Even before the Bihar Assembly election results were out on Tuesday, you could find the oft-repeated excuse for the poll drubbing coming out of the Congress camp. Of all the major parties contesting the Bihar polls, the Congress went home with the worst strike rate. An analysis of its defeat would find many causes, including the direct and tough fight against the BJP candidates, but the grand old ‘secular’ party chose to go ahead with "Muslim votes were divided" trope.
The reason? Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM won five seats in Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region and possibly hurt the prospects of the RJD-Congress-Left ‘Mahagathbandhan’ on some seats. This hackneyed argument is the first defence of the Congress for its trouncing in any election with a sizeable Muslim population. This line of reasoning is presumptuous, and reeks of arrogance and privilege. Such is the level of the Congress’ ignorance that it dubs the political representation of Muslims as "radicalisation".
As I have argued before, it is undemocratic and unbecoming of the Indian democracy to ask a party to not contest an election because it may hurt others’ prospect. It is AIMIM’s right, guaranteed under the Constitution to contest the election, as much as it is the Congress’ right. If the Congress so desperately needs Muslim votes, mainly because it has lost the confidence of the majority in India, it has to contest for it with honest intentions and promises. It also has to understand why Muslims, especially youth, are choosing to go with the AIMIM, and not with the secular parties who assume to have minority votes in the bag even before the election gets underway.
From the US to Bihar, every election is treated as the matter of life and death for the minorities. The Democratic Party in the US attempted to drum up support and drive black voter turnout by using slogans like “vote like your life depends on it”. Similarly in India, the primary concern for Muslims is not whether they will get education and health, even though all indices point out that they are significantly lagging behind even Dalits, but that they have to defeat the BJP at all costs. This threadbare theme is so routinely repeated that Muslims have come to believe that defeating the BJP is the only job of the community. After nearly 75 years of Independence, the huge and perpetually widening gap between the aspirations of Muslims and others is a testimony to the failed administration of secular parties, more so of the Congress. While others demand reservation, education, health, employment and so on, Muslims are still voting for the party that promises to keep them safe, the most basic right guaranteed under the Constitution. They are still fighting for their dignity, to preserve their citizenship, for their food choices, for their freedom to love and to marry, for not being threatened to be killed. And for this, there is no other party to be blamed than the Congress.
Despite promises of founding fathers like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Jawaharlal Nehru, Muslims are still fighting for representation and dignity as India is about to complete 75 years of Independence. With just 27 Lok Sabha seats in 543 -member Houses, and one token Cabinet minister, Muslims are all but wiped out from policymaking. In Uttar Pradesh, the biggest state by population, there are just 25 Muslims MLAs in 403-member assembly and one token minister in the Cabinet, despite over 19% of the estimated population. All this, despite the Congress and other “secular parties” ruling the country and the state for the most part of Independent India. They cannot get away by blaming the BJP and arguing that the numbers are down because the saffron party doesn't give tickets to Muslims. Has the Congress given proportional representation to Muslims? Can the party claim any Muslim leader of significance besides Salman Khurshid and Ghulam Nabi Azad?
Muslims feel that the Congress and its ilk fail to speak-up for the basic rights of the community. Whether approved by the liberals or not, Asaduddin Owaisi is always found unequivocally raising the issues of Muslims which the Congress fails to do fearing backlash from the majority. While every other party rushes to claim credit for any social movement, including that of caste-based reservation, almost all parties found distancing themselves from the CAA-NRC protests, barring Owaisi who embraced the movement. Muslim grievances include subdued opposition from the Congress to laws like UAPA which is largely seen by the community as a tool to target Muslims and other marginalised communities. There is also the fear of Congress MLAs jumping ship to the BJP, as has happened in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka most recently, Muslims are almost 100% sure that the AIMIM legislators would never flip to the saffron brigade.
Beyond token promises, the Congress has nothing to offer to Muslims after 73 years of Independence. It can’t offer them dignity, it can’t offer them representation, it can’t offer them education and employment. If the Congress and other political parties want to defeat the BJP, they have to convince their conventional voters to come back and not put the blame on Muslims’ shoulders. If you want Muslim votes, vie for it, contest for it, like you do with the others. You do not own Muslim votes and Muslims owe you nothing.
Ahamad Fuwad is Assistant News Editor at The Free Press Journal. The views expressed are personal.