The Hindu-Muslim question

Shahid Siddiqui, MP and General Secretary, Samajwadi Party I wish to place emphasis on some issues that have not been highlighted in the past, and realities which we have been pushing under the carpet for the last 60 years. India and Pakistan were born out of deep distrust. The two-nation theory stemmed from the strong belief that Hindus and Muslims of India could not live together as one people. Unfortunately, Partition did not solve the problem of communal and religious divide in the Subcontinent. Muslims and Hindus did not emerge as two separate nations – there were as many Muslims left behind in India as there were in the new nation of Pakistan. This Hindu-Muslim question is the core issue between India and Pakistan. The second-largest population in India is the Muslim population, a fact which has influenced India's relationship with Pakistan, its own political and social character. Despite pressure from various quarters, Indian leaders at that time realised that India could not and should not become a Hindu state. This pressure of creating a secular India, where minorities, especially Muslims, have equal rights, was at the back of the mind of Indian political leadership when conflict in Kashmir arose. The Congress party, Jawaharlal Nehru and all the leaders were seen to be soft on Muslims. The legitimate question raised by many in India was that if Kashmir belonged to Pakistan because it has a very large Muslim population, and there should be a referendum in Kashmir on this issue on religious grounds, then what was such a large Muslim population doing in India, and why should they have all these political and social and legal rights? People across party lines were articulating these ideas. Indians therefore had to reject the two-nation theory in its entirety, if we wanted to build a secular state and give equal rights to our large Muslim population. This has created a situation where even secular and liberal political parties could not take a soft attitude towards Pakistan. On the one hand they had to defend Indian minorities, especially Indian Muslims. And in doing so, they were in competition with rightist Hindu parties, and pressure from within their own parties; therefore, they had to create a strong, rigid, sometimes even unreasonable stance towards Pakistan. This happened because nobody wanted to be seen as being soft both on Pakistan and on Muslims. This situation continued till, say, the BJP came to power. A Hindu party was raising the issue of Muslims within Indian polity. The vote of Indian Muslims was extremely important, and has been wooed by a number of secular parties, while the Right Hindu parties realise that they cannot get this Muslim vote, and therefore they have been both anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan. They wanted to cater to voters on issues of Islam being a threat, Muslims being a threat, Muslims being responsible for the creation of Pakistan, and that with such a large Muslim population in India, a further threat remained which would again lead to division of India. In the post-9/11 period, this anti-Pakistan sentiment got converted more to anti-Muslim sentiments, and Muslims are seen to be terrorists. Therefore, there is a competition between all of the political parties as to who is more anti-terrorist, who is more anti-jihadi. And in a way, who is more anti-Pakistani jihadi. This takes place even among the secular parties. In such a context, the liberal and the secular parties played on the insecurity of the Indian Muslims. And the Right political parties, and also sometimes the Congress, played on the insecurities of the Hindus. The Muslim vote has never been influenced by what happens in Pakistan. And anybody who tries to do that doesn't know the ground realities. But what happens is that when Manmohan Singh talks about reservations for Muslims, within a short time he makes a strong statement on Pakistan. When they want to get the Muslim vote bank, they say something very nice for Indian Muslims – that they are backward, something should be done, come out with 15 or 20 or 25 points in their favour. Immediately these secular leaders say something about Pakistan, which can in a way appease the other constituency. Pakistan was created in the name of Indian Muslims. It was created because they thought they were insecure here, they will have their security there; but it did not resolve the issue of Indian Muslims. The resolution of this tension, this conflict, this suspicion, can take place if we understand that Pakistan has been created as a nation, it remains as a nation, but it is not a nation in the name of Indian Muslims anymore. It was not and it is not. Until and unless we accept this reality – until the larger sections of the ruling elite in Pakistan accepts that we are two nations in the political sense, and we are territorially separate, but we are not two nations because of religion – we will not ultimately be able to come closer. But there has been one immensely positive change – the creation of a national consensus on improving ties with Pakistan. Despite all its rhetoric, once the BJP came to power and it faced ground realities, it was willing to engage with Pakistan. At the political level, the Hindu and Muslim debate is now getting separated from the issue of India-Pakistan relations. Since even the Right Hindu parties in India have realised that there is a very large constituency for peace, a national consensus has emerged. And therefore, they have had to change their line. And since the pressure from those playing on the insecurities of the majority is not there on other so-called secular, liberal, democratic parties, this allows more space to negotiate with Pakistan. There are some other factors that have contributed to better ties. Earlier, when a single party had to get a majority, all outfits played lots of games – and the foremost was the Hindu-Muslim card, or India-Pakistan card. With the emergence of coalitions, regional issues have become much more important. Regional parties are not interested in a confrontation with Pakistan. Economic growth has also influenced India-Pakistan relations. When it was not satisfactory, the Indian political leadership raised the threat of Pakistan, in order to divert the public attention. But now, in the post-liberalisation phase, Indian economic growth is taking us in a direction where political parties realise that we cannot have this eight to ten percent growth unless we have peace in the region, unless we have better relations with the neighbours, and unless our neighbours grow with us. The media has made both sides aware of each other and helped in removing misconceptions. But at times, the competitive nature of the media, especially the electronic media, means that they can blow some issues out of proportion, which creates pressure on political leaders to be more aggressive.

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