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Only Left’s Solidarity of Lower Classes Can Help India’s Muslims

Ajaz Ashraf |
Karat’s solitary act of courage halted the Hindutva demolition squad in Jahangirpuri. Muslims, and other minorities, must recognise who stands up for them—and who will not.
Brinda Karat

It was inarguably among the most mesmerising moments of the last eight years: The 74-year-old Brinda Karat, a politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), waving the court order before the bulldozer as it recklessly and callously sought to flatten shacks and crush push-carts in Jahangirpuri, a Delhi working-class quarter where Hindus and Muslims have lived in harmony. 

Karat’s solitary act of courage brought the Hindutva demolition squad to a grinding halt. It also brought into play the Supreme Court’s order staying the demolition in Jahangirpuri. Most newspapers justifiably highlighted Chief Justice of India NV Ramana’s role in stopping the wanton destruction undertaken at the Bharatiya Janata Party’s behest.

Yet, at the same time, most newspapers blanked out or underplayed Karat’s role. If you had not seen the TV or received WhatsApp forwards, you would not have even known Karat even visited Jahangirpuri. So much for the journalism that claims to be courageous!

But that moment in Jahangirpuri, of Karat stepping before the bulldozer, is not only for journalists to reflect upon their biases. It is also the moment for Muslims to ponder whether the time has come for them to chant Lal Salam, Lal Salam, that stirring Red Salute greeting.

A comparison of Karat’s action with the response of the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress will have Muslims realise how they have been betrayed by those two parties, which between themselves bag almost all Muslim votes in Delhi. You could, obviously, blame their indolence and unimaginative politics for their failure to come to Jahangirpuri’s rescue.

AAP’s duplicity

But the real reason why the AAP and the Congress are so reluctant to stand up for Muslims is that the two parties fear their action could alienate Hindus. At the same time, both are also confident of bagging Muslim votes, believing the community’s fear of the BJP coming to power would leave them with no option but support the party best placed to crush the Lotus in any electoral contest, be it for the Lok Sabha, the Assembly or even the municipality.

“They voted us out of their own compulsion,” a smug senior AAP leader told me after the party swept the 2020 Delhi Assembly election.

His thinking was manifest in AAP’s response to the Jahangirpuri violence, which occurred following the chanting of incendiary slogans before a mosque during a Hanuman Jayanti procession. Three AAP leaders—Sanjay Singh, Raghav Chadha and Atishi Singh—said hooliganism and violence will stop in India only after Home Minister Amit Shah’s house and the BJP headquarters are demolished. Their criticism ostensibly signifies courage but is essentially loose talk, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

Lest even this loose talk alienates Hindus, the three AAP leaders linked the occurrence of communal violence in India to the presence of Rohingya and Bangladeshi Muslims. They accused the BJP of settling them in certain areas, which they claimed are precisely the places vulnerable to communal violence. According to government figures, there are 14,000-Rohingyas in India. Security agencies, however, estimate them to be around 40,000.

Can their presence explain the countrywide rioting during Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti processions? No.

At one stroke, then, AAP leaders demonised Muslims and implicitly accused them of taking the BJP’s order to trigger communal skirmishes. This is what can be called a balancing act, once a tried and tested Congress strategy of trying to mean something to everyone. The AAP trio’s attack on Shah was to appease Muslims. Their mention of Rohingya and Bangladeshi Muslims was designed to mollify Hindus.

Indeed, so similar was the criticism of the three AAP leaders, you cannot but believe that the line came from their leader Arvind Kejriwal. But Kejriwal will not speak on Hindu-Muslim fracas, just as Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not on the violence perpetrated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its affiliates. 

Worse, Pawan Kumar Sharma, the AAP MLA of Adarsh Nagar constituency, of which Jahangirpuri is a part, visited its citizens a good one day after the Supreme Court and Karat stopped the bulldozer from running amuck. His delay in reaching out to Jahangirpuri’s citizens, Hindus and Muslims alike, ensures nobody can accuse him of taking sides in the violence.

Congress: Better late than first

A Congress delegation, too, arrived at Jahangirpuri a day late, perhaps with the same motive as the AAP MLA. Congress leaders, following in the footsteps of their leader Rahul Gandhi, mistake activism on social media for activism on the ground. It has been playing the soft Hindu card in the mistaken belief that it could neutralise Hindutva, a line most non-BJP parties have been assiduously pursuing in north India.

The soft Hindu card of the Congress has historical antecedents. For instance, the laws invoked by the BJP to torment Muslims were framed under Congress rule, whether pertaining to a ban on the slaughter of cows or conversion or the dreadful Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. And, obviously, the party’s role in fomenting the 1984 pogrom against Sikhs is the blood-soaked chapter in our republic’s history. 

Left is the choice

The hypocrisy of parties is why Muslims should turn to the Left. They cannot expect a Brinda Karat to emerge from other parties who would come to their assistance. True, Muslims have been taught to distrust the Communists as they are atheists and, therefore, opposed to people following any religion. This erroneous and simplistic view apart, it is better to side with the atheists who have not lost their humanity than the devout whose idea of religiosity is to slash and burn. 

Kerala’s Muslims, who constitute nearly 27% of the state’s population, shifted in large numbers to the Left in the last Assembly elections, prompting the Indian Union Muslim league to think of deserting the Congress-led front. 

The Left’s emphasis on class politics suits Muslims well, for they lag behind other communities on most socio-economic indicators. It is only the solidarity of lower classes that can be a panacea for Muslims, given that political parties anchored among the Other Backward Classes and Dalits have frittered away their chance of doing so.

Critics will point to the Rajinder Sachar Committee report to argue that Muslims did not prosper under the Left rule in West Bengal. The Sachar report was indeed a significant factor behind the Left’s downfall there. Yet the same critics have forgotten that Mamata Banerjee’s alliance with the BJP was how it got a toehold in the state, vividly described in this paper by academician Pralay Kanungo. There is nothing to suggest that the Left would not have learnt from its mistakes.

In an era when Muslims have become sitting ducks for the Sangh’s politics of violence and most political parties are reluctant to even come to their rescue, the community has to look for other political options from a long-term perspective. There is, obviously, a clutch of Muslim parties for the community to consider. Yet they can never secure a percentage of votes of Hindus in the atmosphere of intense communal polarisation. 

This is why the Left would be an attractive proposition for them.

But the Left cannot become an attractive proposition until Communist parties, and myriad outfits break out of the mould of contesting elections in just a handful of constituencies outside Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura. It is for them to figure out how they can set aside the straitjacket.

The traditional Left’s method is to acquire heft through socio-political movements and the laborious task of raising cadres. This is why Muslims must step forward and court even those Communist outfits which keep away from elections. They must break bread with them. Only the Communists can provide the safety net for Muslims, not the parties which are so adept at taking their votes and betraying them.

MS Golwalkar, the second chief of the RSS, identified Muslims, Christians and Communists as the internal enemies of India. Golwalkar’s terrifying vision should prompt the two communities to band with the Communists. In the last eight years, it is largely they whom the Modi government has tossed into prison under the UAPA, denying them bail and showing no tearing hurry to speed up their trial. This is why Muslims should chant Allah-o-Akbar in the mosque and Lal Salam in the political arena.

The author is an independent journalist. The views are personal. 

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