Same tokenism

BJP makes a spectacle of its Muslim audience. Other parties cannot claim to be very different.

At Narendra Modi's rally in Jaipur on Tuesday, the BJP reportedly made much of Muslims wearing skullcaps and burqas. But while the BJP under Modi may have a special point to prove, other "secular" parties also make instrumental use of minorities, flattening them into stereotypes, addressing them only at the most superficial level, ignoring their real needs.

In Muzaffarnagar, Muslim lives and property have been destroyed in the worst communal violence since the early '90s, under the watch of a government that purportedly places higher emphasis on the community's well-being. By all accounts, there was no heightened security, despite tensions surging after two Jat mahapanchayats, and the police made little attempt to reassure ordinary Muslims of safety. And yet, only a year back, the Samajwadi Party had devoted 12 out of 31 promises in its manifesto to "Muslim concerns", promising welfare schemes, government jobs, security-free loans, rolling back false terror cases, etc. Once in power, its actions have been more splashy than effective, like sacking a young IAS officer for tearing down an illegal mosque wall during Ramzan. The state government made a sloppy case for dropping cases against those accused in the serial blasts of 2007, demanding they be withdrawn "in the interest of communal harmony", without putting in the work to counter flaws in the investigation or disproving charges. UP is not the only state where parties secure in their command over the Muslim vote disregard their lived reality, anxieties and aspirations. Investigative and legal systems have singled out Muslims based on flimsy assumptions, in Hyderabad, Malegaon, Pune and Delhi all presided over by Congress governments.

The UPA did make an attempt to understand the diverse contexts that Indian Muslims inhabit, by instituting the Sachar committee. Its findings demolished the "appeasement" theory and mapped the material deprivations and social bias they face. However, its implementation is a whole other story. Smaller suggestions about Urdu language promotion and madrasa learning were picked up, but more important questions of employability, discrimination in jobs and housing were ignored. Muslim school enrolment remains low, they are left out from credit schemes, even initiatives like MGNREGA. There has been no attempt to awaken mainstream institutions and development programmes to the minority question.

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