Democracy, Development and Political Under Representation of Muslims in India

seminar photo

It is crucial to note that Jamia Millia Islamia, a ‘Lusty Child’ of the Non-Cooperation, the Khilafat movements and product of anti-colonial struggle, as mentioned by Prof. Mushirual Hasan and Rakshanda Jalil in their book, “Partners in Freedom: Jamia Millia Islamia”, has now completed its 100 years in 2020. To celebrate and commorate100 years of Jamia, several programmes, seminars, conferences and cultural activities are scheduled to be held in times to come. In this respect, two-day International Seminar on the theme of “Democracy and Public policy in India: Choices and Outcomes” from 26th to 27th February 2020 was being organized by the Department of Political science, JMI.  In this seminar, nearly 40 papers have been presented by the research scholars and the noted academicians. On this occasion, a prelude volume titled “Public Policy in India’ (Edited) by Prof. Furqan Ahmad (who is currently, Head of the Department, political Science, JMI and coordinator of UGC-SAP-DRS) has been released by the Vice-chancellor, Prof. Najma Akhtar. While addressing her inaugural speech, Prof. Nazma Akhtar expressed that we are witnessing and passing through a difficult time. In the meanwhile, we are celebrating the 100 years of Jamia and lots of programmes and conferences are being held on this occasion. But the media is not showing these positive contributions of Jamia.

Having said that let me admit that it is not possible to discuss and comments on each paper presented in the seminar; rather, I will confine myself to discuss some of the papers which are relevant in the current political and social scenario. In this seminar, a keynote speech was delivered by Prof. Richard J. Cohen on the theme of development, social change and experiment of democracy in India. He is currently associated with the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asia Languages and Culture, University of Virginia, the USA. Before formally beginning his speech, he expressed his concern about the ongoing protest at Jamia’s Gate No.7, led by the students of Jamia who have been raising the significant questions which must not be undermined. To demonstrate the point further, Prof. Cohen writes,

“Let us not be antagonistic to the youth protesting outside Jamia’s gates, for they are expressing a spirit and a calling. Let us forgive them for their excesses. As long as it is non-violent, in the admirable tradition of India’s father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhiji [this Para is quoted from his paper].

He spoke about electoral politics, Nehruvian economy, demographic challenges, development, democracy, social changes, and textbook controversy. Furthermore, he also touched upon the pertinent themes like the impact of globalization on marginalized social groups, the functioning of the EVM and the authoritarian rule of Indira Gandhi.  For him, Jawaharlal Nehru with the help of the big industrial bourgeois like Tata, Birlas, Shri Ram and others (Bombay Plan 1944 /45 can be cited as a case in point) undoubtedly brought out some of the changes and, as a result, infrastructural development and democracy started getting certain grounds. However, fruits of development were limited to the affluent section of society as mentioned above and hence the masses were out of development fold. Nehru was influenced by ‘Fabian socialism’ and planned economy prevalent in erstwhile USSR and other countries.

To be precise here, the idea of social change (the concept of ‘social change’ came after the Russian revolution, in 1917) was replaced with development after World War-II and with the ascendency of the USA at the global level- a point emphasized by Prof. Cohen during his speech.  To put it differently, the Nehruvian model of development (Centralized state-led model) had not radically brought out the social change and marginalized the social groups like Dalits, Adivasis and Minorities had not benefited equally as compared to the industrial class and the big bourgeoisie. The fact cannot be denied that the idea of formal political democracy was firmly established during the Nehru era. However, political democracy faced a crisis when Indira Gandhi came to power and imposed an emergency in 1975-77. So the balance between the development and electoral democracy during Indira Gandhi was not witnessed as seen during the Nehru period. While commenting on the electoral democracy, Prof. Cohen said that before the EVM was introduced, booth-capturing, looting, and electoral malfunctioning, due to over influence of mafia politics was dominant in Indian politics. However, EVM has its own limitations, but there is no other good option to replace it, and it is not tenable to say that through EVM’s manipulation ruling party would manage to win the general election, added by the speaker.

While engaging with the writings of Prof. Vinay Lal, a well-known Gandhian scholar, the speaker underlined the concept of European nation-state which is based on homogeneity and doesn’t fit in the case of India where diversity and pluralism are deeply embedded in society like India.  To explain the point further, Prof Cohen writes,

“one should keep in mind the possibility that the nation-state often forgets that certain types of policies have a totalizing effect, through which a homogenizing process tends to elide and erase social and economic diversity, and thus regional identities and communal identities” ( Quoted from his paper).

