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Beyond votebanks: A Hindu, Muslim joint account? - The Asian Age

Sudheendra Kulkarni ()
January 25, 1998

Title: Beyond votebanks: A Hindu, Muslim joint account?
Author: Sudheendra Kulkarni
Publication: The Asian Age
Date: January 25, 1998

Seema Mustafa, a senior and prolific journalist heading the New
Delhi bureau of The Asian Age wrote an editorial page article on
December 13, which was notable both for its illuminating insights
as well as refreshing candour.

Titled Muslim manifesto: Don't treat us as a vote bank, it
articulated a truth which few commentators in the English
language press, especially those who are well-known BJP-baiters,
admit publicly. And that truth is the perceptible change in the
thinking of Muslim voters in the run-up to the coming
parliamentary election.

"There is a major change and it needs to be not just recognised,
but also addressed," Ms Mustafa writes.

"It is a change brought about by a confident (Muslim) electorate
which wants to be recognised in its own right and not as a vote
bank. It is a change brought about by an electorate that wants to
determine its own destiny and not allow self-styled leaders to
decide the agenda. The truth which Ms Mustafa has articulated
needs to be debated widely by all those who have a stake in
India's progress and, therefore, have a stake in communal peace
and harmony.

Ms Mustafa's observations are remarkable on two counts. One,
there is a categorical assertion that Indian Muslims have indeed
been treated as a vote bank by parties which have got their votes
so far.

Secondly, there is the bold recognition that Muslims are
seriously re-evaluating the agenda set for them by their
traditional leaders and are, therefore, in a mood to listen to
voices which until recently either didn't reach them or which
they didn't feel like lending their ears to. The first aspect
strengthens Indian democracy, since Muslims would increasingly
begirt to exercise their franchise not as a vote bank but as
voters with multiple political choices and influenced by
different socio-economic factors. The second aspect strengthens
Indian secularism, because a Muslim community discarding its
traditional leadership and wanting to re-write its destiny by
joining the national mainstream marks a qualitative change in the
Hindu-Muslim ties.

What does this portend for India's polity? At the very least, it
means that the self-styled "secularists" who had a vested
interest in the traditional Muslim voting pattern - the Surjeets,
the Mulayams- and the Kesris are in for a big shock.
Additionally, it also means that the self-styled leaders of the'
Muslim community are also in for a big shock.

By refusing to be treated as a vote bank, Muslim voters have
warned the Congress and parties in the United Front that they
would not exercise "tactical voting" with the single-minded
determination to defeat the BJP candidate in their respective

The Muslim electorate this time round will simply be influenced
by the same consideration as any other section, of the Indian
electorate: namely, which is the party most likely to provide a
stable, and hopefully, good government?

The pointers to the change in the Muslim mindset are just too
numerous and too sharply identifiable for anyone to ignore them.

Ms Mustafa has only given voice to the subaltern stirrings in the
Muslim society. This phenomenon is pregnant with many positive
possibilities, whose significance lies not so much in the
immediate electoral gain for the BJP but in opening a new chapter
in Hindu-Muslim relations in the country.

For the first time since Independence a window of opportunity is
waiting to be opened up in the relationship between the BJP,
which is widely identified as "a Hindu party," and the Indian
Muslim community.

Given sagacity and sincerity on both sides, the window can be
opened up fully to let in light and fresh air to revitalise
India's secular nationalism.

This phenomenon, even though it is only in its infancy, merits
proper analysis. And the best way to analyse it is to recognise
the educative power of history.

Time is a great teacher. Those who learn their lessons at the
feet of this teacher walk with hope and confidence on the
difficult terrain of life and politics. Those who do not are
condemned to repeat the costly mistakes of the past.

Today, through the agency of the BJP, Hindus and Muslims ate
seeking to understand each other better and learning the
imperative of including each in the other's concerns. If the
perspective is nationalist and the motives are sincere, then the
very fact of having, learnt the right lessons of the past
guarantees success in the present and the future.

It is amazing how Time has taught so many seminal lessons to so
many people, communities and organisations in India in the past
few years, and neither the BJP nor Indian Muslims are an

The changing equation between the BJP, which is today the
country's largest political party waiting on the threshold of
power, and the Muslim community. which is the country's largest
religious minority - is one such seminal transformation being
effected by Time itself.

Those blinded by prejudice cannot see this change. In any case,
Time has no use for such prejudiced souls and they have no use
for its secret workings. But open yours eyes, and you'll see a
quiet transformation of historic significance happening out there
- there in the meditative minds of many Indian Muslims who have
learnt the great teachings of Islam through the integrative
filter of Indian culture and there in the contemplative minds of
the top BJP leaders who have learnt from the very first day of
their initiation into patriotism that nationalism is incomplete
if it keeps any section of the Indian nation outside the pale of
its deepest concerns.

The tragic episode of Partition and the no-less tragic
assassination of Mahatma Gandhi introduced many distortions in
our national and political life and it has taken India fifty
years to begin to sort out those distortions.

Partition pushed Indian Muslims into a shell. In the absence of
any internal process of rethinking and expiation, and owing to
the failure of the ruling Congress party to catalyse the process
of Muslims rejoining the national mainstream, the Community never
quite came into its own natural and nationalistic groove of free
self-expression. It simply allowed the Congress and its
subsequent clones to use it as a vote bank.

On the other hand, both Partition and the, Congress party's false
propaganda after the Mahatma's murder pushed the Bharatiya Jana
Sangh (the original self of the BJP) into a shell of its own,
incapacitating it to be a part of the nation's political

The shrill and unrelenting charge of communalism, coupled with,
the "tactical voting" behaviour of Muslims aimed at defeating the
Jana Sangh and, later, BJP candidates in elections, naturally
brought about distortions in the political behaviour of India's
main nationalistic party.

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