Nitish Kumar's betrayal another step in the disenfranchisement of Muslims
In 2015, Bihar's Muslims voted overwhelmingly in favour of Nitish Kumar for the principled stand he had taken against Narendra Modi. Less than two years later, Kumar has joined hands with the BJP, dumping not just his alliance partners, but an important aspect of the mandate he had been given.
Kumar's "betrayal" is symptomatic of a broader, more disturbing trend - the steady disenfranchisement of Indian Muslims. This isn’t a legal disenfranchisement, as Shiv Sena ideologue Sanjay Raut had demanded in 2015. It is a political disenfranchisement – that the government doesn’t reflect the will of the community in the least.
After all, democracy isn't just about having the right to vote, it is also about the government representing the will of the people.
The 2014 Lok Sabha election and several state elections that took place since then, led to the formation of governments that did not represent the Muslim community's will at all. In fact, in many of these states, the BJP's victory emboldened forces that are actively targeting the community.
The short, cruel message in the BJP's success is: Muslim votes don't matter.
The party makes a virtue out of not fielding even a single Muslim candidate. It creates a boogeyman out of Muslims to consolidate Hindu votes. And it promotes leaders with known anti-Muslim credentials.
Even PM Modi and BJP president Amit Shah indulge in dog-whistle communal politics targetting Muslims. Take for instance Shah’s recent statement in Gujarat that “ever since Modi came to power no ‘Alia-Malia-Jamalia dared to carry out riots’”.
The result of BJP's strategy is that Muslim votes have no bearing on the final results.
Muslim votes don't matter
In the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections earlier this year, the community supported the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance and the Bahujan Samaj Party, but both fared miserably. The BJP won, without fielding a single Muslim candidate.
In the Assam Assembly elections last year, the AIUDF lost part of its Muslim vote base to the Congress as the latter was seen as the more viable anti-BJP force. But the Congress was defeated after being in power for 15 years.
And now we have the most dramatic example in Nitish Kumar. Here's a leader who formed an alliance based on secularism, fought elections on an anti-Modi plank, garnered the vast majority of Muslims votes and now has coolly joined hands with the BJP.
Where does all this leave Muslim voters?
On the one hand it seems that Muslims have become the primary flag-bearers of secularism, with secular parties like the Congress and Samajwadi Party becoming critically dependent on their votes. On the other, we have the BJP whose supporters openly create a ‘Muslim threat’ to consolidate Hindu votes.
This is a difficult dilemma that the community faces.
The Mahagathbandhan in Bihar represented a hope that parties can come together under the banner of secularism and defeat Modi's juggernaut. Its breakdown is a watershed event, one that may spark a serious debate within the community.
Four kinds of suggestions are likely to come up.
First: persist with existing secular parties like Congress, SP, AAP and Trinamool Congress.
Second: the BJP is likely to be in power till 2024 so there is no choice but to make peace with it.
Third: move towards Asaduddin Owaisi's All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen since secular parties have failed to safeguard the interests of the community.
Fourth: stay away from politics as Muslims are being used as a bogey to consolidate Hindu votes. Instead, focus on education and livelihood.
Neither of these four suggestions can decisively solve the dilemma the community is in. Meanwhile, the mob attacks on Muslim are unlikely to stop. The demonisation of the community in the media and social media will only intensify. And finally, there might be more betrayals in store from secular leaders. For instance, watch out for the increasingly conciliatory stand of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and YSRCP towards the BJP.
Even the parties that don’t align with the BJP will be less willing to raise Muslim-oriented issues, lest it “offends the majority”.
The gap between Indian democracy and Muslim citizens has never been this wide.