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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Milligazette: Indian Muslim strategy

Strategy for the Modi era

The BJP government is set to release the census figures of 2011. The earlier government’s hand had been stayed when these became available in the run up to national elections. Their fear back then was perhaps that the BJP would take advantage of the figures on increase in Muslim numbers to project Congress appeasement as its electoral plank. In the event, depriving the BJP of a vote catching issue did not help the Congress any. The BJP is currently set to take the advantage of these numbers timely: in the run up now to elections in Delhi and in the buildup already underway in Bihar. The Muzaffarnagar route to national elections of last year is being reenacted: in Trilokpuri earlier and now in Muzaffarpur respectively. The census figures release, initially as ‘leaks’, are to drive up communal frenzy: ‘Muslims are coming; BJP to the rescue!’
Mr. Modi is in a win-win position. In case he keeps his distance from communal mobilisation, a trick mastered by his ace strategist, Amit Shah, he can profit politically from the gains Hindutva makes electorally. Alongside, he gains in stature as the only one who can rein in the communal forces, since, by maintaining a distance, he appears as a neutral umpire. This will increase his appeal for the middle class, not so much impressed by the Hindutva plank as much as by his developmental plank. Even the minorities – Muslims and Christians – imposed on will look to him to restrain those who act in his name. Therefore, if he chooses not to act to rein in the Hindutva brigade, as he has currently done, he gains electorally, and if he does choose to act to rein them in at an opportune, he gains some brownie points with the middle class and breaks the ice with distrustful minorities.
As long as the goose delivers the golden egg – electoral dividend - Mr. Modi can afford inaction. His overt project currently is in the budget keeping his corporate backers and middle class supporters placated. Alongside, the covert agenda of saffronising India is unfolding without any hitch since the sections that could critique this are in any case waiting with bated breath for the budget. Mr. Modi intends to usher in the long awaited second phase of economic reforms, something Manmohan was restrained from by a Congress high command mindful of social costs. Mr. Modi can afford to neglect this since he has the Hindutva potion to administer the masses.
In any case any backlash to these ‘reforms’ will only mount when the have not’s recognize themselves at the receiving end and get their act together, perhaps a decade on. Minorities, hoping to be in on the economic action, will also wait to see if they are included. He in any case has the suppressive machinery of the Indian state to employ to stamp on any reactions from perceptions of deprivation. Therefore, Mr. Modi has the initiative and a window of opportunity of almost a decade.
Therefore, Mr. Modi does not need to act to rein in the right wing. He can continue as their champion and they his symbiotic support base. The political animal in Mr. Modi knows, ‘You don’t cut the branch you sit on’. He would not risk alienating them even if he builds on the middle class constituency by coming up with smart cities, bullet trains and $500 billion bonhomie package with the US. The middle class needs him more than he does them. Modi’s economic moves are set to take India, buoyed by international economic upturn brought about by the Obama led US turn round and the down slide in oil prices, past China’s growth figures by next year. Therefore, Mr. Modi does not need to fear the middle class or its being embarrassed by his Hindutva inspired reset of India. Mr. Modi can rely on the Hindutva brigade to deliver up Bihar this year and the twin cards, Hindutva and the economy, to wrest UP by 2017. Mr. Modi will then be set to capture Rajya Sabha and, thereby, take out a long term lease on the political high ground.
Where does this leave India’s largest minority that census numbers record as being 14.2 per cent or 172 million strong? This analysis of Mr. Modi’s longevity shows that the minority requires settling in for the long haul under Mr. Modi. Mr. Modi can be expected to keep the lid on things, even if he does not rein in Hindutva zealots, since he needs stability for the economy to deliver. In any case, it is impossible to envisage an energetic counter by the minority to spread of Hindutva, since the minority lacks the unity that can lend it a strategic base. It myriad, multiple and vulnerable communities, spread across India, should not be allowed to be exposed to unwanted security attention. On the positive side, it can instead try and gain the economic traction it was unable to access under the Congress system of sops for votes. By no means is this to fall for the slogan ‘Sabke Saath, Sabka Vikas’, but to be forewarned that strategizing for the long durĂ©e requires a cool head.
