When Muhammad Hamid Ansari, the just retired vice president of India remarked that Muslims were not at ease in India, he was hounded by criticism from right-wingers challenging the assertion, which in other words would mean that they would have it that Muslims were “very safe” in India. But for him having held the second highest constitutional post in the country, Ansari would have been slapped with sedition charges since speaking about any issue based on reality is seen by the government and its supporters as misuse of the right to freedom of expression. Ansari has been a distinguished diplomat who has represented India in many countries and held the post of VP for a full decade. What he told Karan Thapar in an interview shortly before he had to demit office was nothing that had not been said. Thapar asked him about how Muslims were feeling and he replied, “Yes, it is a correct assessment. From all I hear from different quarters, the country. I heard the same thing in Bengaluru, I have heard from other parts of the country, I hear more about in north India. There is a feeling of unease, a sense of insecurity is creeping in.” But in a Rajya Sabha TV interview he was more blunt: “[A] sense of insecurity was creeping in among Muslims because of the vigilantism and intolerance.”
Not only did his successor Venkaiah Naidu call it political propaganda but Prime Minister Narendra Modi too made unsavory remarks when he recalled Ansari family’s connection with Congress and his posting as a diplomat in the Middle East. Obviously, the rest followed suit. However, what the BJP did was not only prove him right by showing that it was in denial but it also lost an opportunity to assure Muslims of their safety in India. Hamid Ansari is someone who represented an educated class of Muslims, thus his assertions that his community was feeling insecure could not have been taken just as a parting political potshot. Undeterred by this criticism, two days later, when it was his penultimate day in Rajya Sabha, the upper house he had chaired for 10 years, Ansari said, “A democracy is likely to degenerate into a tyranny if it does not allow the opposition groups to criticize fairly, freely and frankly the policies of the government.”
Not that the condition of Muslims was better when Congress ruled India most of the time after Independence in 1947. However, they have now been pushed to the wall because of the way in which the Bharatiya Janata Party rule has rolled out a “guideline” for minorities over the past three years. Lynchings and cow vigilantism have gone up. And given the apparent sanction from the governments, both at the centre and in some states run by the BJP, has given the clear impression that the party does not want an inclusive India any longer.
In a way, the BJP has made it clear that Muslims have nearly no place in its rank and file save a few “showpieces” or token figures in the party. Today there are only two faces in the BJP executive and one of them is known for keeping a brick from the demolished Babri Masjid in his home as a souvenir. Despite 15 percent of India being Muslim, there was not a single Muslim candidate for the BJP in the elections in the largest state of Uttar Pradesh. A little known face was inducted as minister.
“A democracy is likely to degenerate into a tyranny if it does not allow the opposition groups to criticize fairly, freely and frankly the policies of the government”
The logic behind the BJP’s rebuttal to what Ansari said is unfounded given the statistics that prove there has been an alarming trend of violence against Muslims, particularly in the name of the cow. Though this existed even during the United Progressive Alliance regime, the sharp uptick in these incidents after Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 makes the trend even more sharply defined.
According a recent content analysis done by IndiaSpend, Muslims were the target of 51 percent of violence that centered around bovine issues in eight years from 2010 to 2017 and out of 28 Indians killed, 86 percent were Muslims in 63 incidents. In three years of Modi’s rule, 52 lynchings and violence against Muslims took place and many were killed of which two cases—Akhlaq in Dadri (UP) and Pehlu Khan (Rajasthan)—shot to prominence. About half of the cow-related violence (32 of 63 cases) were from states governed by the BJP when the attacks were reported, revealed an analysis of the violence recorded until June 25, 2017. More than half (52%) of these attacks were based on rumours, the analysis found.
Not only did this violence give Muslims in India a clear message, but measures like shutting down UP slaughterhouses after the Yogi Adityanath government came into power also suggested that they were targeting the economy of Muslims, since a majority of these establishments were owned by them. Thousands and thousands of Muslims in Assam were evicted in the name of preserving forest land and no media took note of it. There have been scores of cases of going after young Muslim people in the name of “Love Jehad”.
There is no denying the fact that the disempowerment of Muslims has been a regular feature in India, mostly because of a lack of leadership of the community. The Rajinder Sachar Committee report that came out in 2006 took the lid off the pathetic condition of Muslims who had only been used as a vote bank by their own leaders as well. A recent report prepared by the Maulana Azad Education Foundation (MAEF) that works under the Ministry of Minority Affairs has painted a grim picture of them in the education sector. According to the 2011 census data, the report says that the literacy rate among Muslims was 68.53 percent while the national average was 72.98 percent. Only 7 percent of young people in the country who had reached the age of 20 had a degree or a diploma and this was 4 percent in the case of Muslims. The committee said that Muslims were the “educationally most disadvantaged community” and the main reasons were financial backwardness along with the dearth of educational institutions. It has suggested measures to improve the condition after reiterating what the Sachar Committee had said. Ironically it was the BJP that tore the committee report apart, saying it just sought to appease Muslims.
Even if the BJP government is taking steps in this area, the sense of insecurity among not only Muslims but Dalits and Christians as well is growing thus challenging the secular credentials of India. The BJP governments have failed to infuse a sense of security among them and that is what Ansari was alluding to. Early this week when India celebrated its 70th year of Independence, the debate was that these seven decades have failed to assure Muslims that they are a part of the country they chose to live in when hundreds of thousands moved to a new nation called Pakistan. Today the debate has remerged on whether the Two-Nation Theory has been proved right by the right-wing forces of India.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Srinagar (Kashmir) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org