'What we are seeing is the Modi-isation of Congress’
Book: AZADI’S DAUGHTER : JOURNEY OF A LIBERAL MUSLIM
Author: Seema Mustafa
Eminent journalist Seema Mustafa speaks about her new book and the Rightwing-communal shift in Indian politics
Sadiq Naqvi and Souzeina Mushtaq Delhi
In your recent book, Azadi’s Daughter, you describe yourself as a liberal Muslim. What constitutes a liberal Muslim in today’s India?
I think it has changed a lot. Liberal is not a very good word but for want of another description, we have used it. There is some hesitancy about using the word. Some people say either you are a Muslim or you are not. The liberal acquires a meaning which means that probably you are not accepting religiosity in the conventional sense, you are not letting your worldviews be dictated by a certain belief, you are questioning the interpretation of that belief, you believe in rights of human beings, including rights of women. You take progressive positions rather than radical reactions. So, all sorts of coming together become liberal.
Have perceptions changed?
Communalism, instead of becoming less in society, has grown. In my early years in journalism, I was never conscious that I had a Muslim name. As I moved further into journalism, I felt that my identity as a Muslim often became the first identity and journalism second, and that was very difficult to get used to. That change began after the demolition of the Babri Mosque when the communal forces of this country got a new impetus and the State’s will to fight them became weaker, and weaker, and weaker.
So you believe that the State has moved to a communal trajectory?
Yes. The Congress, under Gandhi and Nehru, had a left of centre progressive ideas. It moved towards the centre. Now, it is very distinctively right of centre.
Why did this happen?
The fact is that political parties and political capability have become so weak; the politician himself is being drawn from society which is ignorant, prejudiced, without a vision. The stature of the politician becomes smaller and smaller. The ability to counter communal violence requires a vision, a resolve, political will, which the politician of today doesn’t have.
Real consciousness in the Congress that there is something like consolidation of the Hindu vote became a reality in the 1984 elections after Indira Gandhi’s assassination when thousands of Sikhs were butchered. The RSS and Congress worked in tandem — the leadership was Congress, RSS provided the cadres. They worked across the country to consolidate Hindu votes.
In UP — I covered the first election after the Babri Masjid demolition — we found this consolidation taking place. The RSS decided that they are not going to vote for the BJP; they will work for the Congress and help consolidate them. The whole character of the Congress changed because it too started looking for the consolidation of the majority vote. Every position it takes, it looks for that consolidation. It has got worried that if it doesn’t the BJP will do it.
At the moment, what we are seeing is the Modi-isation of the Congress. The media is projecting Narendra Modi as larger than life; the Congress, because it is made of low-calibre politicians, feels that this might be the truth and perhaps that will happen.
Basically, they are not ready for a head-on confrontation with him.
Confrontation in politics does not have to be head-on. It has to be continuous, constant, in the form of a campaign. He should have been challenged at his own home ground. Before the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, before thousands of Muslims were killed, Modi was on the verge of losing the elections. It is such a tragedy that you kill 2/3,000 people and you become a big man, and then, on that bigness, you talk about development. The Congress should have challenged him there and then. It is unfortunate that Rahul Gandhi or Congress leaders, none of them were campaigning in Gujarat. If they really want Rahul to lead this country, then the campaign against communalism should have begun from the streets of Ahmedabad. This has not happened.
You have discussed in your book how Muslims are under-represented…
There is a huge bias. There was a time when this bias, if it would show itself, could have been challenged. The Sachar Committee report was a manifestation. It speaks volumes that the Congress government has not implemented its recommendations. This shows an institutional bias.
What is your opinion about the political positions of the CPI(M) and parliamentary Left parties?
Parliamentary Left parties have some problem with identity politics. They are finding it difficult to resolve that problem in their minds. That confusion is still visible in their reactions to larger issues. There is turmoil, a churning; my fear is that, despite that churning, they will again go back to their old position which is not going to answer the challenges we are facing. You cannot secularise everything to a point that you do not mention that most of the people who are being arrested today are Muslims. It is a religion that is under attack now — how do you deal with it? It is alright as long as it is caste, you can deal with it. Dalits are attacked, ostracised, persecuted. But the minute it moves into religion, there is a difficulty. And that difficulty has to be resolved because that is the truth. Indian Muslims, particularly boys, are being targetted in the name of terrorists in different states; that has to be faced head-on. This is the communal response of the State. We can’t brush it off.
We have a State and society which is not tolerating any dissent. So how does one deal with this growing intolerance?
When this girl in Delhi was raped, everybody started talking about mindsets. They are talking of a mindset where you beat your girls, wives, discriminate against your women, where you have female foeticide, dowry deaths. My thinking is from a political perspective. There is nothing like the goodness of man. We all are good because there are laws and social norms governing us. The decline happens when the State becomes weak and the implementation of law becomes faulty — I mean gender laws, I am not talking of POTA, TADA, and so on.
Yes. The State has to crack down, there has to be better policing, it has to make sure that laws are implemented… So when you have a State which doesn’t act against communal forces or the perpetrators of communal crimes, when you have a State which looks the other way and makes a difference between Owaisi and Togadia, then, obviously, the basic communal instincts of man are going to come out as legitimate…
The media doesn’t listen to the secularist. Even when there is a debate, they bring one extremist from the Hindu community, another extremist from the Muslim community, sometimes they bring a secularist who they shut down, and then get these two voices speaking. So the secular liberal discourse is gradually being shifted out of society completely. This is dangerous.
Do you think this is fuelling fundamentalists on this side? Are Muslims getting radicalised?
I don’t think Muslims are getting radicalised, but fundamentalists, yes. There is fundamentalism but I don’t think it has increased among Muslims. The Jamaat-e-Islami used to be a stronger force in the 1980s than it is today. I am not talking about Kashmir, but about the rest of India. So I don’t know if Muslims have got more radicalised. You have the Owaisis but then the Owaisis always exist in society. Earlier, there was an aggression. Now, they are not aggressive. In the communal violence that got covered at that time, you had Jamaat and RSS working in tandem to consolidate their constituencies. Today you have Gujarat — without the Jamaat.