If the BJP has pandered to Hindu communalism, the SP has pandered to Muslim communalism.
The issues that the Muslims of Uttar Pradesh face are largely similar to those faced by the Hindu majority – poverty, corruption, lack of economic opportunities, bad roads, erratic electricity, lack of effective policing, judicial sluggishness and so on. However, it is often made out to be the case that only Muslims in particular are backward, as if every Hindu is well-off and no Muslim is, which is certainly not the case, and very many upper caste Hindus are also to be found working as domestic servants, drivers (our family has had Brahmin drivers from UP), labourers etc. While it is true that Muslims as a whole are indeed relatively more backward, the blame for that relative backwardness may not lie primarily with the Hindus or even the political class. Indeed, while Indian Muslims have a long scholastic history in the Sultanate and Mughal periods, it is a fact that following the Revolt of 1857 in which many Muslims had fought alongside many Hindus to restore Mughal glory, for about half a century, Muslims were largely (obviously, this doesn’t apply to each one of them) reluctant to embrace modern education offered by the British (even though many continued their traditional education, not of much relevance to the modern economy, and this was what led Sir Syed Ahmed Khan to set up the Aligarh Muslim University and campaign for modern education among Muslims), unlike Hindus, who had resolved this debate much earlier, which created a huge gap, not easy to bridge, for many Hindus subsequently became well-off, while many Muslims had remained backward, and the progeny of the well-off also were well-off, while the economically backward for generations find it difficult to come at par with the well-off. Keep religion aside, I would like the Muslim reader to ponder over whether his/her descendants are likely to be more well-off than his/her maid’s (possibly Hindu maid’s) or not. And while I believe that poverty, like terrorism, has no religion and should be seen as a purely human problem (the not-so-well-off upper caste Hindu should not be neglected just because many others in his community are well-off as compared to other communities), it is a fact that special schemes relating to Muslims’ education and employment have been launched in India by governments at the centre (including the current Modi sarkar, as you can see here and here) and in Uttar Pradesh, and yes, while there may be problems in their implementation, that is indeed an issue with very many schemes, not only those meant for the religious minorities.
There is no evidence of Muslims anywhere in India being perennial victims of discrimination at the hands of the state or society at large. I am not denying that there are some Hindus here and there with a discriminatory mindset (and while two wrongs never make either right, there are such people of many communities across the globe, not to speak of discrimination among Indian Muslims themselves on sectarian, gender and linguistic lines – for example, since the 1980s, in Aligarh Muslim University, professors who are not Sunni men don’t practically have equality of opportunity as those who are), but Indian Muslims, even in rural areas, often study alongside Hindus in the local schools. While some have suggested that Muslim-majority areas are particularly backward as compared to Hindu-majority areas, it is easy to carry out a study only of a certain section of the society and point to its woes as though those woes are exclusive only to that section and not the nation as a whole (I’ve visited Hindu-majority slums in pitiable conditions), and interestingly, a study in Uttar Pradesh revealed that regions which were backward in terms of girls’ toilets were also, in general, backward in terms of infrastructure (including boys’ toilets), for which the local panchayats/municipalities and the state government are indeed to blame, which negates the allegation of a specific gender bias, and likewise, another such study on access to schools, hospitals etc. and quality of roads can negate the allegation of communal bias, and my acquaintance Mr. Shams Tabrez from the Bhagalpur district of Bihar tells me that some Muslim-majority villages in his district are better developed than some Hindu-majority villages, which may well be true for many districts in UP too.
