroads, but the BJP and RSS rank and file or at least vigilant groups claiming proximity to both organizations are engendering hate and fear. Internationally, the Government of India avows “secularism” with respect to engagement with minorities and adherence to rule of law, while in reality, there are breaches of these tenets. To these troubles have been added unabated civil violence in Muslim-majority Kashmir and the dramatic rise in terrorist attacks on the army.

India has an uncertain future as a democracy if the freedoms of a sizable population of its Muslim minority are perceived to be abridged. Competitive politics has dealt with the Muslim community for far too long as a pawn, the pendulum swinging from one point of extreme to the other. The Muslim community has also not helped its cause by modernizing and by breaking with the political traders of the ancien regime from its midst. Conversely, the present dispensation lacks the wisdom and the depth to safely carry the community across the widening chasm to a modern and democratic future. The language of gentle politics, brotherhood and give and take have fled the scene if they were ever there.

To be continued....

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