What are the contours of a strategy for the Modi era?
A viable strategy must begin with the parameters. Terms of reference set out in the analysis here is that the minority pockets being vulnerable should not be exposed unnecessarily to security pressure and that the minority must not lose out another chance at economic rise. It bears recall that the elite can vote for India with their feet if the going gets tough, as indeed a past generation did by migrating. The masses cannot be let down twice over in one century.
Easily is ruled out an adversarial approach. There is no national leadership, leave alone a centralized one, for the Muslim community. Its various communities must per force rely on respective regional and neighbouring communities, including and principally the majority community. This is important to highlight since even if there is no leadership there is never a shortage of pretenders. There is a bid for national standing emerging from Hyderabad for instance. This is all for the good in case it pulls it off, but the fact remains that the strategy of the MIM, of confrontation and lowering down to the level of Hindutva invective and provocation, is counter-productive.
A three-step strategic possibility consequently emerges in case the parameters are to be met. The first is at the local level. Muslims need expanding and intermeshing with their local neighbours across the country, especially those deprived as themselves. A common front for the have not’s will ensure that any economic trickle down does not bypass them. The government’s health budget cut suggests that communities would require fending for themselves and not relying on the government. Regional Muslim leaders can only gain superficially in case they rely on the communal card for support. Grand standing will get them short term benefit of representing a ‘threatened minority’, but over time the confrontation can only redound to the disadvantage of the community they represent. For instance in the illustration from Hyderabad above, with Andhra money being invested in its new capital, Hyderabad would be at a loss if alongside the Owaisi brothers take the Hindutva bait of identity politics. Muslims should be wooed with a taste of the development plank instead and presenting themselves as the dynamo for Telangana can help situate them well in the politics of the two new states.
Second is at the national level. The political opposition is in hibernation. It is awaiting policy missteps by the government to bounce back. Given India’s economic prospects, this is unlikely in the middle term. Therefore, Muslims can at best be reactive to developments. Once the Modi mantra wears off over the majority, Muslims can lend an electoral shoulder to displace him. The national level showing of Muslim leaders must in the interim be to forge bonds between themselves so as to ensure that the relative physical isolation of Muslim communities is mitigated.  Else India can end up with ghettos such as Jehanabad India wide. Another significant line of action is to ensure moderation so that the government cannot cite adverse security conditions in Muslim inhabited areas to justify exclusionary politics. Muslims are a handy other for vertical integration for Hindus. There is no call to assist Modi in this by making it easier for him. Muslims must permit Modi the luxury of behaving the statesman in order that he is not permitted the opportunity of being himself at their cost.  
Third is the international level. There are portents of a draw down in the Muslim world brought on by raging conflicts at its’ hitherto center, exacerbated by the likely leadership uncertainty on the demise of the Saudi king. This will have obvious economic fallout from remittance and employment point of view for Muslim Indians. Second, the thrust for foreign policy activism on India’s part to gain strategically, particularly from any discomfiture of its neighbor, Pakistan, would need watching. The latter has had an artificial link drawn with India’s Muslims, one drawn by strategists who are also closet rightists.
Third, and more significantly, South Asian Muslims now number half a billion, clearly more than Indonesia and in the Arab world. The dividend from this in the form of a shift in the center of gravity of the Muslim world away from the unstable Middle East to South Asia is not in evidence as yet. Towards this end Muslim Indians may need first to reforge South Asian bonds by thinking of South Asia as a single civilizational entity that it has been through millennia. This will be to India’s and regional advantage, besides keeping ill winds from Middle Eastern wars out of India. It will counter India’s strategic tutoring by the US and Israel through strategic partnerships with both states, overt and covert respectively.


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