Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Secularism subverted

Pandering to minority communalism for votes is sheer cynical opportunism. Both Congress and the Left are guilty of it.

The mad race by so-called secular parties to grab the Muslim vote-bank is resulting in absurd situations. In Kerala, for instance, Hindus, who constitute 56 per cent of the State population, have been reduced to a minority in the State’s Cabinet, following the recent addition of a Muslim member to the Council of Ministers.

Recently, the leader of the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front gave in to the Muslim League’s pressure, just as the party has done before, and allowed the League an additional Minister over the four they already had. Consequently, there are now six Muslim Ministers, including one from the Congress. Chief Minister Oomen Chandy is a Christian.

For over a year, the Congress had been resisting the League’s demand to grab the fifth Cabinet position. But the party suffered considerable erosion of its representation in the UDF, as the Muslim League and the Christian parties got almost all their candidates elected in last year’s Assembly polls that saw the Marxist led-LDF ousted from power.

The UDF’s majority is slim and this has made the leading parties in the ruling coalition cautious. The League had stuck to its demand for five Ministers (all Cabinet rank) right from the start. As part of the UPA at the Centre, the League already has representation at the level of Minister of State, with  senior leader E Ahamed as Minister of State for External Affairs.

The capitulation by the Congress to the League’s demand after some initial resistance exposes the growing power of the Muslim community — now placed firmly behind the Muslim League in Kerala politics. Several decades ago, Jawaharlal Nehru had proclaimed that the Muslim League was a “dead horse”. Today, the growing clout, both economic and political, of the party in Kerala, has made it a dominant constituent of the State’s ruling coalition. The rise of the Muslim community has in effect been facilitated by its partnership with the Congress in the UDF.

The national context in which the Congress has been looking for opportunities to appease the minority communities to retain them their vote-bank has also helped the League. As a UDF partner, the League has forced the imposition of Arabic as a second language which is compulsorily taught in all schools, even when a handful of students demand it.

Muslim leaders have also kept close contact with political leaders in the Gulf countries. Often, they use their religious affiliation to secure jobs and businesses in the Gulf in lieu of votes from the beneficiaries. As a result, a majority of the 10 billion plus dollars that come to Kerala have been benefitting the Muslim community alone, and this is visible even to the casual visitor.

The Muslims League’s economic and political clout has also led to extremist politics and the proliferation of terror groups within that State. Earlier, the Marxist led-Left Democratic Front sought to placate the community by turning a blind eye to extremism and even supporting extremist organisations like  the PDF of Abdul Nasser Madani, who is now in jail in Karnataka for his role in  bombing the Chinnaswamy stadium. He is also suspected to be behind several other incendiary incidents in Kerala. Yet, both the UDF and the LDF have shown great reluctance in prosecuting him.

Today, terrorist outfit SIMI’s new avatar, the Indian Mujahideen, is running riot in the State. They are reportedly giving Gulf money to their well-groomed and heeled young men, selected and trained by the IM. These young men then court girls from other communities. This activity is known widely in the State as ‘love jihad’.

To be fair, the Congress is not the only party competing for the Muslim vote-bank. The Marxists have their eyes on it too. Under the Marxist-led LDF’s rule, the police were informally ordered to let extremism flourish. That is how the training camps set up by the IM were allowed to function even after the police got wind of them. T Naseer, one of the IM leaders and allegedly the man behind several terrorist activities, was allowed to escape from police custody after he was caught from his hideout. He was finally arrested by Bangladesh Police and handed over to the Indian authorities. There are several instances of top Marxist leaders, including CPI(M) State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and former Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan having secret dealings with absconding criminals holed up in Dubai. These were exposed by the media in the State, and led  the party to launch counter attacks against the newspapers, charging them with being CIA agents.

It is interesting to note that, in secular India a non-Hindu can be the Chief Minister of a Hindu majority State. But a similar privilege is denied to a Hindu in a non-Hindu majority State. Take, for instance, Jammu & Kashmir, where there is a substantial Hindu population in the Jammu region and a Buddhist population in the Ladakh region. Yet, no non-Muslim can ever hope to become Chief Minister of the State. It is the same story in the Christian-dominated States of Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram.

The recent Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh has exposed the competition among different, ‘secular’ parties for the Muslim vote-bank. Even before the garlands around newly elected Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has wilted, he has come under pressure from the Muslim clerics for their share of the electoral booty. This is evident in the tussle between the party’s powerful Muslim face, Mr Azam Khan, and the Delhi-based Muslim cleric, Shahi Imam Bukhari.

The political drama between the Marxists and the Congress, competing for the Muslim vote-bank, has been repeated in West Bengal also. During the Marxist rule, the Bengali author from Dhaka, Taslima Nasreen, was hounded out of Kolkata. We are also familiar with the Congress’s dubious role in the Salman Rushdie episode that led the author to abort his visit to the Jaipur Literary festival held at the same time that the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election was on.

Now West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is also in the queue to play this vote-bank politics. Recently, her Government organised a massive conference of Imams in Kolkata, where she announced monthly stipends for them to be paid from Government funds.

In Tamil Nadu, it is public knowledge that Government power is used by both the DMK and its political rival, the AIADMK, to confiscate temple funds and positions, and then use them for promoting their brand image.

This is the type of secularism that India must now suffer, with the Congress taking the lead. Against this brand of so-called secularism, how does one define rank communalism? Are the two any different?

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