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Looking Beyond Muslim Vote-Banks: The Idea Of Community? – OpEd

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By Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay

An earlier post by this author went into the arguments by two differently oriented commentators who contended that there was nothing called the ‘Muslim vote bank’. My post developed the argument and tried tracing the evolution of the myth. I also developed an argument – that virtually no community displayed a singular political behaviour any more – that is if one accepts that at some historical moment they did vote as a single unit.

The zamana of OBCs being looked at as a composite whole has ended. Muslims earlier were also looked through the prism of social matrix. Now even MBCs cannot be said to behave uniformly when it comes to electoral choices. There however are subtle shifts extra-electoral positions when it comes to Muslims.

Over the years there have been occasions when Muslims have seemed to be articulating a pan-Indian viewpoint. This post is an exploration into this phenomenon.

Two recent incidents have focussed attention on intolerance from a section of the Muslim ‘leadership’. I am using the word leadership with quotation marks because I am not sure if the people who sparked off the controversy can claim the tag of ‘leaders’ of the community.

Jaipur and Kolkata became hotbeds of fundamentalist upsurge when calls were first given against Salman Rushdie’s participation in Jaipur Literary Festival and later organisers of the book fair were coerced into abandoning the launch of Taslima Nasreen’s autobiography.

The Rushdie episode was triggered by leaders of the Deoband Darul-Uloom who were guided by the 1988 hate campaign mounted under the leadership of one-time Indian diplomat, Syed Shahabuddin – then was at the forefront of the campaign against StanicVerses and the one who got Rajiv Gandhi to ban the book thereby enabling India to earn the dubious distinction of becoming the first nation to ban the book.

The call against Nasreen’s book was by local zealots but both Deobandis and the Kolkata hotheads managed to attract not just national limelight but international attention. The purpose was served: it showed to the world that intolerance (I am deliberately not using the word ‘radicalism’) among Muslims in India remained prevalent. Though not all sections among Muslims probably endorsed the call against Rushdie and Nasreen, no one of eminence spoke out against the zealots.

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Two years ago Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi had to beat a hasty retreat from his position that it time for Muslims to ‘move on’ in Gujarat. He was hounded out of Deoband and is probably the reason behind his critical comments in recent days against Narendra Modi. Earlier, eminent scholars like Mushirul Hasan were targeted by hard-nosed sections among Muslims in India because of striking a contrarian posture.

But beyond assertions of a handful of people there is little evidence of how the entire community has felt at the suo motu decision of a select few donning the ‘leadership cap’ and claiming to ‘speak’ on behalf of the entire community.

This is a debate that would and should go on. The media can be accused of lionising the zealots because it gives ‘good copy’. Saner elements – who also probably (or hopefully) comprise the majority – among Muslims could also why they are asked to display their nationalist and ‘secular’ loyalties time and again – quite like when Muslims were forced to display India bands during Indo-Pak cricket and hockey matches.

I hope Saleem Sinai can come back. But not at Rushdie’s beckoning!

Asian Correspondent

Asian Correspondent is an English-language liberal news, blogs and commentary online newspaper serving all of the Asia-Pacific region. The website covers asian business, politics, technology, the environment, education, new media and Asia society issues.

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