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The Fate Of Congress-Style ‘Secularism’ In Muslim-Dominated Areas

Author: Raghav Awasthi
Publication: Swarajyamag.com
Date: August 6, 2017
URL:   https://swarajyamag.com/politics/the-fate-of-congress-style-secularism-in-muslim-dominated-areas

In the post-Independence era, the Congress has seen itself as the guardian of Muslim interests in India, especially since communal passions were running high after the Partition of the country. Today, the party's performance has sunk to an unprecedented and historical low, and the time is ripe to examine whether the Muslim community as a whole has responded to the Congress party's clarion call for a 'secular' polity with as much enthusiasm as the party itself.

There are roughly four to five regions in the country where Muslims form a population base that is large enough to influence an election on their own steam. They are as follows: The valley of Kashmir; The Barak valley of Assam including districts like Dhubri Barpeta and Goalpara; Malappuram in Kerala; portions of Rohilkhand; and the city of Hyderabad.

The party lately has been bending over backwards to please the Muslim community at the expense of its largely Hindu votebank. However, its performance in all of these regions has been less than spectacular. Let us deal with them one by one:

(i) In Jammu and Kashmir, except for some sporadic success, the party has been unable to build any sort of popular support base for itself, especially in the Valley. Despite Jawaharlal Nehru's sincere abiding commitment to secularism, he was unable to prevent Sheikh Abdullah from looking for greener pastures and playing dangerous triple games with the United States and Pakistan. There are many who blame the Valley's current troubles on the fact that the 1987 election was rigged against the Muslim United Front (MUF), the ancestors of today's Hurriyat Conference. However, such people conveniently overlook the fact that although the decision to rig the election might be reprehensible, the MUF's politics was of the rabid communal variety and entailed inter alia the burning of the Indian flag at political rallies. The Valley has been in the throes of a secessionist insurgency since then despite the fact that the Congress has ruled the country and Congress-supported coalitions have held power in the state for a substantial period since 1987. The secularism pitch is surely not working in Kashmir.

(ii) The second case study is that of Assam. The celebrated Congressman P C Barooah is justly infamous for his ‘India is Indira and Indira is India’ comment. However, he is also infamous for another statement of his. What he said was that as long as Ali (Muslims), Quli (tea garden workers) and Bangalis (Bangladeshi Muslims) supported the Congress party no power on earth could defeat it. In 2017, the first BJP government in Assam is in office. One of the main reasons for that is that in areas where the Muslim community has attained critical mass because of the influx of Bangladeshi immigrants, the Muslims do not vote for the Congress party anymore, while the grand old party does not dare to align itself with Badruddin Ajmal's AIUDF for fear of losing all Hindu votes. (A similar fate awaits Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal). Hence, it would not be inaccurate to say that the Congress party is in a catch-22 situation of its own making. It assiduously cultivated the Jamaat-i-Islami in Assam for decades and yet at the first opportunity, and this is no secret in Assam, the Jamaat formed its own party-the AIUDF.

(iii) In the Rohilkhand region, especially in the Rampur division, the Congress party has done badly since the emergence of Azam Khan. It is amply clear that the good people of Rampur and Tanda areas adjoining Uttarakhand have embraced the rabid communal politics of the former AMU student leader while rejecting the secularism of the Congress variety.

(iv) Malappuram in Kerala has also consistently elected the Indian Union Muslim League. The Congress has wisely decided to play second fiddle and has never even tried to build up its unit in this region, which is slowly becoming a hub of anti-national activities. The secular pitch is clearly not working here either.

(v) The old city of Hyderabad again has a population the Muslim component of which is a little over 50 per cent and it has consistently elected Asaduddin Owaisi as its MP. Before him, his father, Salahauddin Owaisi, was the MP. Despite the fact that the MIM was founded by Qasim Rizvi of the Razakar fame, the Muslim community has shown no compunction in voting for a party that proudly claims the legacy of a man who, for good reason, is remembered as someone who led a pogrom against their Hindu brethren.

This is not to suggest that the Muslims of this country are disloyal or for that matter communally inclined any more than the adherents of other religions. The fault lies with the Congress party and the manner in which it stokes the fires of Muslim communalism by catering to the most regressive sections of the community in the fond hope that the aforementioned sections shall deliver votes to it at the time of elections. This essentially is what the Congress party's secularism gets reduced to in practice.

Sadly, as I have tried to show above, the communal genies uncorked by the Congress not only refuse to do their bidding but also spark off a counter-mobilisation of the Hindu community. The Congress, as usual, is the ultimate loser. Today, when it is facing an existential crisis, is it not about time that the party tries to adopt a different track? How about treating voters as not members of one religious community or the other, but as equal citizens of a constitutional republic?
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