Challenges and The Way Forward for Indian Muslims
(Special to India Tomorrow)
MUMBAI, AUGUST 14—Christophe Jaffrelot feels that CAA-NRC is the biggest challenge for Indian Muslims, in the short term, and education in mid and long run.
He says that Muslims are among the social categories along with SCs, STs and OBCs, where you don't find birth Certificate of children under 5. “It will be very difficult to prove Citizenship. It will be a challenge primarily in Assam as also Elsewhere”, he points out.
The international community, in February 2020, for the first time, reacted to the amendments in citizenship rules, creating problems for the Muslims. “Whether it will have an impact or not remain to be seen”, he says.
Education, in the mid-term and long run, is the major challenge for Indian Muslims, opined Christophe Jaffrelot. What is troubling is the educated and elite Muslims are shrinking very quickly in India, noted Christophe Jaffrelot. He said, “Every community needs elite, young educated elites. They can somewhat change the course of history, the trajectory of the community because they are better placed than anybody to take care of these issues.”
Citing data, he said, only 14 per cent of Muslim youth have done graduation in 2017-18 as against 18 per cent for Dalits and 25 per cent Hindu OBCs and 37 per cent of the Hindu upper casts.
More worrying, he said, is that “31 per cent per cent Muslim youths who are between the age group of 15 and 24, neither have access to education nor in jobs.”
This means almost one-third of Muslim youths are jobless and without any access to higher education.
Hindutva Politics in India akin to Jewish politics in Israel
When asked that all the political parties have abandoned Muslims as Hindutva become the ideological baseline of politics, he said, "This is exactly the Israeli Trajectory. In the past, there was a Labour Party, a leader Mr. Yitzak Rabin, the fifth Prime Minister of Israel, who was for peace and equality between Israelites. It was to be the dominant party, secular and progressive but gradually receded in the background. Gradually, under Ariel Sharon especially, "the fear of the other" of Muslims, of Arabs, of neighboring countries, fear of Iran has become so strong that there was no room left for peace between Communities.
Today, the dominant discourse in Israeli politics is security-oriented. Politics played a role and polarisation became the strategy of the Likud party. Likud set the tone. You became illegitimate if you wanted to speak for Palestinians.
“The same thing may happen in India. There may be a time when nobody will dare to say that "Hindutva is not Hinduism", Hindu Nationalism is not Indian Nationalism, because the fear of the other has become so pervasive, the fear of Pakistan, the fear of Islam is the Only Game in town for the Hindutva Politics and if you don't indulge in this discourse, then you will be illegitimate”, comments Jaffrelot.
According to him, the alternative will be to shift from the identity politics to the socio-economic issues, to change the words and the parameters, to shift identity politics to interest-based politics.
With the crisis that India is in now, will result in this shift? “it's too early to say. But if identity politics will be the order of the day, it will be very difficult to have an alternative discourse to Hindutva politics”, he warns.
According to Jaffrelot, Electoral competition led to this “Otherisation of Muslims.” How do you polarize? “By making the other, a threat to your identity”, he said.
When the BJP could mobilize voters by polarizing, they will. They could polarise in many different ways. To mobilize people on Ayodhya issue was one of them, to engineer riots is another one. In whatever way, they operated, whatever issue they raised, was primarily the electoral strategy and they made it work.
India is a de facto ethnic democracy
Why Christophe Jaffrelot does not feel that India is an Ethnic Democracy because the Constitution of India is still secular, unlike Israel which is a Jews State by its constitution.
He has used Lok Sabha and state Assembly data to prove the process of discrimination, marginalization and exclusion of Muslims. No mainstream parties are prepared to give tickets for elections to Muslims today. He concluded, “At best, we can say that India is going in that direction and has become a de facto ethnic democracy and not de jure.”
The rise of Muslim parties like AIMIM & AIUDF
In Maharashtra, Asaduddin Owaisi led AIMIM and Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar caused Congress and NCP to lose 20 to 25 seats in the last assembly elections. Muslims do not consider that Congress represents them well but if they move to Muslim parties, then they will further weaken the Congress.
"That is the dilemma," he said. This dilemma can only be solved if you look at the state level and constituency level and that your priority has to be clear. If your priority is to defeat the BJP candidate then you have to find out who is the stronger candidate to defeat and it may not be from the Muslim party.
Political Alliance of Dalits & Muslims
Dalits and Muslims are not so close now politically because of the two things. He said. “One because BJP was very good at using Sanskritisation mechanism for attracting Dalits and second, the reservation is the paradoxical mechanism.” In most of the states, few Dalit sub-casts have cornered most of the quotas. For example, Jatavs have cornered most of the SC quotas, alienating small Dalit Jatis, Valmikis, and Khatiks and so on. BJP has been very good at attracting these groups which are so resentful vis-a-vis BSP, vis-a-vis party representing the winners of reservations.
It is a very important point that the poorest Dalits are behind the BJP today. To ally with the Muslims are not in their agenda at the moment” he added. So, there are many reasons why in terms of identity but also in terms of interest, many Dalits will not turn to Muslims.
The new middle class in Muslims
Anti-CAA agitation for Christophe Jaffrelot was very revealing. The emergence, crystallization, of the middle class, that had been rather apolitical till then. Executives, salaried people had not indulged in politics so far to some extent. He said, “The CAA agitations showed that they were prepared to demonstrate, to go to the street and that is probably the most important development.
Among them, women, have played an amazing part. In this anti-CAA movement, we have seen many Muslim women at the forefront, not only young but all kinds of women. He appreciated the fact that "the education level of Muslim women is not bad at all and it is in stark contrast to that of the stereotype of Muslim women.”
Rise of the middle class is a ray of hope and the politicisation of Muslim middle class may help not only politically but also socially. He said, “Unity among all kinds of lines among Muslims, class, casts, and sects is the key”.
Internationalization of Indian Muslim issues
On the question of pleading in the international court, Christophe Jaffrelot said, “Internationalization of Indian Muslims is far-fetched. He said, “We have to follow closely the steps that have already been taken.”
Michelle Bachelet Jeria, UN Human Rights Commissioner is looking at this issue. It is not a UN court it's a UN commission. She is more approachable than any court and a much more realistic step.
Foreign countries are also watching developments in India closely. US Congress has started to study, every year, what kind of freedom of religion was available in India. The report that made to Congress is every year, more disturbing. So never underestimate the role of US Congress in American democracy.
Then the European Union, especially the European Parliament is following what's going on in India, very closely.
Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE
Interestingly, Modi tried to get closer to these countries, of course, to get business and investment from there and secondarily to isolate Pakistan from these countries. However, that is boomeranging. UAE and IOC are protesting against the way the Jammu & Kashmir issue has been dealt with.
International media is very active. New York Times, Washington Post, the Economist, they do a great job.