Saturday, 19 December 2009

India's Obama Moment

There is talk going on that the rise of Mayawati is rather similar to the rise of Obama in America. And that once she becomes India’s PM, we will finally get to celebrate our Obama moment. I disagree.

Here’s why.

Now there is no denying that Obama’s rise has many parallels to Mayawati’s ascent. After all the dalits have faced fierce resistance to their inclusion in the mainstream, just as the blacks did in America. But if you look into the future, you can foresee the Dalit problem slowly growing fainter. There’s another community whose prospects look bleak even in the future. And it’s the Muslims.

Can you remember any Muslim chief minister(J&K aside)? When is the last time you were able to recall a prominent Muslim politician? The dalits have had their leaders - B.R Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram, and now Mayawati, but the Muslim community is and has been devoid of any real leadership, filled by the so called ‘token’ politicians.

Since the time Islam arrived in India, Muslims have been a significant part of Indian society. They ruled parts of the subcontinent for a period of over 600 years, eventually ceding power to the British. Even during the British Rule, there were several prominent Muslim rulers. But all this changed after Partiton. Suddenly the Muslims became an acute minority in their own homeland (if India is not their homeland then what is?) As if the reduction in their numbers was not enough, there came the additional burden for sharing the guilt of partition. The Muslim league and Mohammad Ali Jinnah in particular were blamed for dividing the homeland. The pus of partition ensured that Muslims became the centre of attack for several outfits, driven by their own political ambitions or ideologies forever putting a constant question mark over their patriotism. Since then their drift into the sidelines has continued. This has been propelled further by the growth of Islamic terrorism after the 90’s.

While it is true that the Dalits have faced discrimination for centuries, the Indian Muslims face a different, more subtle kind of discrimination that is far more deadly for India’s social cohesiveness. One can recall Hindu-Muslim riots on fingertips, but it takes time to find instances of mass rioting between the upper castes and the lower castes.

One fact that is prone to being overlooked is that recently the Dalits have started making rapid progress in terms of education & women empowerment- two very key areas as far as community building is concerned. The same cannot be said for the Muslims. If anything, they might have even have gone back. As a whole, I need not emphasize Muslim ill fortune in India. It is a well known fact. The stereotypes the Muslims face are worse than what the Dalits have to go through.

Some say that our biggest film stars are all Muslims. That we’ve had a Muslim President, Vice-President(s), even a Muslim captaining the national cricket team. And this is where I see light – that Indian people are not averse to Muslim ascendency.

Why is there then such a negative perception about them one may ask? It is simple. The Hindu radical groups, for their own interests, propagate to the masses, what can at best be called biased opinions and at worst outright lies. A constant hammering of such lies in the mainstream slowly turns them into convictions. The single biggest ‘conviction’ out there is that Indian Muslims are not patriotic, that they have a soft corner for Pakistan. This is totally wrong. Ask any Indian Muslim today, whether he’s better off in India or Pakistan and the answer will almost always be the former. It’s mostly the clerics that beat the Pakistani drum, because they know that in a secular country such as India that doesn’t have any official religion, their powers are significantly clipped. Entirely the opposite is true in the case of Pakistan.

While it is true that Manmohan Singh is educated and scholarly thus making him one of the most suitable persons for the job in the UPA, he is still acceptable to the more radical Hindu wings, social or political that so often lay claim to the public opinion. But the moment you bring an equally qualified Muslim, the game changes. Just see the drama that would unfold if such a thing were to ever happen, if you don’t believe it yourself. Of course the irony is that the people, the masses would never be opposed to such a move. But the Hindu radicals, using the same old tried and tested way of propagating lies, will whip up such hysteria that the popular mood would swing.

This is why I think when Mayawati finally becomes our PM, we will get to celebrate – not at India’s great stroke of fortune of having Maya in charge (for that we may have to grieve), but at India’s genuine democracy where even the lowest in the society can climb up the ladder to the top. But when a Muslim finally becomes our PM, then and only then, can we celebrate our Obama Moment.