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From Rajiv Gandhi to Modi, nobody defines ‘Muslim appeasement’ but all use it for votes

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The idea of ‘Muslim appeasement’ has haunted Indian politics for nearly three decades.

The strength of Hindutva politics practiced by parties like the BJP and Shiv Sena in recent years has relied on two interlinked rhetorical devices – that Hindus are victims in secular India; and Muslims have been appeased in the name of secularism since Independence.

And yet no one has defined the phrase ‘Muslim appeasement’.

In a speech dedicated to Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, the founder of Jana Sangh and the official ideologue of the BJP, Narendra Modi said:

“…Fifty years ago, Pandit Upadhyaya said, do not reward/appease (puraskrit) Muslims, do not shun (tiraskrit) them but purify (parishkar) them’. Do not treat Muslims like vote ki mandi ka maal (vote banks) or ghrina ki vastu (object of hatred). Unhe apna samjho (regard them as your own).”

This was not the first time when Narendra Modi, like other BJP leaders, invoked the term ‘Muslim appeasement’ to criticise the policies, programmes and actions of non-BJP political parties. Although the meaning of the term ‘Muslim appeasement’ is not elaborated in the speech, Modi was able to make his point. He was certainly referring to the alleged privileges given to Muslims in India, which, in his imagination of sabka sath sabka vikas, had to be condemned for not achieving real development.

Modi cannot be singled out for using ambiguous, vague and unclear expressions to outline the distinctiveness of his party. The idea of ‘Muslim appeasement’ has haunted Indian politics for nearly three decades, but never really been given any adequate intellectual attention.

Also read: What explains the Muslim silence in the face of BJP’s aggressive Hindutva?

What is Muslim appeasement?

Broadly speaking, Muslim appeasement is referred to at least in two aspects of politics regarding Muslims: biased institutional apparatus and unfair political practices.

The constitutional provisions related to rights of religious minorities, which offer legal protection to autonomous bodies such Islamic endowments knows as Waqf, the Muslim Personal Law and educational institutions such as the Aligarh Muslim University, are seen as problematic and unfair. It is asserted that minority rights goes against the spirit of religious equality and secularism based on rule of law.

In an article published in the 1970s called Minorities Problems and Its Solution, written by Balraj Madhok, one of RSS’s known intellectuals, the problematic aspects of the Constitution are outlined. He says:

“Articles 21, 30 and 370, which are discriminatory being in favour of minorities should be abrogated from the Constitution of India. Such provisions be made in the Constitution that no discrimination between the citizens of India will be made by the Government on the basis of religions or methods of worship. ….Such Muslims and other minorities who are not prepared to abjure their separatist tendencies should be declared foreigners, and they should be divested of the right of franchise.”

‘Muslim appeasement’ is also used to denote specific forms of political practices. The assurance given to Muslims by the political parties with regard to educational and/or economic empowerment, distribution of tickets to Muslim candidates in elections and even declaration of holidays on Muslim religious festivals are treated as ‘Muslim appeasement’. A resolution passed by the RSS in 2005 is an example of this critique:

“The Akhil Bharatiya Karyakari Mandal (ABKM) decries the return of the demon of minority appeasement under the present UPA government. Its earlier decision to provide 50% reservation for Muslims in Aligarh Muslim University and its attempts now to go in appeal against the HC order on the minority status of the Aligarh Muslim University is a standing proof of its appeasement policy… Also reprehensible is the reported directive given to all the Chief Ministers of the Congress-ruled states to emulate Andhra Pradesh government in extending reservations to Muslims.

‘Secular’ response

Interestingly, the secular critique of Hindutva’s imagination of ‘Muslim appeasement’, does not propose any alternative idea. Although they tend to talk of the multi-layered structure of the Muslim community and its relative marginalisation, the possibilities of appeasement, its meanings, forms and impacts are not given any serious intellectual/political attention.

‘Muslim appeasement’ is simply refuted as Hindutva propaganda.

Even those scholars, who are critical of Hindu as well as Muslim communalism, could not produce any significant analysis of ‘Muslim appeasement’.

Mushirul Hasan’s assessment of the Shah Bano moment of Indian politics is a good example to underline this confusion. He writes:

“Debates on the Uniform Civil Code have gone on ceaselessly since Independence. Muslim orthodoxy was unequivocally opposed to change, and the liberal view became increasingly blurred because of the unhappy intervention of Hindu ideologues as vocal proponents of reform in Muslim personal law….. The government dare not change its strategy for fear of losing Muslim votes….Rajiv Gandhi imposed a ban on Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and his successor V.P. Singh declared Prophet Mohammad’s birthday a national holiday. Finally, Muslims were willfully appeased by the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, and through official reluctance to enact a Uniform Civil Code.”

