Jinnah wanted separate electorates. Gandhi refused. Partition happened. In a supreme irony of sorts, what Jinnah could not achieve in a united India, Indians have accomplished for him in a truncated India.
The founder of the nation was an avowed secularist. He gave his life to fight against religious bigotry. Many icons are falling today in India, but publicly, at least no one repudiates the father of the nation. The Constitution’s framers followed his lead and enshrined secularism into its very fabric. God and Caesar would remain separate in independent India.
But such has not been the case. All the three major religions of the country–the Hindus, the Muslims and the Sikhs–have a political party supposedly espousing their cause. Supposedly because a community’s cause is espoused, but it is mostly always done to win power by hook or by crook.
The BJP is avowedly Hindu. It has discovered the magic potion of power. 80% of the country is Hindu. If one can grab a big chunk of their votes, one does not need to court any other community.
This approach has left India’s natural party of governance, the Congress, in tatters. Sonia Gandhi’s trusted lieutenant, AK Antony, wrote, in 2014, a damning indictment of the party’s policy of appeasement of minorities. It is not as if the Congress has not played the Hindu card. In state elections in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, it has played the soft Hindutva card. In Gujarat it failed miserably; in MP it triumphed.
More recently, the Congress has supported a dedicated Hindutva party, the Shiv Sena, to grab a bit of the fish and loaves of power in India’s richest state, Maharashtra. All three parties in power in Maharashtra are terrified that the BJP will wrest control of the state from them. Fear, as well as the taste of the fish and loaves, keeps them bandied together.
Can the Congress, by repeatedly playing the soft Hindutva card and by aligning with the Shiv Sena, claim to be a secular party anymore? This is what identity politics or faith-based politics does. It makes parties like the Congress that have been ostensibly secular for decades turn turtle towards religion.
Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen has done relatively well in the recent state elections in Bihar. Some claim that Owaisi wants to be the new Jinnah of India. There is merit in the argument. What had a Hyderabadi outsider like Owaisi done for Bihar’s Muslims that they voted for him?
Now Owaisi wants to contest state elections in West Bengal. He hopes to attract a significant chunk of the Muslim vote from Mamata Banerjee. On the other side, the BJP is trying hard for the Hindu vote. Political analysts say that Owaisi is Plan B for the BJP. Once Mamata Banerjee is undercut and left high and dry, the BJP and the AIMIM will combine to rule West Bengal. Power seems to trump ideology in India often now.
Identity-based politics is wrong for many reasons, principally because it acts like a drug to attract votes easily, thereby reducing the need for politicians to perform. Ideally, a party espousing the cause of the majority community must rule as fairly for minorities as well. And minorities too should be able to throw up politicians whom the majority community is attracted to. Just like so many Hindus were so viscerally drawn to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
With almost all parties in India following some type of identity-politics or the other, the question of the validity of the Constitution comes up. Is the Constitution just a parchment of paper? Are we to follow the lead of Zia ul-Haq, the former dictator of Pakistan, who said in 1977 that his country’s Constitution was just a booklet with 12 or 10 pages and that he could just tear them away and force his country to live under a different system.
All our elected officials, be at the state-level or the federal-level swear to uphold the Constitution. But are they just mouthing inanities when actually many of them have been elected on a faith-based platform? In Parliament and the state legislative assemblies and councils, the members can all act pure and virginal, whereas outside, they are often seen indulging in religious vitriol to keep their seats intact.
Isn’t it time that every party in India, not just elected officials, swears by the Constitution and refuses to indulge in identity politics? This might be a pipedream because as I said earlier faith-based politics has drugged almost every party. Yes, we are a vibrant democracy nevertheless, but if politicians don’t perform and take the easy out of resorting to religion to succeed in their lives, how will the country progress?
Jinnah didn’t get his separate electorates. But Indians in India today have got theirs. Let’s say hallelujah, a bitter one, to that.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
END OF ARTICLE