by Syed Ata Hasnain
A roller coaster of an election has led to a result exceeding people’s expectations. For India’s Muslim population, the largest minority in the world, it is more of a shock. Their worst fears have come true, especially those who view Indian politics from a narrow prism of ideology and faith. The BJP, the supposed ultra nationalist, right wing, anti-Muslim party, will rule India with a majority of its own. This was unimaginable a couple of years ago when the common refrain was the assumption that the BJP could never go beyond the Hindi heartland and, therefore, could never secure its own majority.
The Indian Muslims, confused as they are, by the plethora of political parties that woo them and treat them as a vote bank, were so thunder struck by the electoral results that an ominous silence marked most of their gatherings. There are a few things that the Indian Muslims must keep in mind. First, that they are Indians by choice and, therefore, enjoy the fruits of India’s democratic success and stability unlike so many others in the neighbourhood who share their faith. Secondly, the Indian political system has matured over 65 years, as has the electorate. The appeal of narrow issues such as faith and ideology does not matter as much as the attraction of social and economic progress. This inevitably happens in multi-faith and multi-cultural societies where the initial gains of nationhood are selfishly acquired. As systems mature the common goals and the common good are realised.
The initial sulk by the Indian Muslims after Independence was a result of their lack of confidence in their own decision and the initial euphoria in Pakistan about a land dedicated to the subcontinent’s Muslims.
The euphoria diluted over a period of time and today the psyche of an average Pakistani is reflected in Mahwash Badar’s bold article – ‘Jinnah made a Mistake and I am Ashamed of being a Pakistani’ recently published in a prominent Pakistani blog. She writes: “What analogy do I draw to represent the utter misery that is being a Pakistani in this super-power dominated world?”
No one puts labels on Indian Muslims when they travel internationally and no one profiles them in the manner which Ms Badar describes her countrymen. A prominent US Air Force General once in a discussion with me online stated: “What, 175 million Muslims and not one with Al Qaida!”
It was difficult for him to understand this. The Indian Muslims have rarely looked upon themselves in this light because not many leaders have ever cared to explain to them the distinct advantages of their Indian label.
There have been aberrations in the journey since Partition as would be in any aspiring and dynamic nation. There have also been many success stories which have helped cement their place in society. They have won adulation for winning the highest military gallantry awards, given Presidents, Vice Presidents and Service Chiefs to the nation, achieved the highest honours for scientific and cultural activities and worn their patriotism proudly. Why should they then be thunder struck by the simple change of government which has been elected with many a vote from within their ranks?
Mercifully, within a few days of the electoral results the hushed whispers have started emerging as voices of assent; heads have started nodding and Indian Muslims are re-emerging from their self-induced perception of doom.
Much of it is driven by aspirations of youth who had the courage to vote with their minds but also much of it is being driven by people who were opposed to Narendra Modi but now see in him as their collective hope for the future.
Some introspection is leading to the deduction that it is scientific temper, education, power of investigation and living by rationale which will militate against the status-quoist attitude with which the community has lived for long.
They have to be led into believing that as a patriotic, non-radicalised, proud segment of the Indian society, they hold out a beacon to the rest of the Islamic world. This is what the leaders of the Muslim society need to dwell on.
PM Narendra Modi’s victory signifies one of the most historic changes in India.
Not many are absorbing the fact that after 30 years stability has returned to India. Indians had forgotten the meaning of stability and have now to get used to it. That India could achieve high growth despite coalitions in power should encourage all Indians about the positives which augur for the future.
The electoral rhetoric is over. Wishful thinking among India’s adversaries would involve the anticipation of large-scale subjugation and wilful acts against the minorities resulting in increased antipathy and turbulence in society. Triggers may be planned to force the minorities to perceive danger to their safe existence.
However, a government which has won a single-party majority and commands a huge majority as a coalition will inevitably leave behind rhetoric of the electoral process. Governance is too serious a matter to allow it to be mired in political criticism and minority bashing. Narendra Modi’s emergence should send that clear message to the Indian Muslims. This is the moment to seize, unshackled from vote banks. Even if they have voted for other parties that was their democratic right; it does not prevent them from now strengthening the hands of the most stable government in India’s recent history.
On the part of the new government no one doubts its intent of taking united India to the next level. It has received not only a thunderous approval from the electorate but also an acceptance by an international consensus that this is the best thing which could happen to India.
Leaders who are decisive, clear-headed and resolute rarely take decisions against the run of progress and Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to fit that bill quite appropriately. Perhaps the 21st century will still be the Indian century and the chance of giving it that label in letter and spirit has arrived.
The Indian Muslims must not miss the bus, in fact they should get into it lock, stock and barrel.
The writer retired recently as a Lieut-General, having commanded 15 Corps in Srinagar