By Harihar Swarup
Before Independence, earthen pitchers containing drinking water at the Railway stations were marked Hindu water and Muslim water. I was a child at that time and amazed to see the marking. Hindus would not drink Muslim water and vice-versa. I had then wondered how can water be divided on religious lines? Irrespective of marking on earthen vessels, there was far better communal harmony in pre-Partition India; of course, there was no Pakistan then.
Years after Independence, we hear expressions like “Hindu terror” and “Muslim terror”, “Hindu Pakistan” (a term used by Shashi Tharoor to bring home the point if BJP returns to power, they will make India like Pakistan”) and the Congress has become a Muslim party. Tharoor’s office in Thiruvananthapuram was vandalized over his remarks. A group of unidentified persons, believed to be owing allegiance to the BJP, put up a black flag and the board read ‘Tharoor’s Pakistan office’, after destroying the original sign board.
The BJP targeted Congress President Rahul Gandhi over an alleged remark attributed to him in which he reportedly said the Congress was “a party of Muslims”. It was pathetic to watch the BJP and government—Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Azamgarh and Defence Minister in Delhi—pick on a remark purportedly made by Rahul Gandhi in a closed-door meeting with Muslim intellectual to ratchet up their attack on the Congress party as a “Muslim Party”. “You can’t be janeu-dhari (Hindu who wears the sacred threat) at one point…. Muslim-dhari at another…”, said Nirmala Sitharaman. In response, the Congress challenged the veracity of the BJP’s version of what Rahul Gandhi said in the meeting and accused the PM of peddling “untruth, half truth, lies”. But the larger question is: Why does the BJP, four years after it came to power in a diverse and plural polity, continue to see the two, majority and minority, Hindu and Muslims, as polar opposites, one striking out the other, instead of as two parts of a single whole?
Rahul Gandhi emphatically denied that he ever said, even by remote interpretation, that “Congress is a Muslim party”. “I stand with the last person in the line. The exploited, marginalized and the persecuted. Their religion, caste or beliefs, mattered little to me. I seek out those in pain and embrace them. I erase hatred and fear. I love all living beings. I am the Congress,” he said.
A women’s rights activist and one of the founding members of Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, Zakia Soman, says “Congress does not have to be pro-Muslim to regain lost grounds. Its policies towards the community need to be guided by democratic principle of inclusiveness laid down in the Constitution.”
What Congress needs is to rethink, as Zakia pointed out, its policies not for the sake of Muslims but to salvage its own image as a party committed to constitutional principles of pluralism, secularism and social justice. By doing this, it would be reminding all Indians about the original Indian National Congress’s commitment to ideas of justice, equality and democracy.
It would be wrong to suggest that Muslims have constantly slid into backwardness and poverty since Independence. Muslims too have progressed along with the rest of their countrymen but if they have remained somewhat backward, it is because of orthodoxy. The Mullas and Maulvis have always come in the way of progressive legislation. The Triple Talaq is one such legislation. The government needs to be appreciated that it did not heed to Mullas and went ahead with the legislation. It should be passed in the current Monsoon session and legitimate objections of the Opposition should be met.
The Sachar Committee (constituted by the UPA government in 2005), has pointed the problems faced by Muslims. It found that Muslims live in poverty, with low education level. The Congress was prompt to assess the conditions of Muslims soon after the formation of its government in 2004 but, it is regrettable that Sachar Committee’s recommendations could not be implemented. The problem is that whenever something is done for the minority community, the slogan of Muslim appeasement is raised by conservative parties like BJP. As a Congress leader pointed out “it is ironical that some of the Congress actions have given rise to the bogey of Muslim appeasement whereas in reality Muslims have come to be among poorest and most marginalized socio-religious communities.
Like all Indians, Muslims too are changing. Both the Congress and BJP must realize that like all Indians, Muslims too have aspirations for a better life. Their aspirations have to be taken into consideration whether the BJP or the Congress rules India. (IPA Service)