What's wrong about thinking communally?

Ask any adivasi. Ask any madrasi. As a nation we seem largely incapable of living with diversity, which is odd considering there is no other nation in the world with such a wealth of diversity 

Mohan Guruswamy Delhi 

I must be missing something. I looked at Shazia Ilmi's "communal" video. I really think we must see things in their context too. She is not asking for votes for the Jamat or Majlis. She is soliciting support for the AAP, which is not by even any touch of the sun a communal party. She is saying that Muslims have for far too long been voting for the Congress without thinking of their own interests. (This can be debated, but someplace else.) It’s time that they think of themselves first, meaning pursuing their legitimate interests. When she says that Muslims must think "communally" meaning in their interests. But there is no doubt that she is pitching for the AAP. The particular candidate she is pitching for, Meera Sanyal, is not a Muslim. None of the AAP candidates in Bombay is a Muslim. Her party president is not a Muslim. Even Shazia’s husband is not a Muslim.

She has used the words “communal” and “secular” in the commonly misunderstood sense of the words. To be secular is to be a skeptic about religion and belief in God and all the scrambled thinking that goes with their contemplation. To be secular is to be rational. We have for long misusing this word to mean tolerance. You can be tolerant by quietly suffering all the nonsense that goes on around with the stated purpose of saving our souls and to point it in the right direction when the time comes. To be communal is entirely something else. It means having communitarian values. But more about it later. 

When Shazia says, “be communal”, she is saying think of your quam. Now quam means both the ummah and the nation. She is seen exhorting Muslims to be “communal” which in this context means, quam, to vote in their self-interest. In other words, in the interest of the quam. Muslims are a distinct and substantial minority in India, and what’s wrong if they have to think in their own collective interests? The facts are that Muslims, by and large, have got a raw deal in the development of this country. Even as I write, the once venerable Times of India’s New Delhi edition, now that the elections here are over, is carrying a series of articles that narrate in nauseating detail how Muslim mohalla’s have fared while the rest of Delhi has raced ahead. I would have thought better of my daily newspaper if it had carried this series before Delhi voted. 

Muslims in India are mostly ghettoized. That once comrade in arms of Narendra Modi, Pravin Togadia, is now trying to prevent a Muslim homeowner into his recently purchased house in Bhavnagar, because he is a Muslim. He wants him to go back to his ghetto. So why shouldn’t a Muslim think in his or her quam’s self interest? If you want Muslims to think in terms of the larger collective interest you will need to first get them out of their kasbahs, mohallas and ghettos, and treat them as one of us. The fact is that we don’t do that with anybody. Ask any northeasterner. Ask any adivasi. Ask any madrasi. As a nation we seem largely incapable of living with diversity, which is odd considering there is no other nation in the world with such a wealth of diversity. 

But how is her message communal, in the colloquially understood sense of the word? If these interests are served by voting for the BJP, as many Muslims do, so be it. There is nothing wrong if Muslims vote as a group. Farmers do. Doctors do. Some Hindus do. Hindi haters do. Muslim haters do. Ex-servicemen do. Industrialists do. (Look at them falling over each other fawning over Modi.) Shopkeepers do. Dalits do. Adivasis do. We all do because we all also have some smaller identities under the Indian umbrella also. 

The BJPs appeal is quite vocally sectarian. The Alkalis are a sectarian party. The UP and Biharparties are entirely caste based. And their leaders target followings with distinct messages. And so what’s wrong if someone says that Muslims must vote in their interests and “think communally” while doing so. 

Incidentally, the word communal is misused in India. To be communal is to think of society as a whole. According to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Communalism is a term with two distinct meanings: (1) "a theory of government or a system of government in which independent communes participate in a federation"; (2) "the principles and practice of communal ownership". Politically, communalists advocate a stateless, classless, decentralized society consisting of a network of directly democratic citizens' assemblies in individual communities/cities organized in a confederal fashion. 

The word we want or don't want is Sectarian. Sectarianism is bigotry, discrimination, or hatred arising from attaching importance to perceived differences between different denominations of a religion, or religions or sects. The underlying basis of these differences is invariably theological or ecumenical. 

"The ideological underpinnings of attitudes and behaviors labeled as sectarian are extraordinarily varied. Members of a religious or political group may believe that their own salvation, or the success of their particular objectives, requires aggressively seeking converts from other groups; adherents of a given faction may believe that for the achievement of their own political or religious project their internal opponents must be converted or purged."

To be sectarian is to think on the basis of professed religion. The VHP is sectarian. The RSS is sectarian. The Bajrang Dal is sectarian. The MIM is sectarian. The Jamat is sectarian. The Muslim League is sectarian. The Akali Dal is sectarian. I wouldn't mind it one bit of these crazies became more communal and espoused more communalism.