As another election to the parliament in India approaches, the question comes up Ã¢â‚¬Å“What are Indian Muslims Thinking? What are the issues on the basis of which they will vote for various parties? Are their issues the same as those of other Indians or do they have some distinct issues of their own?
The political, security and social situation in the country has been turbulent in the last one year, to say the least. Several instances of grievous terrorism have caused much tension between Muslims and Hindus. The latest being the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba sponsored attack on civilians in Mumbai in November 2008. Fortunately it did not result in larger Hindu-Muslim conflagration in Mumbai. But the harsh contrived police encounter against Muslim youth in Jamia Nagar and the further harassment of peaceful Muslims in Azamgarh has sent a wave of anger and complaint in the Muslim community throughout North India. Of course the very bad situation of the victims of the 2002 genocide in Gujarat remains unchanged and is causing much consternation in the Muslim community.
Thus despite the passage of time Security remains the top concern of Muslims in almost every city in India. In almost every major city in India Muslims do not have the confidence that police will treat them with fairness. In most major cities Muslim organizations have organized seminars where they have categorically condemned terrorism and have issued fatwas (religious edicts) against it and have prohibited Muslims from even looking in that direction as a means to resolve their grievous complaints of injustice.
The other major issue that is causing restlessness in the community is the governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and other partiesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ failure to take any initiative in implementing the Sachar Committee findings to uplift the extraordinary backwardness of the Muslim community. The report was released over 2 years ago but in these two years other than some perfunctory low level fixes by way of the HRD ministryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Action Taken Report, no steps have been taken to bring the findings of this report to fruition. The government did not even bring the report for discussion in the parliament or form a Parliamentary Committee to hold hearings and make recommendations on it.
What is disappointing is that instead of looking at the above grievous issues of the Muslim community, some political parties tried to convert the US-India Nuclear Accord as an issue of the Muslim community. That was a very self-serving and misleading trick that some parties, that claim to be secular, played on the Muslims. It had the potential of telling Hindus that instead of having the interest of India at their heart they look at the interests of other Muslim countries as of significance. Fortunately a lot of sensible Muslim leaders opposed that political trickstry and emphasized that the nuclear accord being good for India, it is also good for Indian Muslims.
In many elections in the past some political parties have tried to make vote banks of the Muslims, a large number of whom are illiterate, by making pronouncements that invoke the emotions of Muslims, eg making Urdu the second language, closing schools for half day on Fridays for Juma congregational prayers, visiting the tombs of famous Muslim saints, lavish public praises for some Muslim religious leaders etc. After half a century of such tricks the average Muslims are tired of them.
Today Muslims are not voting en-bloc for any party. Instead in each constituency they are looking at the track record of the parties and candidates, distinguishing their rhetoric and ploys from their actions that impacted the community.
In the approaching elections Muslims are asking the various political parties to give ironclad assurances that they will provide adequate security to the community from organized violence and from police high-handedness; and that they will implement programs to remove the inordinate backwardness of the community in the areas of education and socioecomics, such as implementing the Sachar Committee report.
In most areas the bases on which Indian Muslims decide to vote for a party or candidate are the same as those of other Indians. For instance the issues of Muslim Dalits are the same as those of Hindu and Christian Dalits; the issues of Muslim OBCs are the same as those of Hindu and Christian OBCs. In low income neighborhoods in various cities, the issues of Poor Muslims are the same as those of poor Hindus and Christians, which is to improve the infrastructure of those localities and provide growth opportunities.
Yet with Muslims often being the target of police as suspect for acts of terrorism, seeking safeguards from police harassment and brutality is a distinct issue of the Muslim community. Similarly atrocious lack of schools in Muslim majority areas in all cities, this is a specific issue of the Muslim community.
IndiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Muslims are not looking for parties to promise handouts or preferred treatment for them. Instead they are looking for fair and equitable treatment, same as others Having been disappointed with Congress and BJP the two major national parties, Muslim voters are increasingly drawn to the smaller regional parties namely Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj party, Rashtri Janata Dal, Communist Party of India, DMK/ AIDMK etal.
More than anything Muslims are keen on supporting political parties that genuinely promote a secular democratic structure for the nation where their distinct lifestyles and heritage will be preserved as they integrate more in the nationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mainstream.
Photo: Muslim Man, Ahmedabad