I have forced myself to write a response to Yogendra Yadav’s latest column in ThePrint in which he has stigmatised the rise of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen or AIMIM as a worrisome news.
Even though the highly superficial critique of psephologist-turned-politician Yogendra Yadav does not make sense logically, it does make sense as a public display of bête noir. If we pay close attention, we will realise that what a wide range of politicians say about the success of Asaduddin Owaisi’s party in the Bihar assembly election comes from a sense of reluctance in accepting the fact that Muslim votes are no longer their private deposit that they can keep taking for granted.
The rise of AIMIM, outside Hyderabad, and more specifically in India’s Hindi heartland, has rattled most of the secular political fronts equally. When the Bihar election results were announced, giving the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) another five years despite a decent fight from Tejashwi Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RLD)-led Mahagathbandhan (MGB), many Congress leaders were unhappy. At one point, it felt as if the Congress was more dejected with the AIMIM winning five seats in what once used to be its stronghold, Seemanchal, than losing the election overall.
One of the Congress’ tallest Muslim leaders from Bihar, Tariq Anwar, wrote on Twitter saying “NDA should thank Owaisi for helping them form government for another term in Bihar”. The Youth Congress’ official Facebook page shared several posters and cartoons suggesting the same thing — the AIMIM is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s B-team and that Owaisi has helped the NDA win Bihar. But the election data destroys all such claims. This is not the first time, though, that Congress leaders have made this superficial claim. During the Telangana assembly election in December 2018, Rahul Gandhi had said: ‘TRS is BJP’s B-team, AIMIM is BJP’s C-team’.
Yogendra Yadav needs a reality check
Yogendra Yadav’s critique is pejoratively clever. He alleges that the AIMIM is a “particularly pernicious political outfit”. He explains the history of the Hyderabad-based party and tries to delegitimise it by questioning its loyalty and allegiance to India for its positioning in the ‘India or Pakistan’ episode, when Hyderabad was an independent state. I am yet to see any other political party’s loyalty being questioned for what its founding members did before 1947. We know about the Congress celebrating Hindu Mahasabha founder Madan Mohan Malviya, other Hindu nationalists like Lala Lajpat Rai and even V.D. Savarkar.
Even when the Congress is criticised for its past, the criticism lies around its mistakes and blunders, or at most for its ‘Muslim appeasement’. However, the AIMIM has not been labelled ‘dubious’ by Yogendra Yadav for its mistakes. Instead, the party’s loyalty and allegiance to India has been questioned.
Furthermore, Yogendra Yadav also alleges that the AIMIM is a communal outfit. He, however, is sincere enough to acknowledge that the AIMIM is not the only communal outfit. He writes that the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the Milli Council, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), and various factions of Kerala Congress are equally communal. The AIUDF, as Yadav suggests, is different only in the sense that it does not carry ‘communalism’ in its name. I wonder what stopped him from including the Indian National Congress (INC), which represents Brahmins; Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which represents Baniyas; Samajwadi Party (SP), which represents Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh; Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which represents Yadavs in Bihar; Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which represents Dalits in UP, Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP), which represents Rajbhars; Apna Dal, which represents Kurmis; and Bahujan Vanchit Aghadi (VBA), which represents Dalits in Maharashtra, among others. It should be noted that Yogendra Yadav only chose to name the parties that represent three minority communities — Sikhs, Christians and Muslims.
In the end, Yogendra Yadav’s biggest concern is that Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM may well be the right partner that Hindu majoritarian politics is looking for. I am afraid that he needs to be reminded that Hindutva politics has already won two Lok Sabha elections, and has seemingly compromised all the State institutions, without the help of AIMIM. The Narendra Modi government has been re-elected with a greater majority than before, and his popularity has been on rise despite everything. Hindu majoritarian politics was indeed looking for opportunities, which were served to them by the secular leaders themselves. The reception of Ram Mandir bhoomi pujan by secular parties legitimised Hindu majoritarian politics. So did the reception of the Ayodhya verdict by secular parties and the repeated silence of these parties on issues that concerned Muslims.
Shifting the blame from secular parties
It is easier for Yogendra Yadav to look the other way, but the reality is that since Modi’s second term, Hindu majoritarian politics has shifted from ‘Hindu khatre mein hai‘ (Hindus are in danger) to ‘Musalmanoñ ko darr ke jeena padega‘ (Muslims have to live in fear). The BJP does not need Asaduddin Owaisi’s party to make their point. Secular parties have failed to establish social justice by failing to give Muslims their fair share of representation while taking Muslim votes for granted until now. The reports of Sachar Committee, Kundu Committee and numerous other researches clearly indicate the failure of secular parties vis-à-vis Muslims. These parties have paved ways for Hindu majoritarian politics to not just operate but to bloom. It is the inconsistent policies of the secular parties that must be blamed. That was the only opportunity Hindu majoritarian politics was looking for. We are past that. Yogendra Yadav and others are afraid that if Muslims start voting for a Muslim-led party, almost every secular front will have to become what they really are — political outfits representing different castes. The AIMIM is not a secular party because Hindus do not vote for it. The Samajwadi Party is a secular party because Muslims also vote for it other than Yadavs.
Yogendra Yadav is getting it wrong. He is trying to shift the blame of bringing Hindu majoritarian politics from the Hindu majority to Muslims — as if Hindu majoritarian politics would cease to exist had it not been for Asaduddin Owaisi or any other Muslim political outfit. It is about time that members of the Hindu community start owning their own mess instead of blaming Muslims as the BJP does.
Yogendra Yadav’s secularism demands Muslims to vote for Hindu-led parties just as they have been doing almost religiously since 1947. Muslims voting for the AIMIM — a Muslim-led party — in his view, means Muslims are rejecting secularism. This binary is highly problematic. If Yogendra Yadav suggests that in order to save secularism, Muslims should give up their best chance of getting truly represented, this secularism must not be saved. Asaduddin Owaisi’s rise lies in the response (or lack of it) of secular parties to the BJP’s Hindu majoritarian politics. Yogendra Yadav must not assume the AIMIM will be a ‘Muslim BJP’. Instead, for a change, the Hindu majority should, for once, rally behind a Muslim leader and save Indian secularism. After all, no politician stands as tall as Asaduddin Owaisi in countering Hindu majoritarian politics or in displaying the secular ethos of the Constitution in their public speeches. Yogendra Yadav’s unwillingness to acknowledge that a Muslim leader who is not sanctioned by existing secular parties can be secular, is Islamophobia.
Sharjeel Usmani is a student leader and the National Secretary of Fraternity Movement. Views are personal.
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