On the whole, Hindus and Muslims harmoniously coexist in educational institutions, workplaces etc., with very many Muslims emerging as prominent public figures in all walks of life, and the discrimination that Muslims do face in India is usually sporadic, especially on occasions like looking for accommodation (which even the Sikhs faced when Khalistani terrorism was a big issue, and without seeking to undermine the problem, the fact is that one doesn’t look for accommodation daily, and it is not as though Muslims never get to stay in Hindu-majority localities), and yes, people of many other communities are also, from time to time, slurred or maltreated based on say, the regional denomination, in the very diverse country that India is (we all know that “Bihari” is cited as a slur and so is “Madrasi”), but on the whole, a Muslim can indeed achieve great heights in India if he/she is meritorious enough and if coming from a weak economic background, has the grit to overcome all possible obstacles, as is the case with economically backward Hindus too, as examples like APJ Abdul Kalam, Lal Bahadur Shastri, RA Mashelkar, Nawazuddin Sidduqui and Irfan Pathan demonstrate, and Indian Muslims enjoy better civil liberties and security of life and property than their co-religionists in Pakistan and many other Muslim-majority countries.
Nor is it the case that only the Muslims are victims of communal riots, and to cite some relatively recent examples in Uttar Pradesh, one can point to the Jat victims of the riots in Muzaffarnagar and the Sikh victims of the riots in Sahranpur, and in terrorist attacks, most victims are usually Hindus.
In fact, even during the horrendous Hindu-Muslim riots in the Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh, Azam Khan from the Samajwadi Party allegedly had a hand from the Muslim side, with a sting operation suggesting his involvement in telling policemen to not fire at Muslim rioters, and he is accused of having provoked Muslims into rioting against Sikhs in Sahranpur as well. But the man roams free, not even facing trial, while our ‘secular intellectuals’ are only crying hoarse about how Maya Kodnani, after being convicted (among some hundreds of others in connection with the riots in Gujarat in 2002) and spending some years in jail, has been granted bail on health grounds (my point is not with respect to how much evidence is available in which case for what sentence, but whether the narrative of “Hindu riot-instigating politicians always go scot-free and Muslims are only victims, not perpetrators of riots” is true, and I believe that the issue should be ‘powerful vs. non-powerful’, ‘vote-bank politics vs. the spirit of democracy’ and so on, rather than ‘Hindu oppressors vs. Muslim oppressed’, which would actually be half-true or even false in many contexts), just as they were quick to rightly blame the SP government for the terrible condition of Muslim riot victims displaced from Muzaffarnagar in camps where some died of the cold while Akhilesh enjoyed the Saifai Mahotsav, but they did not bother to examine that the Jat riot victims too had not received their due compensation from the state, nor did they ardently condemn Azam Khan as much as they condemned Hindu politicians allegedly involved in the riots. Some intellectually honest left-liberals too have mustered the courage to point this out, one of them being Shivam Vij. To quote him–
“A prominent anti-communalism activist held a press conference last year to release a fact-finding report on the Hindu-Muslim violence in Muzaffarnagar and the adjoining areas of western Uttar Pradesh. ‘The Amit Shah effect is showing,’ she said. Throughout the press conference, she described the UP government only as ‘the administration’. When asked about the role of the ruling Samajwadi Party in the state, she merely said they also had a lot to answer for.”
“While it is true that Amit Shah had been appointed the BJP’s UP campaign chief just a few months before the violence, it was actually SP leader Azam Khan’s diktat to the police to go slow against the violence that really fuelled it.
Despite this, the secular activist could not so much as name the SP, let alone demand the resignation of Azam Khan or his chief minister.
It is not that she couldn’t see their faults, but if she started targeting them, she would be joining the BJP in doing so. This is a central problem with the liberal intellectuals trying to save secularism in India.”
And as if this was not enough, just before the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, Azam Khan tried to communalize India’s victory in the Kargil war, crediting it only to the Muslim soldiers in our army! This rightfully drew condemnation from several Indian military veterans, including those who happened to be Muslim. Thereafter, in the wake of the recent ISIS attacks in Paris, Khan, while acknowledging them as unfortunate, said it was debatable as to whether they were unjustified, given French policies in the Middle East. About him, Ramachandra Guha, a very prominent left-liberal intellectual, has opined–
“As an Indian, I think the fact that the most important Muslim leader in our most populous state is Azam Khan is a disgrace to Muslims, to Uttar Pradesh, and to India. He has a known track record in polarizing Hindus and Muslims.”
