What the Babri incident did to us

The average Muslim is unlikely to vote any one party or candidate but is generally cagey about Hindutva-based politics.

Yet, after a Hindu fundamentalist movement led to the destruction in 1992 of the 16th-century Babri Masjid 20 years ago, many Muslims have frequently articulated a longing for a “truly secular” alternative to the Congress, accusing the party of often tilting to the Hindu right. That option has remained a hard-to-pin-down political mirage, analysts say.

I asked a few political commentators whose views I trust, about what they made of Muslim politics, two decades years on.

The enduring political legacy of the demolition has been that parties began courting Muslims as a political class, often in the name of protection. Besides, the Babri incident also created a political divide between the so-called secular parties and those with a Hindu fundamentalist ideology.

Neither option — Muslims seeking a “true secular” alternative and parties vying to fit the bill — has worked consistently.

Hilal Ahmed, a scholar at Delhi’s The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies who has worked on politics around monuments, such as the Babri Masjid, says if one really wanted to associate social categories with political categories, then caste has been a bigger factor.

Post-Babri, Muslims get more than a fair share of wooing because they are thought to impact polls by voting as a bloc. This is an over-blown myth, analysts say.

Only rarely have Muslims voted as a bloc to keep Hindutva parties out. According to Zoya Hasan of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, when Muslims see an emerging threat from Hindu nationalists threatening their identity, such as the Babri incident, they may tend to vote tactically. When there is no such threat, they tend to focus on the larger issues, such as education.

Post-Mandal, Dalits, formerly a Congress constituency, had their own party. “In absence of a core Muslim party then, the dominant political perception was where do Muslims go? That is why sometimes Muslims seek an alternative,” said Ahmed.

AR Qureshi of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, who was on the forefront of the Babri struggle, said most parties had disappointed Muslims. “We may find that elusive alternative some day,” he said. That will add another facet to an already complex political game theory.

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