From Babri Masjid in 1992 to Gurugram in 2018, much water has flown down the Saryu and Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati.
While the demolition of the Babri Masjid marked a watershed event in the history of Independent India, the importance of the events putting restrictions on Muslims to offer Friday prayers at open public places is yet to be understood in its full implication.
Both the event mark the struggle for space and the relative position of Muslims both in the physical space they occupy and the mental-psychological space the country’s dominant section is willing to give to it. Clearly, the space for the largest minority of the country numbering above 12 crores is sought to be restricted in every conceivable manner possible.
In case of the Babri Masjid, history was invoked, even though unsubstantiated and concocted, to create a justification for the demolition while in case of Gurugram episode, it was the present which provided the justification. The transition from history to now has been rapid. A close reading would reveal how it potentially contains seeds of a deep psychological division in the country which has prided all along on its syncretic culture, often captured in the rather restrictive Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb or the composite culture of the population spread over Gangetic-Yamuna flood plain.
The comparison from Babri Masjid episode also reveals a few other striking points. The momentum for the Babri Masjid was built by the leaders affiliated to the RSS-family which includes BJP, VHP, Bajrangdal etc. by taking a Rath-Yatra across the country and getting the ‘consecrated bricks’ from various places to build a Ram-Mandir at the site where the 16th Century historic Babri Mosque stood.
As a political strategy, it was sought to be made into a convergence from the periphery to the centre of action i.e. Ayodhya where action was supposed to take place. In the case of Gurugram event however, the strategy could be diverging out from the centre gradually engulfing the places on the periphery.
If the experiment has been successful in Gurugram, it could provide a template to be followed across the country. This aspect of the Gurugram incident has not received enough attention till now but it is quite likely to happen if one goes by the well-calculated strategy followed by RSS-VHP-BJP-Bajrangdal and its ideological affiliates. One can also see a parallel from the Nazi Germany where marking out and limiting of the places for the Jews was an essential element of the Nazi philosophy to promote ghettoization of Jews and their eventual extermination.
The Gurugram incident is part of the well thought out plan that the BJP-RSS ideological clan has been following across the country. The strategy is simple. An innocuous event is taken up and it is built up as a symbolic episode playing upon the fear of Muslims as the other. Cleverly, it is linked to wider issues of national security, patriotism, Hindu identity and Muslim appeasement among many other tropes which strike a positive chord among a large number of people.
Consider for example what happened in Gurugram. Several organisations such as Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Kranti Dal, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena, Hindu Sena, Swadeshi Jagran Manch and Gurugram Sanskritik Gaurav Samiti called for a ban on namaz in open spaces. These organisatons came together as Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti claimed that Friday prayer offered by the Muslims at vacant public places should not be allowed as these may create law and order problem.
In its support the organisation claimed that the population of Muslims in Gurugram has gone up from 2 lakhs to more than 9 lakhs due to Bangladeshi and Rohingya Muslims who pose a serious threat to national security. The right-wing organisations also claim that offering prayer by Muslims in vacant spaces is also a show of strength by the Muslims to intimidate Hindus.
Many of these organisations work to instigate a mob frenzy against an event or episode which may be real or fabricated. These groups are anonymous till the controversy starts but they have the full support from the BJP-RSS brigade. In fact, these event-specific groups are created by the organisational affiliates of BJP-RSS to hide the real identity of the people behind such episodes.
It was reassuring though, that the local administration of Gurugram took a very pragmatic approach which did not allow these organisations to ratchet up the issue any further and aggravate the crisis.
It is obvious that the agenda of such manufactured controversies and fabricated issues goes much deeper. Offering of Friday prayer by Muslims on vacant spaces has been going on across many cities and regions since the time nobody now remembers. It was part of India’s daily chore of life. Without any loud chanting of religious text or show, the Namaz was seen as a routine affair which did enjoy a certain level of solemnity.
Suddenly, it has been turned into an issue with repercussions for ‘national security’ and ‘show of strength’ by Muslims etc. Use of public spaces for innumerable kinds of religious and social events is quite common. Every other day, Jagaran, Langar, Puja’s of various kinds, Kanwaria Yatra, marriage feast etc. can be seen taking place on roads and other public spaces. It has never become a serious issue despite creating big nuisance to the traffic and residents living in the neighbourhood of the area. One can understand that the real purpose of such controversies is the demonization of Muslims and an attempt to restrict the civil and religious space enjoyed by them.
Politically too, the marginalisation of the Muslims has been taking place at a consistent pace. BJP has been successful in making sure that no political party today is willing to forefront the issues relating to Minorities, especially Muslims during elections or otherwise.
Congress too has come a long way since the days in 2006 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said in the meeting of National Development Council “We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably the fruits of development. These must have the first claim on resources.”
Today, this may look like an audacious statement but it is quite in line with the Indian Constitution which envisages special measures to uplift Dalits, minorities and other marginalised sections of society. Articles 25-30 contain specific provisions for religious and linguistic minorities to safeguard their interests.
Today, even the largest opposition party Congress is cautious not to be labelled as ‘Muslim’ party. Consequently, issues related to minority identity and welfare are taken up with a great deal of circumspection by even the Congress. Such a political marginalization comes against the reality that Muslims in India remain among the most backward of the social groups almost at par with Dalits or on certain parameters below it.
In an article in Indian Express on April 20 2018 ‘Myth of Appeasement’ (Muslims-socio-economic-development ) Christophe Jafferlot and Kalaiyarasan A. have pointed out that average income of Muslims is below Dalits in most of the states. Proportionately, Muslims have far less graduates than Dalits. Earlier, Sachar Committee report had brought out the stark socio-economic status of Muslims to the forefront.
Despite such clear indicators, no major political party today is willing to take up the issues of Minorities, especially Muslims on its political agenda prominently. This represents both, the new reality of Indian politics and the success of the BJP-RSS project of marginalization of the minority communities and privileging the ‘Hindu’ interest above all.
In the context of this stark political reality facing Indian Muslims, it would be pertinent to underline that they have till now remained largely untouched by Muslim identity politics. The political parties based on Muslim identity have till now only a marginal presence in the country. Muslims don’t look to parties led by Owaisi and such others who base their politics on Muslim identity.
Indian Muslims have still not hitched their bandwagon with any such political formation. It is also reflected in the fact that the impact of radicalization which is sweeping the world, including India’s immediate neighbourhood like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh is very marginal in India despite the rhetoric and propaganda to the contrary.
This shows both the maturity of the Muslims in India as well as the strong roots of India’s democracy steeled under the struggle during the freedom movement and traumatic experience of the partition.
Unfortunately, this is coming under increasing stress. As minorities come under increasing threat of physical violence the resilience of the community may snap. As the community is constantly attacked in the name of beef eating, Love Jihad and identification with Jihadis of assorted kind, they may be undergoing a silent yet dangerous transformation.
Denial of legitimate space for Muslims, be it in the public grounds of Gurugram or in the minds of the majority community, is fraught with far reaching consequences that go beyond the interest of the Muslims as it will affect the entire country.
As a friend of mine jokingly said, both the software and the hardware of Indian democracy is being attacked by a malevolent virus. Before it completely shuts down the operating system of Indian democracy, it’s time we check the spread of the virus in the body politic of the nation.