Thursday, May 18, 2006

Parties for Muslims

A news item that did not thrill me.

First, a few words on what (in my view) this is not. Given the specter of partition, it is perhaps natural for any news of the formation of a political party by, for, and of Muslims to be met with apprehension: on the part of Hindus ("we know how this went the last time around"), as well as on the part of Muslims ("are we going to be seeing a backlash?"), etc. etc. Yet the model for this new breed of Muslim parties appears to be the Bahujan Samaj Party ("BSP"), not the pre-1947 Muslim League. Stated differently, the new Muslim parties are very much in sync with the spirit of the Indian polity, or with that (rather large, and increasing all the time) segment of the polity that sees ideology as identical to community-interest, and as the naked advancement of community-interest as the prime mover behind a party's policy. Whatever one may think of this phenomenon, it is hardly unique to these Muslim parties-- indeed the latter appear to be newcomers to the game.

The above notwithstanding, I am not sanguine about this move. And that is because I strongly suspect (from the fact that so many of the guiding lights behind the new UP Muslim political party are affiliated with religious/clerical bodies, bodies which have traditionally been dominated by ashrafi or "well-born" Muslims) that the aim of such parties is to re-capture influence among (what I shall call) ajlaf or "lower-caste" Muslims, influence which has been lost over the last decade to parties like the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, and even the BSP. As I see it, such influence can only be regained if the new Muslim parties play a frankly communal card, as otherwise I believe it to be too late in the day to effectively counter the "lower-caste" parties' critique of privileged status. In other words, the new Muslim political parties will have to say not only that the Congress' opportunistic secularism is a sham, but also that the class/caste-based solidarity of the Samajwadi Party or the BSP is likewise a sham; the only thing that is not a sham is (surprise!) the fact of Muslim identity.

If my fears are well-founded, then the formation of new Muslim parties is rather worrisome, because it would represent an assertion of community-interest combined with a rejection of the ideal of liberal citizenship as well as a rejection of the notion that coalitions of communities can usefully combine to advance the interests of the communities concerned. As noted above, parties like the BSP already, and in a rather overt manner, assert community-interest while implicitly rejecting the ideal of liberal citizenship (recognizing that the ideal is itself coded for caste/class and privilege)-- but the notion of inter-community solidarity and/or coalitions is central to the BSP's success (if not to its ideology). That the new Muslim parties are dreaming of an internally monolithic party at a time when the likes of the BSP have shown signs of even bringing U.P. Brahmins into the fold, is a sign that the clerical movers and shakers behind these parties have learned nothing from the politics of the Hindi heartland over the last decade or so, have learned nothing from the careers of Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav, and Azam Khan.

Or maybe they have: which is precfisely why, fearing political irrelevance, they prefer the security and stability of a communal ghetto to the unpredictably rough-and-tumble world of politics, bhaiyya ishtyle.

In a nutshell: ever wonder why the All India Backward Muslim Morcha hasn't joined the call for Muslim parties in U.P. and Bihar?


history_lover said...

The crucial difference between SP/BSP and the "muslim" parties is that SP/BSP realize that appealing to thier core constituency ("the vote bank") is not enough to bring them to power on thier own.
The muslim party leaders understand that they will not be able to win enough seats on thier own.They just want to act as an effective pressure group and ally with bigger parties just like the IUML does in Kerala.

history_lover said...

Adding to my previous comment,that is why they(the SP/BSP) are trying to broaden thier appeal as they want to come to power on thier own.

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