Monday, July 7, 2014
Minority appeasement, a game that helps no minority. But it can cut up the country into communal bits
A. K. Antony is a politician who never ruffles a feather. His style is to speak through silences and to act through suspended animation. But suddenly he ruffled every feather in every party with a seemingly simple statement: That appeasing minorities for political gains has helped communal forces to grow. Shock waves spread across the political spectrum. The rush of protests, embarrassments and rationalisations showed that there was some truth in Antony's words. Truth hurts.
The Congress leader from Kerala was referring primarily to his party and his state. But all across the country, and for a long time, parties have been wooing religious and caste groups with special sops for winning their votes. Leaders like Mayawati and Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh have built their empires of power on such votebank bargainings. The Congress under Rajiv Gandhi took the gimmick to absurd levels. It opened the locked gates of the Babri Masjid in order to please orthodox Hindus. Then in subverted a Supreme Court judgment to please orthodox Muslims. (The Court had ruled in favour of Shahbanu, a woman illegally divorced by her husband. The Congress Government changed the law to satisfy outraged Muslim males).
Even the ideologues of the Left bowed to the presumed electoral compulsion of pleasing minorities. It was E.M.S. Namboodiripad who helped create the new district of Malappuram to please the Muslims in Kerala. In the 2011 election campaign in West Bengal, the Left offered 10 percent reservations for Muslims in government jobs and government colleges besides a string of other sops. The Trinamool Congress campaigned to raise the status of Urdu and to increase the salaries of imams. The Congress-led Maharashtra Government recently extended special reservations to Muslims and Marathas, with Sharad Pawar warmly supporting the move. The BJP itself has been cultivating sections of Muslims to show that it is even-handed. But it carries little conviction because of continuing hate speeches and hate crimes by hardcore Hindutva elements.
So Antony was raising an issue that was all-pervasive in our democracy. It cut deep because a leader from the minority segment (though not a believer) was himself criticising the appeasement of minorities. Besides, anyone could see that the policy helped neither the minorities nor the democracy in the name of which the appeasement was done. Virtually all the rights and concessions given to the minorities were appropriated by the leaders of the minority groups leaving the ordinary masses high and dry. The continuing educational and economic backwardness of the Muslim masses is a case in point; even Haj facilities provided by the Government were manipulated by community leaders for their private benefit as published reports have proved. Sops given to Dalit communities have benefited Dalit leaders more than Dalit masses. Many Christian leaders have unashamedly used the minority tag to turn their schools and colleges into high-yield commercial enterprises.
This is a negation of not only the concept of minority rights but of democracy itself. In his thesis about the cyclical nature of political systems, Aristotle argued that monarchy led to tyranny which led to oligarchy which led to constitutionalism which led to mobocracy which led to dictatorship which was the same as monarchy, starting the cycle all over again. Except that he did not use the term mobocracy; he used democracy instead. Aristotle saw democracy as mobocracy. It was left to India to prove how right he was.
The crux of Antony's statement should worry us -- that minority appeasement leads to the growth of communal forces. The best example is his own state where pampered Christian parties and the Muslim League have become unhealthy influences in politics. Significant segments of Christians and Muslims in literate Kerala are unhappy with the way wily politicians use religion for personal gain. The main wirepuller in the League, P.K. Kunjalikutty, a survivor of several scandals, once refused to light an oil lamp at a public function citing religious reasons. Contrast this with burqa-clad Muslim women in Varanasi sending a rakhi to "Brother Modi". Lighting the lamp is a beautiful Indian custom while rakhi tying is more of a Hindu practice. In keeping with Kunjalikutty's idea of demonstrative Islam as distinct from Islam as faith, the Muslim League Education Minister in Kerala recently ordered the black board in a government school to be painted green. Communal forces can not only grow, they can grow stupid.
In the end, though, those who condemn minority appeasement must also condemn the equally dangerous majority appeasement. Who dare ruffle those feathers?