(Emphases added, Mushirul Hasan, Legacy of a Divided Nation,Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 279)

It is certainly clear from this passage that Hasan is condemning the Hindutva politics, which appropriated the UCC debate. He is equally critical of the Islamic orthodoxy, which was supported by the state in the Shah Bano case. Yet, Hasan fails to specify his meaning of ‘Muslim appeasement’ and we are left with a few puzzling questions: Does Muslim appeasement only mean the political moves of the Rajiv Gandhi government? Or, does it mean that all Muslims were going to vote for Rajiv Gandhi in the election because they were “wilfully appeased” in the Shah Bano case? If this is the case, how is Hasan’s notion of Muslim appeasement different from the RSS’ conceptualisation?

Also read: 5 myths about Muslim voters in modern India

Muslim appeasement in post-Sachar era

The publication of the Sachar report in 2006 gave a new twist to the idea of Muslim appeasement. As an official document, the report underlines the fact that Muslims of India are socially, economically and educationally backward and marginalised. Although the report very categorically emphasises upon the highly diverse and deeply stratified structure of Muslim community, the ‘Muslim victimhood’ as a new template of Indian politics began to take shape.

The report was invoked, particularly by non-BJP parties, to demonstrate that ‘Muslim appeasement’ was a myth created by the Hindutva forces and Muslims must be treated as an excluded community.

Hindutva politics also refashioned itself in the light of this response. It was argued that the Congress did not show any serious interest in the empowerment of Muslims — they were treated as a vote bank, which led to marginalisation and exclusion; and that the BJP’s firm commitment to equal treatment to all, as the argument goes, helped even the Muslims to prosper in BJP-ruled states. L.K. Advani’s assessed the Sachar Report thus:

“… I feel Gujarat should be grateful to Justice Sachar for proving convincingly to the country that under Narendra Bhai Modi’s regime, Muslims are far better off than their compatriots in other states.”

This argument later evolved into the party’s rhetoric: “Development of all, appeasement of none”.

Now, ‘Muslim appeasement’ has found a new political life in post 2014-India. The BJP has successfully established the fact that addressing Muslims as Muslims is an act of appeasement. The impact of this assertion is so powerful that even the so-called secular, anti-Hindutva, and non-BJP parties have gradually started distancing themselves from Muslims, simply to avoid the tag of Muslim appeasement.

Muslim appeasement and ‘good Muslims’

The assumption of ‘Muslim appeasement’ relies on Muslim homogeneity — an undifferentiated picture of a single Muslim community. However, the recognised ‘good Muslims’ in all political parties are never treated as beneficiaries of appeasement. In fact, these ‘good Muslims’ struggle with each other as organic intellectuals — either to refute ‘Muslim appeasement’ as a myth or to evoke the “development of all, appeasement of none” slogan.

The presence of these ‘good Muslims’ underlines the fact that ‘Muslim appeasement’ is not a description of an objective socio-political condition of Muslims; rather it is a metaphor of politics.

Also read: The good Muslim-bad Muslim binary is as old as Nehru

The unclear, ambiguous metaphor is cleverly employed to create a ‘fear psyche’ among Muslims. It tells Muslims that they are a pampered lot – even as they experience deprivation – and creates a psychological dissonance. This state prevents them from seeking equity or justice.

The Modi-led BJP is not an exception in this regard. The Muslim faces of the BJP – Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Zafar Islam and Najma Heptulla – are elite Muslims, who are being appeased in the name of sab ka sath sabka vikas.

Yes, ‘good Muslims’ are always appeased.

Hilal Ahmed is an associate professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

(ThePrint is publishing three series on minorities in India by scholar of political Islam Hilal Ahmed. The ‘Sarkari Muslim’, Minority Report, and Line of Law will trace the political journey of Muslims in the country. This is the second article under The ‘Sarkari Muslim’.)

