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New Challenges and Way Forward for Indian Muslims

Christophe Jaffrelot feels that CAA-NRC will be a challenge for Indian Muslims, in the short term and Education in the mid and long run

Wednesday August 12, 2020 11:03 PM, Rehan Ansari, ummid.com

Hindutva Politics and Muslims

This is the last and final report comprising 3 parts based on the lecture of Christophe Jaffrelot, a French Political Scientist specializing in South Asia especially, India and Pakistan, Author of many books, who talked extensively on the conditions of Indian Muslims and the way forward in a webinar. (Read Part 1: Indian Muslims in 73rd year of Independence. Part 2: Rise of BJP and Socio Political Status of Indian Muslims.)

Christophe Jaffrelot feels that CAA-NRC will be a challenge for Indian Muslims, in the short term and Education in the mid and long run. He said:

"Muslims are among the social categories along with SCs, STs, OBCs, where you don't find Birth Certificate of children under 5. It will be very difficult to prove Citizenship. It will be a challenge primarily in Assam then elsewhere.”

The international community, in February 2020, for the first time, UNO has reacted to the transformation of rules to access Indian Citizenship. Whether it will have an impact or not remains to be seen.

Education, in the mid-term and long run, is the major challenge for Indian Muslims, opined Christophe Jaffrelot. What is troubling is the educated and elite Muslims are shrinking very quickly in India, noted Christophe Jaffrelot. He said:

“Every community needs elite, young educated elites. They can somewhat change the course of history, the trajectory of the community because they are better placed than anybody to take care of these issues.”

Sharing the data he further said:

"Only 14% Muslim youth have done graduation in 2017-18 as against 18% for Dalits and 25% Hindu OBCs and 37% of the Hindu upper casts.

More worrying is 31% Muslim youths who are between the age group of 15 and 24 neither have access to education nor in jobs.”

That is more than any other group and almost one-third of Muslim youths who are jobless and without any access to higher education.

Hindutva Politics in India


When asked that all the political parties have abandoned Muslims as Hindutva become the ideological baseline of politics. He said:

"This is exactly the Israeli Trajectory. In the past, there was a Labor Party, a leader Yitzak Rabin, the fifth Prime Minister of Israel, who was for peace and equality between Israelites. It was to be the dominant party, secular and progressive but gradually receded in the background. Gradually under Ariel Sharon especially, "the fear of the other" of Muslims, of Arabs, of neighboring countries, fear of Iran became so strong that there was no room left for Peace between communities.

The Dominant Discourse became Mediterranean Discourse. A Security Oriented Discourse. Politics played a role and Polarisation became the strategy of the Likud party. Likud set the tone. You became illegitimate if you wanted to speak to Palestinians.

It may happen in India. There may be a time when nobody will dare to say that "Hindutva is not Hinduism" Hindu Nationalism is not Indian Nationalism, because the fear of "the other" has become so pervasive, the fear of Pakistan, the fear of Islam is the Only Game in Town for the Hindutva Politics and if you don't indulge in this discourse then you will be illegitimate.

We have seen this in many other countries, where National Populism is taking over. You delegitimize other and they can't compete anymore. So there is only way out is to become Like a Dominant Party. Of course the soft version of it but it is only a Variant of it. That may be the Trajectory of India.

The alternative will be to shift from the Identity Politics to the Socio-Economic issues, to change the words and the Parameters, to shift Identity Politics to Interest-based Politics.

With the crisis that India is in now will result in this shift? It's too early to say. But if identity politics will be the order of the day, it will be very difficult to have an alternative discourse to Hindutva politics.

According to Christophe Jaffrelot, electoral competition led to this “Otherisation of Muslims.” How do you polarize? By making the other, a threat to your identity, he said.

Certainly, there is a psychological dimension. Certainly, there is the traditional sense of vulnerability among Hindus and that was exasperated at the turn of the 20th century and the Khilafat Movement resulting in the making of RSS. Then everything gained momentum after many decades later when it became Electoral Instrument.

When the BJP could mobilize voters by polarizing they will. They could polarise in many different ways. To mobilize people on Ayodhya issue was one of them, to figure riots is another one. In whatever way, they operated, whatever issue they raised, was primarily the Electoral Strategy and they made it worked.

Linguistic Nationalism does not need to be enshrined only in the SC, ST, OBC Muslims. It's a reality that will certainly make the expansion of BJP, complicated, in some part of the country. It may work in Tamilnadu, Kerala, etc. But the way Hindutva had become a new identity for so many people, including former communists are fascinating. It shows that even W. Bengal, Kerala, can be conquered by this ideology. So linguistic nationalism may not be sufficient to stop religious nationalism.

