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Muslim identity politics over Citizenship Amendment Act has alienated allies and is problematic for idea of India

Author: Sreemoy Talukdar
Publication: Firstpost.com
Date:  January 4, 2020
URL:      https://www.firstpost.com/india/muslim-identity-politics-over-citizenship-amendment-act-has-alienated-allies-and-is-problematic-for-idea-of-india-7859491.html

* It is interesting to note how the anti-CAA protests — initially fashioned as battle for reclaiming the ‘Idea of India’, ‘Constitutional values’ and preserving India’s ‘secular ethos’ — have metamorphosed into an expression of Islamist assertiveness and manifestation of Muslim identity politics

* One of the key issues that confronted the protesters was how to broadbase the protests to show that entire India in a Hindu-majority land is up in arms against the CAA, and not just Muslims

* The expression of Islamist supremacy, after all, is hard to contextualise in a fight against CAA where upholding for Constitutional principles is the stated reason

It is interesting to note how the anti-CAA protests — initially fashioned as battle for reclaiming the ‘Idea of India’, ‘Constitutional values’ and preserving India’s ‘secular ethos’ — have metamorphosed into an expression of Islamist assertiveness and manifestation of Muslim identity politics.

The cultural clarion calls that have become de rigueur in these rallies: Tera Mera Rishta Kya, La Ilaha Illallah; Azadi Kaun Dilayega, La Illaha Illallah are deeply Islamist in nature that have troubling connotations for a secular nation. They not only speak of supremacy of one faith over all other but also of a pan-Islamic identity that towers over other all identities, including that of a nation-state.

One of the key issues that confronted the protesters when Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill, following which it was enacted into a law giving persecuted Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Jain, Parsi and Buddhist refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh a fast-track Indian citizenship, was how to broadbase the protests to show that entire India in a Hindu-majority land is up in arms against the CAA, and not just Muslims who are seemingly affected by it.

We had activists such as Harsh Mander announcing that he will "declare himself to be a Muslim" if the Parliament passes CAB. This was meant as a sign of solidarity.The Leftists and political Opposition wanted to make the fight against CAA a "common cause" with Muslims, and it was imperative that in this fight cultural calls that have religious overtones or were an overt expression of Muslim community solidarity, were to be avoided.
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Now you are Taking it too Far Dear Saket.
Nobody has Promised you that they Would Convert to Islam.
This Fight is about Idea of India.
A Socialist,Secular,Democratic India.I had Sleeplessness Nights Fighting this Govt for its Fascist Agenda. YouAre nobody to Judge anybody'sColor

— Globalist (@GoGlobalist) December 30, 2019
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First and foremost, this strategy had an ideational purpose. If the BJP has to be shown as a ‘Hindutva hegemonic force’ that runs roughshod over the mosaic of India, then the protests must necessarily carry that expression of pluralism. Therefore, calls of “say it on the barricades, la ilaha illalah, tera mera rishta kya la illala illalah” (there is no god but Allah, the relationship between you and me is Allah) bely this strategy and make it difficult for allies to make it a ‘common cause’. The expression of Islamist supremacy, after all, is hard to contextualise in a fight against CAA where upholding for Constitutional principles is the ‘stated reason’.
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Our fight against Hindutva extremism should give no comfort to Islamist extremism either. We who’re raising our voice in the #CAA_NRCProtests are fighting to defend an #InclusiveIndia. We will not allow pluralism&diversity to be supplanted by any kind of religious fundamentalism. https://t.co/C9GVtB9gIa

— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) December 29, 2019
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No@offence intended. Just making it clear that for most of us this struggle is about India, not about Islam. Or Hinduism. It’s about our constitutional values & founding principles. It’s about defending pluralism. It’s about saving the soul of India. Not one faith vs another. https://t.co/GJ69mSrqXj

— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) December 29, 2019
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There was a political reason behind this too. The likes of Congress leader Tharoor were reacting to this development (of the movement getting religion-driven) adversely because it makes life precarious for the Opposition by forcing them to fall into the ‘minority trap’. Tharoor is well aware that if the Congress (and other Opposition parties) are seen to be in alliance with an Islamist movement where calls such as “in kafiron se azadi” have emerged, it may result in a polarised debate allowing BJP to make political capital.
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3. How are nonMuslims to understand that in a protest about CAA-NRC, “tera mera rishta” refers to the individual’s relationship w/God?God shouldn’t come into this. BJP are gleefully circulating such videos onWA, telling Hindus “see what this fight’s about; which side are you on?"

— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) December 30, 2019
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Tharoor might be coming from a position of political convenience but his views were echoed by many who saw themselves as fellow travelers in this ‘fight’ against a ‘fascist government’. For them, an overt expression of Muslim assertiveness and raising of Islamist slogans signals a deviation of path and makes it easier for the BJP to win the battle of ideas. Sample this exchange between a Muslim voice on Twitter and the response.
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Only Muslim voices matter. Hindus can use their privilege to be an ally without condescension if they are able to, but please make more Muslims visible on all platforms, online offline.

— سرفراز شیخ (@BabaGlocal) December 9, 2019
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Absolutely not. Strongly against CAA+NRC, however - All religious propaganda must be curbed & protests remain focused on secularity/ irreligious factors only. We fight for total secularity & equality, for the country, not one religion over the other, not one party over the other.

— Pics And Politics (@picsandpolitics) December 25, 2019
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As this article in The Print points out, “Going forward, legitimate liberal and secular opposition to the CAA and the NRC must purge itself of radical and extreme elements whose only purpose is to further polarise the issue and not to find a sensible, centrist middle ground that all reasonable people can agree on. If this doesn’t happen, the protest movement against the CAA will lose all credibility in the eyes of the Indian public."

This expression of angst over a movement going in a direction different from where it intended to, has drawn a guttural release of anger from Muslims, many of whom have argued that since the issue concerns only Muslims (a misleading position), they should be at the forefront of the movement, allowed to decide on its nature, content and allies should not “dictate terms” or derail the movement’s legitimacy.
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If you say 'Hey Bhagwan' in mixed gatherings, if you light lamps at public functions, if you use religious metaphors from the Mahabharat and Ramayana in political speeches, if your mythological works support your political work, you can't oppose only 'Muslim' identity assertion!

— Shehla Rashid (@Shehla_Rashid) December 30, 2019
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Activist Shehla Rashid’s equivalence between La ilaha ilallah and ‘Hey Bhagwan’ of Hindus is misleading. The Islamic Kalima talks of Allah as the one true god (while other gods are false), while the expression ‘Hey Bhagwan’ is a call to ‘god’. There is no monotheism inherent in the second expression, no negation of other faiths. This is not just a semantic point but a larger issue that needs to be clarified. This vigorous expression of Muslim assertiveness is problematic in more ways than one because in taking control of the ‘movement’, it frequently becomes a community solidarity that transcends the boundaries of a nation-state to become a call for Islamic ummah.

Writing in The Caravan, Mudasir Amin and Samreen Mushtaq argue that ‘left-liberal’ Islamophobia is “more insidious, more dangerous” and this “Islamophobia of selective solidarity must be called out”. They ask, "How is it that Muslims asserting their Indian identity are welcome, but those asserting their religious identity beyond the liberal framework are silenced?” Their anguish becomes clear when they clarify, “Why do Indian Muslims have to stifle their religious identity to prove these credentials? When the Supreme Court validated the destroyers of the Babri Masjid by effectively sanctioning the construction of a temple in its place, why did the country expect Muslims to accept the decision in the name of secular values?"

To question the verdict delivered by a Constitutional Bench of Supreme Court indicates a deep sense of injury that Muslims are suffering from, and which has found expression in the ‘movement’ against CAA. But this victimhood further questions the validity of nationhood for Muslims, as if their expression of community solidarity must rise above all other identities.

In another paragraph, the writers criticise historian Ramchandra Guha for writing in an article that Muslim community needs to better engage with the modern world, and argue that left-liberals “discredit Muslim identities to only legitimise the sarkaari musalmaan, the state’s version of an ideal Muslim — the one who does not have any symbols of Islam visible in the public sphere, who will be more favourable to the Indian identity of his hyphenated Indian-Muslim self, the one who would be the picture perfect on billboards, with a beard and skull cap even, to speak of India’s pluralistic image."

If the argument is that ‘hyphenated Indian-Muslim self’ is somehow a stifling of Muslim identity, then the direction of anti-CAA movement is problematic indeed.

If Muslims victimhood can only be addressed through a negation of nationhood and an assertion of their Muslim identity and community solidarity then we are reminded of the words of BR Ambedkar, the father of Indian Constitution, who had written on Islam that: “The brotherhood of Islam is not the universal brotherhood of man. It is brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only. There is a fraternity, but its benefit is confined to those within that corporation. For those who are outside the corporation, there is nothing but contempt and enmity. The second defect of Islam is that it is a system of social self-government and is incompatible with local self-government, because the allegiance of a Muslim does not rest on his domicile in the country which is his but on the faith to which he belongs. To the Muslim ibi bene ibi patria [Where it is well with me, there is my country] is unthinkable. Wherever there is the rule of Islam, there is his own country. In other words, Islam can never allow a true Muslim to adopt India as his motherland and regard a Hindu as his kith and kin.” (read here and here)

This is the proverbial thin end of the wedge of a ‘movement’ that may release the Partition genie once again. We have to be careful.
 
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