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Rohit Dhankar

There was a long debate in the pages of Indian Express stared by Harsh Mander’s article “Sonia, sadly”on 24th March 2018 and concluded with Mander’s another article “Our threatened humanity”. The debate was actually sparked by Ramachandra Guha’s aptly titled response “Liberals, sadly” to Mander.  I missed the debate almost completely when it was actually raging, due to some preoccupations. After it ended, collected all the articles with help of a friend and read them recently. About 20 well known public intellectuals, virtually all media celebrities, of our country participated in it. Mander thinks of the debate as “rich and textured”, “thoughtful” and that it has established “a benchmark for public discourse”. (“Our threatened humanity”, 10th April 2018, Indian Express).

Sure, the debate brings to the public notice many important issues concerning Muslims in Indian politics. And still, I strongly feel that it is a debate between more or less likeminded people for the benefit of themselves and their confirmed followers. For someone who does not think on the lines already drawn—by the same public intellectuals—for Indian political discourse, it leaves too many questions unanswered and too many arguments only half explored. I have made this comment with some hesitation, as the collective weight of the participants in the debate is rather overwhelming for an ordinary mortal like me. Also, I have no proper credentials to question opinions of such well recognised people.

The debate, as mentioned, is on current position of Muslims in the Indian political action and discourse; more accurately on marginalisation and even exclusion of Muslim community. I am not a historian, nor a political scientist, nor a sociologist, nor even a politician or civil rights activist. As a result, have no standing to be writing on this sensitive issue. The only ground I can advance to defend my audacious action is that I am an Indian citizen, and happen to think, even if not very well. I also interact extensively with ordinary Indians in daily course of life, not as a researcher or as their saviour, but as ordinary an Indian as they themselves are. And sometimes express my thoughts.

My primary reason for writing this piece is, as mentioned above, that this debate does raise important issues, but leaves the general public where it was. It is a debate in a self-contained group. The second point, is that the debate completely ignores the role religious dogma/beliefs may play in creating socio-political situations, in spite of Guha’s attempt to draw attention in this direction. When history is taken into view it seems to be recounting events and intentions of parties/individuals without ever touching the “why?” of those events and intentions. It takes history as a kind of mysterious force, unfathomable. Actually, I will argue further down in this article that the gravest sin of Ram Guha was that he tried to explain “why” in a certain manner that did not go well with liberal intellectuals. It just scratches the surface of history of communal disharmony and divergent political directions Hindus and Muslims took.

I will try to raise some questions to substantiate what I have claimed in the above paragraph. A complete and in-depth analysis of these issues is beyond my competence; therefore, raising questions and justifying a need for further analysis is all I am attempting here.

Harsh Mander’s article “Sonia, sadly” is rightly referred to as a lament by Mukul Keshwani, Abdul Khaliq and Gazala Jamil; for that is exactly what it is. However, a lament can be justified, informative and a powerful cry for attracting attention to some dangerous situation. Mander’s article does all that. Even if his opening line is not entirely justified, he does point out the increasing suspicion and intolerance for Muslims in politics and public space. His claim “Muslims are today’s castaways, political orphans with no home, for virtually every political party” is obviously exaggerate if one keeps in mind Mamata Banerji’s TMC, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD, and of course Nehru-Gandhi family’s Congress. The real problem with Mander’s article is not its exaggeration however, as exaggeration might be arguable in certain crisis situations. His real problem is one-eyed vision. He blames only BJP and RSS for this sorry situation, and is completely unwilling to notice, or even pose as a question, if there could have been something in the Muslim politics itself that brought about this predicament. He writes “It appears, at least for the present, that the BJP has succeeded in a toxic majoritarian reordering of the rules of India’s political game” and that “The poisons released by the RSS into the veins of Indian social life are powerful, addictive and heady.” Thus making the BJP and RSS the sole source of the poison and indicating that the majority Hindu public is either gullible enough or is bigoted enough to have eagerly lapped this poison up, never stopping to think what actual or perceived reasons this population might have had to fall prey to BJP and RSS. Other parties are simply forced into sunning Muslims because of the fear of misguided or bigoted Hindu majority. This makes Hindus responsible for this Muslim plight (in the concluding article the blame is on secular political parties and secular civil society), and gives a clean chit to the Muslim politics. I have absolutely no intention of defending BJP and RSS, and am fully aware that they have unleashed a hate campaign that is harming India, and in the process are destroying Hindu community. But when one is analysing a political situation, leaving the responsibility of Muslim politics out is a gross mistake and actually an endorsement of the communal line it has been taking right from the early 19th century.

His defence for painting this one side picture is interesting. In his own words “There are, no doubt, “medievalist”, misogynist and regressive elements within the Indian Muslim community. But so also there is no dearth of similar elements among Hindus, and indeed, other socio-religious communities in India. His motive “The debate that I wished to help raise was about what I see squarely as the culpability and the responsibility of secular political parties, and indeed secular civil society, for the unprecedented predicament in which Muslim peoples find themselves in India today.” I will try to discuss in this article below that the nature of Muslim politics in India cannot be compared with presence of obscurantist elements in other communities. Muslim politics in pre-independence India was based on certain principles allegedly derived from Islam and those principles are visible, even if not overtly argued for, in the present day Muslim politics in the issues it revolves around.




This attitude of liberal intellectuals—‘yes, there may be problems with Muslim politics but others are squarely responsible’—leaves common people completely baffled. And they pay no further attention to their arguments, as it sounds unfair and biased to them.

Guha tried to respond to this serious lacuna through his article “Liberals, sadly” and made a mistake right in the beginning. He compared burka and trishul, found both objectionable; and claimed that the political leader who advised Muslims to come to rallies without scull-caps and burkas may have motivated by progressive ideals of not flaunting one’s identity in politics and act more like an individual citizen of India. Putting burka and trishul on equal footing was clearly a mistake (which Guha graciously accepted), and excited the liberal intellectual mind so much that much of the debate is focussed on this. One does not need to go into details of this mistake and its criticism, it is flogged enough in all articles.

What is more important is that Guha makes an attempt to see the issues within Muslim politics which may have contributed in bringing about predicament of the Muslim community, which is so eloquently articulated in Mander’s article. To my mind that is more substantial part of Guha’s article; however, that part is either ignored or responded to in a completely unsatisfactory manner throughout the debate.

Guha quotes Dalwai to make a few points. One, that Mulims have a communal leadership. Two, that Muslims need a class of liberal intellectuals. Three, that Hindu-Muslim communalisms feed on each other. Four, that Hindus do have a liberal intellectual class among them which constantly attacks Hindu obscurantism. Five, that unless all liberals—Hindus, Muslims, and other faiths—combine to fight with all kinds of communalisms, they will not succeed. He cautions that if Muslim community does not develop a liberal intellectual class among themselves even the Hindu liberals will lose their ground and will be taken over by the Hindu communal elements. It has actually happed.

Further down in this analysis I will argue that Guha is basically right, in spite of most of the articles attacking his position.

(To be continued …..)


31st July 2018