The sudden concern shown by central government towards Muslim women over triple talaq raises several questions. Considering the ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to have been more in the news for its communal attitude against Muslims, its “concern” for Muslim women has certainly raised quite a few eye-brows. It is possible that the failure of the central government to have accomplished much during its stay in power has prompted it to try its hand at this strategy. That is start talking about Muslims and divert the people’s attention from the promises the BJP made during its 2014 parliamentary campaign. There is yet another side to this strategy. The BJP is probably well aware that noise made about triple talaq bill is not going move beyond hitting headlines and raising a storm in several political as well as socio-religious circles. But at least this noise together with media coverage, in apparently BJP’s political calculations, will silence political rivals keen to target BJP on other issues. Just when BJP’s poor performance in Gujarat began being deliberated upon, hype about triple talaq pushed this issue to the backburner. Certainly, BJP won assembly elections in Gujarat but not as well as it thought it would.
Interestingly, BJP has apparently not paid genuine attention to whether Muslims are going to be pleased by its apparent stand on triple talaq. As suggested earlier, the show being displayed by BJP on this issue is nothing but a farce. It is a more of a political strategy of the ruling party. Of course, this also demands analysis on the minimal importance being accorded by the BJP to the electoral support from Muslims. This isn’t surprising. In essence, though a lot of noise has been made about Muslim vote in Indian politics, the issue is debatable. It cannot be denied that Indian Muslims have a vital role to play in politics of this country. At the same time, the way they are referred to as vote, primarily along religious lines, demands attention for several reasons.
Elementarily speaking, across the country, Muslims of the country don’t display a political affiliation for any one party or leader. This naturally implies that their votes are divided along regional and other political as well as ethnic factors as much as are votes of other communities, including the Hindu community. Besides, even in any state, prospects of their votes being guided singularly seem fairly limited. With their divisions surfacing in different ways throughout the country, it is fairly puzzling as to on what similar parameter does concept of Indian Muslim vote rest. Even in Jammu and Kashmir, votes of some Muslims may be aligned towards People’s Democratic Party (PDP), others for National Conference (NC), a few for Congress and may be even towards BJP. Now, this demands deliberation on what should be political definition of a Kashmiri Muslim? It cannot be confined to either of a Kashmiri PDP, Kashmiri NC and so forth. Nor can either party be labeled as representative of exclusively only of Kashmiri Muslims. The same political reality is visible across the country in varying manner in different states.
The political identity of a Bengali Muslim can be viewed as hardly close to that of a Marathi Muslim or of any other state. The political identity may bear some semblance if both belong to a similar national party. However, in this case, their political identity is marked more strongly by that of their national party. Differences in their political identity may stand out more markedly when they tend to be affiliated with different regional parties in their respective states. With Indian Muslims divided across the nation in so many parties, it is indeed puzzling as to what does their identity as that of a Muslim vote rest on? Irrespective of whether a Muslim is member of Congress, BJP, Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Trinamool Congress (TC) or any other party, his identity is linked primarily with the party he belongs to. And none of these parties can be labeled as affiliated to only and only Muslims.
Besides, though history has been witness to emergence of several parties in different states, dominated by Muslims, religion identity does not seem to bind these parties across the nation. Regional roots of PDP and NC are as strong in J&K as that of All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in Assam, All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) – Andhra Pradesh, Indian Union Muslim League (IUMP) in Kerala and so forth. Neither of these parties can be expected to be swayed by a common leader. Nor are their prospects of a candidate of one of these parties contesting elections from outside their state, primarily on account of religious factor.
Prospects of such regional and political divisions being undermined by religious factors can hardly be defined as active at present. This is also supported by absence of any one party and/or leader to which/whom majority of the Indian Muslims may be assumed to be affiliated with. Though there do exist organizations such as Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, Jamiat Islami and so forth, they are not bound by affiliation to a similar party or leader. Besides, oft and on, when such groups display their political leanings, these tend to be shaped by secular inclinations of the party they choose to favor and not by its religious label. This also suggests that Muslim individuals and/or groups with religious leanings prefer opting for secular groups, politically and nationally. Shouldn’t this be viewed as reflective of primarily their secular perception?
The preceding point may also be analyzed with respect to importance of Muslim vote in parliamentary as well as assembly elections. Prospects of any Muslim group/party turning the tide in their favor are as good as non-existent in either of the elections. Can only Muslim votes play a decisive role? They can, if together with other groups, including Dalits, Muslims choose to vote against BJP. But then it would be more appropriate to label this as defeat of communal politics by secular voters choosing to align with each other. After all, political result is likely to be shaped not simply and only by Muslim votes but primarily by secular inclination of like-minded anti-communal forces, that is by secular vote.
Against this backdrop, if BJP was confident that by making noise about triple talaq, irrespective of whether it alienates Muslims or not, is least likely to spell any political loss for it, it miscalculated. The party was probably not prepared for the anger it would provoke from non-Muslim, secular Indians also.
-Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer. She has come out with two books Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp: In the Name of Indian Secularism and Image and Substance: Modi’s First Year in Office