By Javeed Mirza
The abject failure of the non-BJP parties in the UP and Uttarkhand elections of March 2017 and the political dominance of the BJP in these states has once again brought to the front the pivotal question of the absence of the “Muslim” voice in the political domain and the abject failure of the Muslim community and its leadership in pursuing a path that would make the community “empowered” …. politically and economically. A population of around 20% of UP state’s population finds itself totally bereft of any meaningful political stake and as such destined for a further setback in its status of being on par and in some cases lower than the lowest of all the strata (Dalits). This is not to say that the Dalits have gained or that other marginalized strata won in the Elections. The representative of Big Business, upper caste and the communal Right have usurped power. Many factors contributed to this… Money flow, Media support, EVM manipulation, crafted populism riding on Vikas (development) peppered with communal tease, as well as a painstakingly crafted and executed, strategic and tactical macro and micro worked-out election strategy, under its capable chief Mr Amit Shah. The hundreds of thousands of committed BJP party cadre and RSS workers gave their best to the party’s success. The major non-BJP parties, the SP (+ Congress) and the BSP refused to work together, staking their own claims to power (unlike the opposition unity forged last year in Bihar). They mouthed old style politicking, exhibited deep personality schisms, and to boot had lackluster performance to show when they were in power. They lacked the charisma, the elevated pitch of hope that opiates the masses, and showed poor organizational planning and effort. The Muslim community, in spite of continuous efforts to unify, was divisive as usual, lacked visionary approach and fell prey to the machinations of the vying established parties of the state. The Muslim players… the Welfare Party and the AIMI (of Mr. Owaisi) showed extremely poor results and contributing willy-nilly to the BJP win.
The dismal Muslim position has of course led to a soul-searching by the Muslim intellectual and activist and once again a meditation as to where the community stands, and where it is going and what needs to be done. I am sure this exercise has been done many times before and yielded no new result. However, a serious pondering of these questions will indeed be a blessing in disguise. I will attempt to question some of the fundamentals that should guide the community and hope this will rouse critical thinking and help steer a better and effective policy that will lay strong foundation for the community welfare.
a) Should the participation and winning of state and national elections be the primary motivation and goal of the Muslim community?
Muslims of India by virtue of being a 15% minority cannot envisage being an election winning party or even having a decisive say. The Kerala Muslim league has had powerful representation in the state and the AIMI of Mr. Owaisi has governed the Hyderabad city Municipality. Kashmir has had Muslim led state rule (albeit with stringent controls by the Central govt.). Muslims have won elections on different party tickets and some with their own Muslim tag… (AIUDF in Assam and Welfare party in UP etc.). The Question is, as to what extent has this participation and winning of elections helped the Muslim masses? In Hyderabad, from where I come, the AIMI has not worked to improve the lives of the Muslim masses. The Leaders have refrained from taking up economic and social empowerment issues. Their contribution to education has been the establishment of private educational enterprises that charge high fees and are meant primarily for the well-to-do. As a result of this and the running of the Hyderabad city Municipality with its concomitant profitability, the ruling members of the party have gained immense financial benefit. The community members have hardly been benefited and their marginalization continues unabated. The leaders take recourse to emotional ramble rousing using religion for electoral gains, while pursuing their vested interests.
Muslims elected to office on various party platforms, (Congress, SP, BSP, CPM, Trinamool Congress etc.) have not been effective in bringing about concrete help to the community. They were unable to exert any pressure on their party leadership in favor of the community welfare. Nothing was accomplished except for a few postings of Muslims in high places (with the intent of showcasing these profiles to garner more votes). This has belied the trust and hope in these parties. Under a veneer of betterment and sugar coated lies, a steady decline and marginalization has been ongoing.
In short, Elections have NOT benefited the community and a focus on winning elections with the hope that the political empowerment would yield dividends to the Muslim community, is misplaced and misleading.
Looking beyond the Muslims, one can easily perceive that the Elections have benefited only a small section of the privileged and not really contributed to the betterment of the lives of the vast majority of the Indian population. Politicians have indulged in this chimera of elections every 5 years, raising people’s expectations and every time deceiving them. The election politicking has exacerbated communal tensions (as it gives an electoral advantage to the communal parties). Poverty, substandard education, Unemployment, Farmer’s suicide deaths, Workers subjugation and Youth despair are pervasive.
b) If Elections are to be resorted to, as one of the paradigms for community betterment (and not the only or predominant one), then it is important to question the basis of the current electoral system. Elections in many countries in Europe (the origin of Electoral Democracy and from which India and the rest of the world take their cue) has been improvised wherein the number of seats given to a party is proportional to the percentage of votes won. The essence of such a system of proportional representation is that all votes contribute to the result: not just a plurality, or a bare majority, of them. The Parliamentary election procedure that we now follow, gives power to the party that is able to get approximately 40% of the votes and the remaining 60% forego representation. This is clearly outdated and prone to giving skewed results (as seen in 2014 and 2017 elections).
The Proportional representation system allows a more representative parliament and obviates the dismal conditions that Muslims see themselves when they have representation that is far less in proportion to their population.
c) Elections cannot be won by Muslims alone. Neither does it make sense for them to unilaterally participate in it. Muslims, facing disempowerment and marginalization, have a strong bondage with other community that likewise are oppressed and need empowerment to uplift themselves. A joint electoral effort needs to be structured and sustained between Muslims and other marginalized communities. They both have dire need for Education, Employment, Housing, Business development. It is the combined effort to attain these objectives and the herculean effort to achieve them, that will build cordial relationship and a better society. The strategy of forging unity between all marginalized sections of society who need Education, Employment, Housing and Business Growth is paramount to winning the elections.
d) Winning elections is Not winning the battle. The battle is won when meaningful reforms are passed that bring light in the lives of the people. It must be recognized that there are very powerful forces in the country (the Indian Big Business, the MNC’s, their supporters in the Bureaucracy and the Police) whose objective is to multiply their profitability and fill their pockets. This is accomplished through downgrading wages, hoarding and increasing of prices, market manipulation to increase share value, corruption, swindling of bank loans, siphoning of national wealth to hoard in banks abroad etc.
The spigot of Money is fully opened during elections and all the Parties are recipients of this tainted money from the Rich and the powerful. The politicians see this as their moment of opportunity and indulge themselves. In turn they are beholden to the vested interests and necessarily have to listen to them. Under these conditions, elections are just a means to pursue the interests of the vested interests. This can be averted when a strong movement is built of credible people who can withstand the vested interests and are daring to fight against them. If systemic changes and transformational objectives, putting people’s welfare as the locus of change is to be attained, then the building of aggressive mass people’s movement is needed. A unity and coalition of such forces can only bring real change. Failing this, winning elections is no more than “Old wine in new bottle”.
Without an understanding of these fundamentals and a vision that encapsulates them in strategy and tactics, the Muslim community will continue to be stagnant and in despair.
[Javeed Mirza is a community activist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org]