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Wednesday, November 11, 2020
Bihar Elections: ‘Radical’ Owaisi Is Not The Problem; The Shallowness Of This Secularism Definitely Is
By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
11 November 2020
For Muslims in Bihar, the most important takeaway from the recently concluded Bihar elections is that Mr. Asaduddin Owaisi’s party, the AIMIM, was able to garner a sizable section of Muslim votes. For a party which started working in the state only in the last five years, to grab five assembly seats is no mean achievement. The significance of the fact that these seats have come from eastern Bihar, where Muslims constitute over 30 per cent of the population, has not been lost on anyone. The region is one of the least developed in Bihar. The hollow promises of governments led by Congress, the JD (U) or the RJD alienated a large section of Muslims from these parties.
AIMIM provided an alternative platform to these Muslims, a platform through which they want to air their grievances and make some positive changes in their living conditions. Not to be forgotten, the persona of Owaisi has considerable appeal amongst the Muslim youth, especially in the context of the daily attacks on Muslims and their identity. For many Muslims, Owaisi has almost become the sole spokesman given the fact that most secular parties have abdicated the responsibility of protecting the rights of Muslim citizen. It was thus a forgone conclusion that Owaisi would emerge as an important pan Indian Muslim leader.
The party’s remarkable breaking of ground in north India is now being presented as the reason why the ‘secular’ forces lost in Bihar. The accusation is that Mr. Owaisi is in cahoots with the BJP and that his party’s presence divided the Muslim vote which enabled the ruling JD (U)-BJP combine to garner a majority of seats in east Bihar. And this accusation is coming not from lay people but well respected secular intellectuals and so called secular parties. However, these allegations have no merit. One cannot stop any party from contesting any election from anywhere that particular party deems fit. The AIMIM is therefore well within its rights to contest from anywhere.
The real reason why these secular parties are blaming Owaisi is because they are threatened that Muslims have now found a new alternative in Bihar. They are nervous because they know that this experiment can be replicated elsewhere, like in states of West Bengal or Uttar Pradesh. Over the years, these secular parties have treated Muslims as their captive vote banks. Without doing an iota for their development, they were certain to get their votes by pointing to the danger of Hindu right takeover of the polity and society. Muslims are definitely worried at such a prospect, but there is a limit to their patience. They have heard the secular silences when Muslims were being periodically lynched; they have noted how these parties continue to remain silent when Muslim youths are being picked up on trumped up charges. And hence they see nothing wrong in experimenting with Owaisi’s party. They are aware that one Mr. Owaisi cannot change their fortunes, but take solace in the fact that at least he has spoken consistently in defence of Muslim rights. Additionally, the presence of AIMIM has given Muslims a chance to bargain better with all parties who earlier used to take them for granted.
A spokesperson of the Congress party accused Mr. Owaisi of spreading ‘radicalization’ amongst Muslims. But such fantastic ideas are not the monopoly of Congress party alone. Such ideas, exhibited routinely, have become part of the secular common sense. Thus, the very distinguished anti-Congress activist, Yogendra Yadav, had no hesitation in saying that he was worried and troubled by the rise of Mr. Owaisi’s party. We all know radicalization breeds in an atmosphere of alienation. One of the reasons why Indian Muslims have not become radical is because the political process gives them ample opportunity to get involved, vent their frustration and attempt to change things. What the AIMIM is simply doing is giving hope to Muslims that change is possible through political process. This is not walking on the path of radicalization; it is rather deepening the process of democracy which is the very antidote to radicalization. And Mr. Yadav certainly has all the reasons to be worried because with the AIMIM, Muslims are trying to become their own voice. This must be deeply troubling for the likes of Mr. Yadav as over the decades, they have become used to representing Muslim concerns, even without being asked to do so. And that is the sole problem of these so called secular forces with AIMIM: that it will give political agency to Muslims.
The Congress should be the last to accuse the AIMIM of working on the agenda of BJP. After all, it is the original party of Hindu majoritarianism. From opening of the locks of the Babri mosque and sleeping when it was being demolished to forming government with an anti-Muslim party in Maharashtra, the Congress has enabled anti-Muslim rhetoric to take root in this country. And yet, despite killing scores of minorities, it has the gall to call itself a secular party. It was only a matter of time when Muslims would have called out this bluff. And they are doing now by aligning themselves with a party whose agenda is socio-economic development.
Certainly one can have differences with the political grammar of AIMIM. Its’ position on issues like triple Talaq make it amply clear that they are not a progressive party; neither have they factored in the question of caste when it comes to Muslim politics, especially in Bihar. However, this does not mean that it can be blamed for arresting the ‘victory’ of the secular forces. If these secular forces were really serious about defeating the Hindu right, then why did they not concede to the demands of the Mr. Owaisi and made his party a part of the grand alliance? Why is it that only Muslims have to give up their legitimate rights in order to uphold secularism? These are questions which must now be answered by any party which wants Muslim votes.