However, the Muslim-appeasing politics of the SP does not stop at a senior leader engaging in divisive talk or even allegedly fuelling violence. It has also reflected in their public policies. Akhilesh Yadav constituted special tribunals to deal with matters related to waqf property in speedy fashion, though he did not do so for heinous crimes like rape! The most brazen example of minority appeasement was the attempt at releasing all the Muslim terror suspects without trial, something fortunately disallowed by the High Court. More recently, Akhilesh Yadav sacked one of his own ministers, Ompal Nehra, for suggesting that both a Hindu temple and a mosque be constructed at the disputed site in Ayodhya with the cooperation of both Hindus and Muslims, and if Yadav thought this was an inappropriate thing to say and not in line with the SP stance when the matter is pending with the Supreme Court, that may well be justified in and of itself, but given that he has retained someone like Azam Khan on the other hand tells you something about the nature of the politics he plays.
In this regard, I would also like to highlight how favouring Muslim extremists does actually help to boost Hindu extremism, making some Hindus see Muslims as the shamelessly favoured ones. A Muslim friend of mine has recounted in a blog how he, concealing his own Muslim identity, interacted with a Hindu extremist autorickshaw-driver who complained that in a local riot in his village in UP, the police arrested the Hindu rioters but spared their Muslim counterparts, which is not surprising given the free run Muslim mobs got in the rally in Azad Maidan in Mumbai under Congress-NCP rule or more recently in Malda in West Bengal (which is not to, on the other hand, deny that Hindu extremists have also been sometimes given a free run in parts of India, but two wrongs do not make either right).
In fact, several people from UP point out that since Yadavs and Muslims form the core vote-bank of the SP, the police is often reluctant to lodge FIRs against criminals from these two communities, and indeed, the police has actually been filled with Yadavs, with allegations of cases, if registered, against Yadavs being dropped. Playing caste politics among Hindus makes it politically expedient to tilt in favour of Muslim voters, but Muslim voters themselves do not all vote for one party, with some even voting for the BJP, especially in the latest national elections, and the solution doesn’t lie in trying to consolidate Hindu votes or Muslim votes behind one party as a means of asserting religious identity, but in being united as Indians to take on problems confronting us and embracing development that is based on job creation, with good education, health care (allowing private players, especially low-cost ones, to compete in these domains) and law-and-order facilities.
In the larger picture, the SP has failed the Muslims of UP as much as it has failed the Hindus. They may have sought to shield Muslim rioters and tried to release Muslim terrorists (which is unacceptable) but didn’t care enough for the innocent riot-affected, both Hindu and Muslim. They may have instituted waqf tribunals, but they were not functional for long. Even the other schemes and the likes for the minorities floated by them have not been implemented properly as has been rightly pointed out in this article, just as many of the schemes floated for UPites in general have not been. Economic development in general hasn’t happened, which would be good for UPites, irrespective of religion. Thus, while the SP may have a generous attitude towards Muslim extremists, they have failed the ordinary Muslim of UP as much as they have failed the ordinary Hindu, and so, their or even any other party’s divisive tactics should not allow UPites to turn against each other, and Muslims must realise that the ‘secular’ parties and the very blatantly communal MIM (its leader Asaduddin Owaisi, believed to be moderate compared to his brother, hasspewed venom against Jews and Ahmedias, the latter regarding themselves as Muslims, though these two tiny minorities could have never oppressed Indian Sunnis or Shias, something those left-liberal ‘intellectuals’ portraying Muslim communalism to only always be a by-product of oppression by non-Muslims, should ponder over) are playing token games of identity politics, development necessarily being sector-dependent and holistic based on vocation and economic class, irrespective of caste or religion.