The divisive campaign for Gujarat marks a low watershed in the lives of its five million Muslims
Never in any of his election speeches did Rahul Gandhi use the M word – Muslim. He did not touch once upon the gruesome massacre of 2002 under the watch of Modi. He expressed no solidarity or anguish that Muslims in Gujarat after 2002 have been reduced to second-class citizens, denied housing in colonies of Hindus and Jains, masking their Muslim identity as auto drivers or owners of roadside restaurants and bakeries, making no claims on the government. (PTI)
This article was first published in The Hindustan Times on 18th December, 2017
In his first speech as Congress president, Rahul Gandhi described the political narrative of the BJP as the inflammatory politics of hate. The Congress by contrast, he said, would be an instrument for people of every religion and caste to dialogue with love. “They divide, we unite,” he declared. “They ignite fires, we douse them. They show anger, we show love”.
Luminous words, reflecting a welcome resolve to overcome the fear and hate spurred by the BJP with a politics of hope and love. But the Congress’ campaign in Gujarat that preceded his speech did not inspire enough confidence that the party still has the moral courage to fight the battle for a secular India that belongs equally to all. This was the first election after a long time that the Congress fought credibly, energetically and with conviction. Even in its defeat, the Congress led by Rahul Gandhi re-established itself as a party that has the capacity to fight the juggernaut of majoritarian politics led by Modi and Amit Shah.
Still, the divisive campaign for Gujarat marks a low watershed in the lives of its five million Muslim people. The campaign, and not just the final outcome, further consolidates the status of Muslims in Gujarat as second-class citizens. The political message of the campaign was of their isolation and irrelevance.
The BJP fashioned the campaign as a battle uniting Hindus across castes against their common enemy, the state’s Muslims. Virtually every campaign speech was laced with overtly toxic anti-Muslim innuendo. Muslims were identified by many hate symbols – the newly minted villain Allauddin Khilji of the Padmawati controversy joining Aurangzeb, and of course Pakistan. It was alleged that Pakistan was conspiring with the former PM and vice-president to defeat the BJP in Gujarat and install the Congress’ Ahmed Patel as chief minister. Posters mysteriously appeared two days before elections exhorting Muslims to vote for the Congress to ensure Patel becomes CM. The Congress had no such plan, but the bogeyman of a Muslim as CM installed by a Congress in cohorts with Pakistan, had been raised. None asked the key question, why should a Muslim not aspire to be the CM?
Never in any of his election speeches did Rahul Gandhi use the M word – Muslim. He did not touch once upon the 2002 riots under the watch of Modi. He expressed no solidarity or anguish that Muslims in Gujarat after 2002 have been reduced to second-class citizens, denied housing in colonies of Hindus and Jains, masking their Muslim identity as auto drivers or owners of roadside restaurants and bakeries. He did not talk of their tragedy that more than half the Muslims displaced by the carnage were never allowed to return by their Hindu neighbours. He did not acknowledge the partisan denial of public services to Muslim ghettos like Juhapara even in shining Ahmedabad.
In the 2012 election, the share of Muslims in the assembly fell to an all-time low of two, but the Congress did not seem committed to adding greatly to this tally. It gave only six Muslims tickets. The symbolism of the visit by Rahul Gandhi to 27 Hindu temples was not lost, when he did not visit even one dargah which represents the state’s syncretic traditions. When challenged about his religious identity, I wish he had declared proudly, “My grandfather was Parsi, my mother born a Catholic. I am Hindu, and I respect every faith”.
All credit to the only candidate who spoke of injustice to Muslims and was happy to stand with them in his election rallies — Jignesh Mewani. Significantly he won his seat resoundingly.
The Muslims of Gujarat may take heart when Rahul Gandhi spoke later of his resolve to fight the ‘politics devoid of kindness and truth…where people are butchered for who they are, beaten for what they believe and killed for what they eat’. But many I spoke to wished he had shown the moral courage to fight the Gujarat elections openly on this same platform, of inclusion and love.