India is a de facto ethnic democracy

Why Christophe Jaffrelot does not feel that India is an Ethnic Democracy because the Constitution of India is still secular, unlike Israel which is a Jews State by its constitution.

He has used Lok Sabha and state Assembly Data to prove the process of discrimination, marginalization and exclusion of Muslims. No mainstream parties are prepared to give tickets in elections to Muslims today. He concluded:

“At best, we can say that India is going in that direction and has become a De facto Ethnic Democracy and not De Jure.”

Rise of Muslim Parties like AIMIM and AIUDF

In Maharashtra, Asaduddin Owaisi led AIMIM and Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar cost 20 to 25 seats to Congress and NCP in the recent state elections. Muslims do not consider that Congress represents them well but if they move to Muslim parties then they will further weaken Congress.

"That is the Dilemma," he said. This dilemma can only be solved if you look at the state level and constituency level and that your priority has to be clear. If your priority is to defeat the BJP candidates then you have to find out who is the stronger candidate to defeat and it may not be from the Muslim party.

Political Alliance of Dalit and Muslims

It is possible if Socio-Economic issues staged a comeback in the national arena, and they may, because the situation is very bad economically, for the moment they are not.

However, Dalits and Muslims are not so close politically because of the two things. He said:

“One because BJP was very good at using Sanskritsation mechanism for attracting Dalits and second the Reservations is the paradoxical mechanism.

In most of the states, few Dalit sub casts have cornered most of the quotas. For example, Jatavs have cornered most of the SC quotas. Alienating small Dalit Jatis, Valmikis, and Khatiks and so on. BJP has been very good at attracting these groups which are so resentful vis-a-vis BSP, vis-a-vis party representing the winners of reservations.

It is a very important point that the poorest Dalits are behind the BJP today. To ally with the Muslims are not in their Agenda at the Moment."

So there are many reasons why in terms of Identity but also in terms of Interest, many Dalits will not turn to Muslims.

New middle-class among Muslims

CAA agitation for Christophe Jaffrelot was very revealing. The emergence, crystallization, of the middle class, that had been rather apolitical till then. Executives, salaried people had not indulged in politics so far to some extent. He said:

“The CAA agitations showed that they were prepared to demonstrate, to go the street and that is probably the most important development."

Among them, women, have played an amazing part. In this anti-CAA movement, we have seen many Muslim women at the forefront, not only young but all kinds of women. He appreciated the fact that "the education level of Muslim women is not bad at all and it is in stark contrast to that of the stereotype of Muslim women.”

CAA-NRC Protest

Rise of the Middle class is a ray of hope and the Politicisation of Muslim Middle class may help not only politically but also socially. He said, “Unity among all kinds of lines among Muslims, class, casts, and sects is the key. It may become much more obvious because there is hardly any way out at this juncture.

There are people in the community who wrongly think they will get away with it. They look at the poor as real casualties. Unity between Minorities will certainly help for Self Help. Unity between Casts, Class and Sectarian Groups. Shias, Bohras and Aga Khanis may think that they are not Muslims but they are not seeing like this from outside.

Internationalization of Indian Muslim issues

On the question of pleading in the international court, Christophe Jaffrelot said, “Internationalization of Indian Muslims is far- fetched. He said, “We have to follow closely the steps that have already been taken.”

Michelle Bachelet Jeria, UN Human Rights Commissioner is looking at this issue. It is not a UN court, it's a UN commission. She is more approachable than any court and a much more realistic step.

Foreign countries are also watching the developments in India closely. US Congress has started to study, every year, what kind of freedom of religion was available in India. The report that made to Congress every year is more disturbing. So never underestimate the role of US Congress in American democracy.

Then the European Union, especially the European Parliament is following what's going on in India, very closely.

Then there are Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE. Interestingly, PM Modi tried to get closer to these countries. Of course, to get business and investment from there and secondarily to divide Pakistan from these countries. However, that is boomeranging. UAE, OIC and others are protesting over the way the Jammu & Kashmir issue has been dealt with.

"International media is very active. New York Times, Washington Post, The Economist, they all are doing a great job", Christophe Jaffrelot said.

[Christophe Jaffrelot is a senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris, professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at King's India Institute, London, and non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He offers valuable insights on South Asian politics, particularly the methods and motivations of the Hindu right in India.]

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