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Muslims And The Dangerous Game Of Ideological Warfare

23/03/2016 8:17 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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DIBYANGSHU SARKAR via Getty Images
Indian Leftist student activists carry torches and shout slogans against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led union government during a protest near Jadavpur Unversity on February 23, 2016. A bitter row over a student's arrest for sedition at a prestigious Indian university has exposed deep divisions between liberal intellectuals and the nationalist government in the world's biggest democracy. Student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar is accused of shouting 'anti-India slogans' during a rally at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi to mark the anniversary of the execution of a Kashmiri separatist leader. Thousands of students and teachers have since protested around the country against his arrest, accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government of misusing the British-era sedition law to stifle dissent. AFP PHOTO / Dibyangshu SARKAR / AFP / DIBYANGSHU SARKAR (Photo credit should read DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

The 'Ram Janmabhoomi Movement' began gathering steam in the 1980s, propelling the BJP-led coalition government to power in the following decade after a series of communal riots across the nation. At that juncture of history, the Muslims of India began developing a sort of paranoia towards right wing political entities. In the 90s, as communal tensions escalated, Muslims would tread on the devious path of ghettoization , thus giving perennial fuel to stereotypes and the notion that the community is largely retrograde both in its practices and perceptions.

Meanwhile, this strategy of isolationism by a large section of the Muslim populace worked pretty well except during the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat and the Muzaffarnagar riots. The community felt no urgency to change the status quo. In every election, a large section of Muslims would vote for the strongest party that could deny BJP power. However, a string of corruption charges against the UPA-2 government would finally change the landscape of the Indian polity.

The recent spate of violence perpetrated against Muslims bears witness to the fact that the ideological fissures in India have finally begun to bleed.

It was the sweltering summer of 2014 that the Congress stood utterly obliterated and the BJP rose as a dominant political force. The Narendra Modi-led NDA won by a thumping majority on the plank of 'minimum government and maximum governance', effectively changing the usual post-election trend of weeks of coalition haggling and setting a precedent for decisive mandates in the future. Having languished at the nether end of various social indicators, the leverage of their votes was the only thing keeping the Muslim community relevant in India's political game. Muslims realized for the first time that a political party could cobble up majority on its own in the Lok Sabha without their support.

Not long after Narendra Modi's appointment as India's Prime Minister, elements in the government and the ruling party began vigorously engaging in bitter diatribes and calumnious statements directed against India's largest religious minority.

The recent spate of violence perpetrated against Muslims bears witness to the fact that the ideological fissures in India have finally begun to bleed. The cold-blooded murder of two Muslim cattle traders at Latehar isn't the first such incident in Jharkhand. At the prominent Muslim festival of Eid-Al-Adha the communal cauldron was simmering across Ranchi with sporadic clashes between Hindus and Muslims. This coincided with the time the campaigning in the strategically decisive state of Bihar was in full swing. Many political analysts speculated that the violence was deliberately orchestrated to polarize communities in neighbouring Bihar.

In the JNU row, Umar Khalid despite being in a situation similar to Anirban Bhattacharya was regularly denigrated by certain media outlets as a Muslim fundamentalist...

Whether the latest gory incident in Latehar proves to be a hate crime or a case of looting is better left to investigation agencies. However, the polarized reaction it has elicited is a clear indication that there's something grievously wrong here.

A Barkha Dutt vs. Anupam Kher is one thing, and it is perfectly acceptable and desirable for there to be diverse opinions and debates in a healthy democracy, but when occurrences like the Dadri lynching and the Latehar murders easily incite communal passions and when the popular media is conspicuously partisan in reporting such issues, it is then evidently clear that the nation is treading on a sectarian minefield.

The JNU fiasco calls for immediate attention as it shows us that the ideological divide is increasingly pitting people against each other. The heavy-handedness of the government in pressing sedition charges against students is a testament to the fact that the ideological fault lines in India can now easily foment serious conflict between divergent groups. In the whole JNU row, one thing rarely admitted is that Umar Khalid despite being in a situation similar to Anirban Bhattacharya was regularly denigrated by certain bigoted media outlets as a Muslim fundamentalist bent on undermining India's integrity. Such canards being spun by prominent news channels and their histrionic anchors is no laughing matter but a threat to India's already fragile social cohesion. The damage it has inflicted upon the nation's psyche may turn out to be irreparable. Once suspicion breeds in a society, once mistrust seeps between communities and once people perceive each other as threats, certainly that nation is damned.

[P]eople who barely have any stake in this game of power and supremacy end up bleeding the most.

Back in the 20th century, Mussolini and Hitler used ultra-nationalism to silence voices of dissent. Leaders like Stalin, Mao and Tito ruled with an iron fist over their people, literally running police states. The nature of right-wing (and even far-left) politics is such that it always needs an adversary to rally people towards an agenda. Nothing serves them better than a 'malevolent' antagonist invoked as a bogey which can easily be cut to size when need be--the examples are many, including the Jews of Nazi Germany and the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar. What is happening in India post the 2014 general elections isn't your garden variety imbroglio but a cyclic phenomenon where various political ideologies wrest to seize control. In this tussle, people who barely have any stake in this game of power and supremacy end up bleeding the most.

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