Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s decision to re-examine the cases of jailed Muslims chargesheeted for terrorism is the latest example of how “secular” parties communalise society for narrow political ends. The poorer Muslims are, the easier it is for parties like the SP to bank their votes. Muslim intellectuals and public figures rarely challenge such regressive politics. They must not be afraid to speak up. Real secularism is about keeping religion out of public life and not undermining the due process of law. 

Poverty and alienation have created an underclass of young Muslims who are driven to lives of crime, especially in states like Uttar Pradesh where Muslims comprise over 19% of the population. Statistically, the number of Muslims convicted (not simply accused) of terrorism and other crimes is far higher than the community’s ratio in the general population. The principal culprit: politicians who wrap their communal, divisive policies in sham secularism. They promise Muslims job quotas and other sops but keep them mired in poverty. They harm the cause of Muslims while masquerading as their protectors. The result: a community’s alienation from the mainstream and a sense of victimhood. 

In India, educated Muslims and liberal Hindus fall easy prey to the minority-as-victim narrative. They endorse a fraudulent secularism which widens, not narrows, communal cleavages. Such well-intentioned secularists do more harm than good to the cause of ordinary Muslims who have been frozen in poverty and social backwardness for over 60 years by this patronising, counterfeit brand of secularism.  

Islam in India is almost as old as Islam itself. The first Muslim traders, armies and prosletysers trekked over the Khyber pass to the subcontinent in the seventh century – from Basra in Iraq, Hormuz in Persia and through the land route of northern Khurasan to Kabul.  

But it was only during Emperor Akbar’s reign in the 16th century that the Sufi tradition of Islam embraced the tolerant civilisational ethos of Hinduism. The British replaced the decaying Mughal Empire and created new cleavages between India’s communities. Given this history, it is not difficult for unscrupulous political and religious leaders to whip up communal sentiment, where none would normally exist, to serve their narrow electoral ends.  

Instead of encouraging integration, counterfeit secularists have encouraged “communal separateness” which harms both Indian society and Muslims themselves. Political parties are merciless in exploiting religion to scavenge political advantage wherever they can.  

Like fairweather ally SP, the Congress has appeased Muslims for decades. Of the 28.55% national voteshare (and 207 seats) it received in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, Muslims accounted for around a third. The balance Muslim vote was split among regional parties. Some of these are Congress allies within the UPA coalition (the NC in J&K, the NCP in Maharashtra, the TMC in West Bengal and the MIM in Andhra Pradesh) while others like the SP in Uttar Pradesh provide outside support. Despite these parties promising Muslims jobs and development for decades, the community remains desperately poor, segregated in socio-economic ghettos.  

The Congress, SP, NCP and other “secular” parties which win significant Muslim votes, have little interest in educating Muslims or improving their economic condition. If they did, they would have by now implemented far more of the recommendations of the 2006 Rajinder Sachar and 2007 Ranganath Mishra Commission reports. They know that the educated Muslim will ask them uncomfortable questions about development at the time of elections. An educated voter is anathema to most politicians, especially those wedded to appeasement rather than advancement of a community. In poverty, the Muslim is a bankable vote. In enlightenment, he is not.  

Indian politicians have done a grievous wrong to the cause of Muslims by treating them as votes rather than a minority needing education and empowerment. Tokenism masquerading as secularism now stands thoroughly discredited. Liberal Muslims and Hindus must in one voice condemn political parties which preach secularism but practise communalism. They are the real threats to a plural, peaceful and prosperous India. 

Follow @minhazmerchant on twitter

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