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  1. If Nehru removed Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians from the SC reservation benefit by passing SC order , 1950 which stated that the Dalit who profess the Hindu religion will only take the benefit of SC reservation . Congress and lndian constitution even didnot give Minority reservation to Muslim citizens in Parliament , legislative bodies , Govt jobs and Education ; but there was reservation for the Anglo-lndians ( Chritians) in Parliament and Legislative bodies ; SC reservation was opened to Sikhs ( though Sikhism does not subscribe to castism ) ; later on, Buddhists were added to the benifIt of SC . It is worth mentioning that the Minorities in Pakistan (which includes Hindus , Christians , Sikhs , Parsi , Buddhists, Ahmadia) enjoy reservations in the Parliament , Legislative bodies , Educational institutions and govt Jobs . Even in Bangladesh there is reservation for the non-muslim ethnic minorities . Even in Arab muslim countries of Middle East significant number of jobs have been occupied by the non-muslims . Health Sectors by Hindus , Nursing by Christians , Buisness in Dubai by Gujarati lndian Hindus , Private Banking in Oman by Gujarati lndian Hindu called Purushottam Kanji , Entertainment industry of Dubai and other buisness establishments again by Gujarati lndian Hindus ( Like lndian politics in lndia has been grabbed by Modi ( Modh-Ghanchi bania) , Amit Shah ( Modh-Bania Jain ) , Indian buisness by Ambani ( Modh-Bania ) of Gujarat. Indira Gandhi splitted the Muslims of lndian sub-continent into Bangladesh and (smaller) Pakistan . Sanjay Gandhi destroyed the Muslim bastion of Turkman Gate in old Delhi . lf Rajeev Gandhi performed Shilanayas ( keeping foundation stone ) of Ram Mandir on the disputed site of Babri Masjid-Ram Janam Bhoomi Complex at Ayodhya – Faizabad , then it is Hindus who have been appeased ( tushti-karan of Hindu voters but not of Muslim voters ). Congress again continued to appease the Hindu voters by killings Sikhs in 1984 anti-Sikh riots by the Hindus after the dead of lndira Gandhi . The things did not stop here …. Narsimha Rao – the Congress PM allowed the demolition of the Babri Mosque by the Sangh Parivar Hindutv forces of terrorism . As a PM he didn’t send army to Ayodhya city to save the muslims’ Babri Mosque from being raged to ground by Hindu mob of Sangh Parivar supporters called Kar sewaks . He was viewing the live telecast of the demolition of Babri Masjid on Television without taking any action to protect the Muslims’s historical Mosques from being raged to ground . MUSLIMS HAVE NEVER BEEN APPEASED OR OVER PROTECTED DURING THE PAST 70 YEARS RULE OF THE CONGRESS IN INDIA . IF MUSLIMS WERE CARED ABOUT WELL EVEN AS THE MINIMAL CITIZENS OF INDIA THEN THE PLIGHT OF MUSLIMS WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN WORSE THAN THE SCHEDULED CASTES DALIT COMMUNITIES OF INDIA ( WHICH WAS WELL DOCUMENTED AND ESTABLISHED BY THE SACHAR COMMEETTE REPORT AND MISHRA REPORT . Jai Bharat.

  2. The author is wearing blinkers.. there was Muslim appeasement all over… you got a separate two separate countries and yet you continued living here is itself appeasement..

  3. The Sachar committee told us what we already knew. India’s Muslims are, preponderantly – although a solid middle class has always been there, and it is hearteningly growing – less well off, educationally and economically. They are poorly represented in public life, both politics and the bureaucracy, including the police. If economic factors were taken into account, there would be a case to extend the benefit of affirmative action to them. That is easily swatted by saying that the Constitution – already amended more than a hundred times – does not provide for a religious basis for reservations. Census data shows the rate of population growth in the community is slowing, as it is for all Indians. Hosting an Iftaar party, wearing an odd white fur hat in Bombay’s muggy weather, is the closest we get to “ appeasement “ in real life. HDI scrores for the Muslim community need to improve drastically as part of India’s effort to join the First World. Till that happens, their physical safety and emotional security in what is constitutionally mandated to be a secular country is non negotiable.

    • Sachar committee report was driven by the end conclusions. All the data was collected and analysis made to suit an already pre-determined conclusion.
      I will give a simple exercise:
      Take the data of per capita expenditure for the Hindus and Muslims as given by the Sachar committee. The Hindu’s per-capita expenditure is higher than that for Muslim’s.
      Now divide these figure by labour participation rate for Hindus and Muslims; voila! This ratio is higher by numbers for the Muslims.
      Conclusion: Muslims are worse off because their labour participation rate is lower.
      Simple, fewer Muslims, per-capita, work. Maybe their women have less freedom of choice than the Hindus when it comes to working. Women labour participation rate among Muslim women is lower than that of the Hindus. May have they have more children (They actually do) per parent, and so their labour participation is lower.
      Should the general public pick up the tab for Muslim men’s second wife – which is allowed in our secular country? Should the rest of the society bear the cost of Muslim women not working, as it is not allowed by their ultra-conservative society?
      Should the state bear the cost of bringing up Muslims couple of extra children per parent?

  4. Prophet Muhammad was A VERY NICE HUMAN BEING. I can say this with a bit of authority because I have read a good bit about him. I’m very glad that India celebrates his birthday as a national holiday. The only puzzle is why did we have to wait until the time of V.P. Singh to declare it so; the Prophet’s birthday should have been recognised by Nehru himself, given the high opinion of him that mahatma Gandhi had.

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