Over the last 10 months, as Narendra Modi went about his business as the Prime Minister of the world's largest democracy and secular nation, the Sangh Parivar and other Hindu fundamentalist groups busied themselves with ghar wapsi, beef bans and church attacks. And I as an ordinary Indian citizen now prepare to pen down the obituary of an electoral category called the Muslim voter.
That this is so has been apparent both in the way Mr. Modi came to power as well as in the manner in which he has maintained a stoic silence (apart from a solitary sound bite in Parliament) while elected representatives from his party such as Sakshi Maharaj and Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti spared no effort to imply that Muslims are no longer welcome in India if they don't agree to the scientific discovery from RSS laboratories (read sarcasm) that every Indian is a Hindu by DNA or that India belongs to Hindus.
But first let us go back to the Modi campaign in 2014. It is an open secret that during the Lok Sabha elections, minority communities, especially Muslims, rallied behind any party or candidate that had the potential to defeat the BJP. Muslim voters particularly voted en-masse to keep the BJP and Mr. Modi out of power but their combined strength of close to 14% of the electorate could do nothing to counter the cross-polarisation of the majority Hindu vote, fuelled by a majoritarian campaign, the likes of which India has never seen in its electoral history.
"While the jury is still out about the effectiveness of Mr. Modi's policies in alleviating the 'governance deficit' and 'development deficit', in my mind the Modi government has certainly widened India's 'democratic deficit'."
Muslim voters feared that if Mr. Modi came to power they would overnight be reduced to second-class citizens, required to prove their loyalty to the Indian state by supporting the BJP or be branded as anti-national or worse still as terrorists. Mr. Modi's brand of nationalism brooks no dissent. He has taken it upon himself to personify patriotism and any opposition to him is equivalent to being a traitor. In Mr. Modi's own words, India is a land of Hindus as "Hinduism" is a way of life and not a religion. Where then is there space for those who do not follow a so-called Hindu way of life? While the jury is still out about the effectiveness of Mr. Modi's policies in alleviating the "governance deficit" and "development deficit" that was allegedly witnessed during the UPA regime, in my mind there is no denying the fact that the Modi government has certainly widened India's "democratic deficit".
Thus over the past 10 months Mr. Modi has attained the unique distinction of being the Prime Minster to 80% Hindus while rendering the remaining 20% Muslims and other minorities as irrelevant. Suddenly from being a sought-after vote bank, the Muslim community has found itself in an unenviable position where the nation's leaders are, in a manner, saying, "Muslim, who?"
"While the rest of the country's populace may face a choice between competing ideologies as well as differences in competencies of candidates, the Muslim voter has been reduced to having one compulsion -- to vote for anyone who is seen as able to defeat the saffron party."
This is particularly damaging both for the social harmony of Indian society as well as the democratic nature of our polity. In a majority-driven polity, it will mean that a party may not get any minority votes and still get to rule over India. It is certainly not the democracy that Dr. Ambedkar would have wished for while outlining the democratic nature of our Constitution. In a first-past-the-post voting system, not getting the support of the country's minority population and still being able to form a government is always a theoretical possibility, but it is definitely not "desirable". If you are a "Hindu", you may not bother at all but if you are a Muslim, it is a worrisome thought.
Such a scenario is bound to especially leave the 138 million Muslims and 24 million Christians (as per the 2001 census; the 2011 census figures are yet to be released) feeling completely disempowered and disenchanted with the electoral process. This does not bode well for a country that celebrates its spirit of inclusivity, diversity and secularism. It is a scary proposition that such a large section of our society may feel disconnected with the democratic process and may look at other non-democratic avenues to assert their identity.
In a plural society, it is incumbent on the majority - which has an implicit safety in numbers-- to make the minorities feel secure. In an overwhelmingly Hindu-dominated country like India, if the government is majoritarian in nature then it not only erodes the plural and secular fabric of our society but also undermines all the democratic institutions that have been painstakingly built over more than six decades since Independence.
Another aspect of religiously charged political scenario is the negative campaigning that has crept in across the political spectrum. This has completely regressed the definition of "secular" in Indian polity. While the rest of the country's populace may face a choice between competing ideologies as well as differences in competencies of candidates, the Muslim voter has been reduced to having one compulsion -- to vote for anyone who is seen as able to defeat the saffron party. This was aptly on display during recent Delhi elections where the Muslim voter, which traditionally voted for the Congress, shifted overwhelmingly to the AAP with the single aim of defeating the BJP.
" I see with increasing dismay that the polity is regressing from the politics of development to the politics of religion, and even worse, the politics of religion combined with the politics of personalities."
This is leading to a warped definition of secularism in our society. The so called "secular" parties vie for the Muslim vote, not based on what they will be doing to uplift the minorities but simply on the level of aggressiveness in their posturing against the BJP. It is assumed that being the most anti-BJP is enough to garner the Muslim vote. The BJP on the other hand targets the Muslims with its vitriolic rhetoric seeking to polarise the votes on religious lines as Muslim consolidation also simultaneously consolidates the Hindu votes, which works to its advantage. In the end the loser is the Muslim voter, no matter who wins or loses.
I as an Indian voter watched with satisfaction as the Indian democracy matured from the politics of identity to the politics of development over the last decade or so. Now I see with increasing dismay that the polity is regressing from the politics of development to the politics of religion, and even worse, the politics of religion combined with the politics of personalities.
Elections instead of being fought on issues of corruption, development and competing ideologies have quickly degenerated either into contests between the majority and minority communities or contests between larger-than-life personalities offering promises that India can't afford and dividing people on religious lines. The last time India was so divided on religious lines, it led to Partition, over 500,000 deaths and more than 14 million people displaced. An India where the minorities are reduced to irrelevance is an affront to the very idea of India which for me is an idea of inclusion, pluralism, compassion and indeed humanism itself.