Moreover, he pointed out that the project of having a single history ‘Textbook’ (NCERT for all India level), is not feasible in the case of India. History and social science textbooks should not be communalized.

Another thought-provoking paper was presented by Prof. Baljit Singh Maan (Head, Department of Political Science, Jammu) on the theme of “State and Public policies in India: A dialectical Relation”. He talked about the limitations of colonial state (it was in fact based on exploitation and destruction of our then the existing economy, as a result, party like Indian National Congress, INC came into existence to resist colonial exploitative policies), liberal neo-liberal State and its implications in  public policy formulations. For him and other speakers too, the idea of ‘Public’ has been missing and there is a lack of democratization as far as ‘public policy’ formulations is concerned. The idea of privatization/ liberalization has been strengthened in the neo-liberal India and public policies are now aim to serve the interests of the market instead of masses.  As a result in the election, the corporate funding has been increased and that is why after winning the elections, mainstream political parties are busy to fulfill the interests of corporate rather than committed to addressing the socio-economic, health and educational problems of general masses. In other words, there is nothing like ‘public’ in our public policy, everything now has been privatized for making a profit, added by the  respective speakers.

Another thoughtful and relevant paper presented by Prof. Kadloor Savavitri titled, “Connecting the Dots, locating the linkages; Exploration of conceptual perspective on Human rights, Human Security and Policy Alternatives”. She underlined that Human development, Human Rights and Human security are interlinked and intertwined each other.  Unlike the traditional concept of Human Rights (which is based on the philosophy of bourgeois individualism), the contemporary discourse around Human Rights has now included the third generation of rights such as right to development, dignity, descent life, public goods etc. Besides, current discourse of Human Rights has now also become sensitive towards the culture and religious identities of respective communities, as underlined by the speaker.

Another thoughtful and empirically sound paper presented by Dr. Adnan Farooqui titled “Political under Representation of Indian Muslims and its policy implications” is relevant in the current political scenario.  Ever since (2014 onwards) the rise and growth of the Hindu nationalist forces in Indian politics, the political representations of the Indian Muslims are consistently declining and  Indian Muslims have now become ‘politically untouchable’ community, the point has been underlined by  Harsh Mander, a renowned social activist elsewhere.

Dr. Farooqui has demonstrated that the Indian Muslims are being undermined by almost all parties and political representation of Indian Muslims over a long period of time has been tremendously declining. Due to the rise of Hindu nationalist forces and utter negligence of  Indian Muslims by the mainstream secular parties, Muslim parties like All India Majlise Ithehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) led by Asaduddin Owaisi is carving out a political space and getting popularity among the Muslim masses, as expressed by the speaker.

The political under-representation of Indian Muslims is also linked with the question of not recognizing ‘Dalit Muslims in the category of SCs, this point has also been highlighted by the Sachar Committee report (2006). It should be noted that when Nehru was Prime Minister of India, at that time through the Presidential order 1950, Dalit Muslim and Dalit Christians, SCs status was taken away. However, later on, the Dalit Sikhs and the Dalit Buddhists (baring the Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims) got the reservation and were included in the SC fold. This step was taken by Nehruvian state long ago. To note that not legally recognizing Dalit Muslims in fold of SCs could be also considered as an essential reason for the political under-representation of Indian Muslims; the point has been not touched by the speaker.

While addressing the valedictory session, Prof. I. Ramabrahman (vice-chancellor of Central University Odisa) said that the public policy must be based on the evidences and quality of good research.  For him, there cannot be a uniform public policy at the national level. He added that the regional and local specificity must be taken into account rather than looking for uniformity while formulating the public policies.  On the basis of above arguments, one could argue that the neo-liberal capitalist model of economic development and the so-called electoral democracy (coupled with the rise of Hindu nationalist forces in Indian public sphere) have not benefited equally(as benefited to corporate classes) to marginalize social groups Dalits ,Adivasis and Indian Muslims.  Due to the recent rise  of  Hindu Right in public-political domain, most of the mainstream secular political parties ( barring the Left parties) are now moving towards ‘soft-Hindutva’ agenda ( Aam Admi Party, the AAP can be cited as a recent example in this regard) as a result, Indian Muslim political marginalization continue unabated systematically.

 The author is a research scholar at the University of Delhi. 




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