Despondency Is Not an Option for Muslims in India Today

Indian Muslims should realise that the spotlight of liberalism shines the most when the darkness is at its deepest, and that dark times never last long.

Since May 23rd, analyses of BJP’s emphatic victory in the Lok Sabha elections have thrown up several versions and narratives. Although many reasons have been advanced to explain why Narendra Modi did so well despite a failing economy and joblessness, one common thread that passes through these narratives is a belief that the country has voted for a Hindu party and a majoritarian leader.

The Muslim citizens of the country are thus most alarmed at this powerful verdict. On WhatsApp groups, public discourses, private conversations and family discussions, I am privy to a feeling of hopelessness and unease. Muslim friends and families are convinced that this election is the first step towards the establishment of a hagiarchy, a Hindu Rashtra – which is the ultimate goal of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

There are instructions from Muslim religious leaders for members of the community to become apolitical for the next few years. To my horror, the word ‘emigration’ has popped up many times over in personal communications with friends and family. It’s disheartening that the results of the largest democratic exercise in the world should throw one section of the citizenry into an anxious tizzy. With the election of terror-accused Pragya Thakur, who called Nathuram Godse a ‘patriot’, the current anxiety is not without reason, but to believe that all is lost in the fire of divisive political rhetoric and its plump fruit, is inanity.

Also read: Why Hindutva’s Dark Fantasy About India’s Muslims Could Become Real

For the first time in India’s independent history, a presidential type of election campaign took place where a personality was held more important than the party. This election was thus a referendum on Prime Minister Modi and his policies. With unemployment at a 45-year high and a slow economic growth rate, the incumbent government had little to offer – yet over 38% of Indians voted for Modi.

In the absence of tangible deliveries, this high vote percentage can be attributed to the emotionally charged campaign, which included significant anti-Muslim rhetoric by a large number of the incumbent cabinet colleagues of the prime minister. In fact, PM Modi himself took potshots at the community and mocked secularism and secularists in his very first speech at the BJP headquarters after this mammoth victory. All this has further fortified the alienation of Indian Muslims from the mainstream.

I agree that the Muslims of India have every reason to be apprehensive about their future. The past five-year record of the current regime has also seen an orchestrated drive against the largest minority of the country. Whether it was lynching by cow vigilantes or economic destruction following an embargo of sorts on meat business in places like Mewat (Haryana) or leather tanneries in Kanpur, the Muslims have been at the forefront of this sequential onslaught. Backdoor communalism and front-door violence have seen an unprecedented rise under the rule of PM Modi. Since 2014, there has been a substantial rise in cases of cow-related violence in the country with a majority of victims being Muslims.

The disentitlement of the Muslim community from the common rights of the citizenry is also near complete. Having said this, Indian Muslims are the only Muslims on the planet (other than those of Turkey) who have cherished 72 years of uninterrupted democracy. Democracy does not come with a choice of despondency. Nihilism with or in the process of democracy is not an option, howsoever uncomfortable the results of elections may be. Such nihilism would mean surrendering to those who wish to raise the flag of a Hindu Rashtra over the Indian parliament.

Also read: Muslim Civil Society Members Offer to ‘Advise’ Modi on Minority Issues

If there is a moment in the history of independent India when she needs its minorities, underprivileged, its secularists and liberals to be standing together, it is this. The relevance of the sanity of civil society needs to be firmly rooted more than ever. Muslims should remember that they are not the only ones who are at unease with the present election results. Liberals, social democrats, socialists, communists, large sections of the underprivileged, the poor, and sections of scholars, are all disheartened by the rise of a majoritarian nationalist government in India.

In broad terms, democracy offers the most potent means of accountability. The canonical acceptance of right-wing politics by 38% Indians does not spell the end of liberalism. Despondency is thus not a choice for Muslims in Modi’s India. Indian Muslims should realise that the spotlight of liberalism shines the most when the darkness is at its deepest.

In the words of Aristotle, the owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk. With tacit support to a majoritarian regime, the dusk has come. As citizens of a democratic country, Muslims need to gel with those who are at the forefront of peoples’ struggles in the country. They need to gel with socialists and liberals to build a maze of resistance. The option of leaving India does not exist. Emigration to a foreign land is limited to only a select group of privileged Muslims.

Emigration is not – in fact, never was – an option for the likes of Junaid, Pehlu Khan or for Rakbar, who were all killed by cow vigilantes. All of India’s Muslims cannot leave India. What they can do is create a window in the wall of the majoritarian rule that surrounds them now. Ten or 15 years is a short time in the history of a nation. Dark times never last long.

Shah Alam Khan is professor, orthopaedics at AIIMS, New Delhi and author of the book Man with the White Beard. Views are personal.