Posts Tagged ‘politics of secularism’

On the politics of secularism: A response to Amresh Misra

August 24, 2008


On the politics of secularism: A response to Amresh Misra
OR how should we respond to SIMI
Yogendra Yadav
Amaresh ji
Thanks for your considered and detailed response in a very short time. I am grateful for your constructive response to my plea to shift this debate from personalities to issues and evidence, even if your understanding of issues may be different from mine. Your response enables us to move into a realm of meaningful, even instructive, differences.
We both agree on what the crucial questions are: Should we at this moment in history focus our analytical attention on the characterisation of SIMI? Is that characterisation at all relevant to making sense of the current predicament of the Indian Muslims? If this exercise is relevant and necessary, what should be our characterisation of SIMI? And what are the implications of such a characterisation for those who believe in a plural and secular India?
You have made a forceful plea that the our focus today should be on the plight of the Muslim community that faces persecution by state agencies, that SIMI’s ideology and track record is irrelevant to defending the legal and constitutional rights of the innocent Muslims who are being implicated and targeted as ‘terrorists’. Your answer obviates the necessity of answering the other two questions, but you do give a glimpse of your answers on the these questions. You seem to be saying that SIMI may be communal, but is not involved in murders and terrorism like Bajrang Dal and that in any case Muslim communalism cannot be equated with Hindu communalism. Therefore we patriotic and secular Indians should not focus on of SIMI and its faults (at least not in public) but focus instead on exposing the conspiracy to implicate, harass and brand Indian Muslims on false charges of association with SIMI. I sincerely hope that I have not misunderstood or misreported you.
If I disagree with you, it is not because I disagree with much of what you document in this latest essay. On the contrary, it is precisely because I am in fundamental agreement with some aspects of your reading of the current situation that I fundamentally disagree with your approach on what is to be done. I cannot possibly disagree with you that a very large number of innocent Muslims have been rounded up by various arms of the state, subjected to all forms of harassment and torture. What is worse, an ordinary Muslim is being made to carry the tag of being a potential terrorist, an eternal suspect, a second rate citizen in his own motherland. This is not happening just in Gujarat but all virtually all over the country, cutting across the colour of the ruling party — BJP, Congress or CPM. All this happens in the name of SIMI or some other organisations about which the state agencies can produce some evidence and can fabricate the rest. The media is happy to lap up all the real and fabricated evidence, which in turn deeply affects the public opinion, especially the mind of an ordinary god-fearing, nation-loving Hindu. Both of us agree on this much.
Our differences are about how do we respond to this situation.  We could say either of the following:
1. SIMI is a religious organisation that functions well within the legal-constitutional norms. Why can’t Muslims have and associate with a student organisation on religious lines? What’s wrong if the community and its leaders celebrate the lifting of an unjust and illegal ban on this organisation? It’s the duty of every secular Indian to defend the rights of a disadvantaged minority to organise itself. I read this to be Gulam Muhammed’s argument.
2. SIMI is a communal organisation but the allegations about its linkage with terrorist activities are baseless. If Hindu and Sikh communal organisations can exist in this country, why not those of the Muslims? If anything we should be more tolerant of the minority communal organisations, for this is less dangerous for the country than majority communalism. Unless its terror links are established in a court of law, we must support and defend the right of Muslim community to associate with it and oppose the witch hunt against SIMI members and sympathisers. Let me call this Amresh Misra position for I take this to be the burden of your argument.
3. SIMI is communal organisation and some of its members and leaders may well have terror links. We may not have legally admissible evidence but circumstantial evidence cannot rule out this connection. The real point however is that SIMI does not represent the Indian Muslims. We must publicly distance ourselves from SIMI but focus our attention on defending those innocent Muslims who have had nothing to do with SIMI but are being hunted with the help of fabricatd evidence or those who have had sympathies with SIMI but have nothing to do wtih terror. I take this to be the Javed Anand position.
4. SIMI is communal, terror linked organisation and a threat to national unity. A Muslim communal organisation of this kind poses a special threat today to national security in the context of global Islamic terrorism. It is imperative to use all the might of the state to nip this in the bud, even if the cost is some regrettable compromise of human rights. I would call this the Establishment Line that has strong backing from within BJP to Congress to CPM.
Which of the four political lines should we choose to follow? This is not dispute about semantics or a hairsplitting luxury only armchair academics can afford. I am sure you would recognise that this is in essence a political question. Which of the political lines we choose today could determine the future of secularism in this country. On the one hand, a failure to address the widespread persecution of Muslims and to defend their legal-constitutional rights in this hour could lead to an undermining of their faith in the constitutional order and indeed an undermining of the idea of India. On the other hand, an inability to distinguish itself from a simple minded pro-Muslim posture and to attend to the real apprehensions of a very large section of non-communal Hindus could erode the popular support for secularism and could thus dig the grave for our secular republic. We cannot refuse to make a choice either or be seen to be endorsing all these lines. We have to make a political judgment here.
You have asked me about where I stand on this. As you can guess, I cannot possibly endorse the first (Gulam Muhammed line) or the last (Establishment Line). Gulam Muhammed line is correct if and only if we are completely sure of two things: that SIMI is merely a religious organisation and that there is not a shred of evidence of the involvement of some of its members and leaders in terrorist activities. I am personally not sure of either of these. From whatever limited information we have which is not controversial, it is clear that we are not dealing with simply a religious organisation, that if there is something called communal then SIMI is a communal organisation, just as Bajrang Dal or All India Sikh Students Federation is. I may not advocate a ban on Bajrang Dal, may even demand that all such bans be revoked, but I do not see how I can possibly celebrate the lifting of ban on it, even if on orders of the court. An endorsement of such an organisation would mean that secular politics will not stand above the majority-minority divide but will be seen as a partisan pro-Muslim action.
The Amresh Misra line is no doubt an improvement upon the first one, but I find it hard to agree with it. It shares one feature with Gulam Muhammed line: It works only and only if we are absolutely sure that it is completely baseless to link SIMI in any way with any form of terrorism. I think it is extremely risky to make this assumption at this stage. The evidence is unclear and is likely to remain so for some time (largely because state agencies could be as partisan in producing evidence as the supporters of SIMI) and therefore we will have to take a call partially in the dark. I think at this stage we cannot rule out the involvement of some members and leaders of this organisation in some activities that run against the letter and spirit of law and the spirit of our nationalism (the exact nature of activity, its justification or otherwise, the status of members involved and the seriousness of their involvement are issues that we can keep debating).I also disagree with the idea that we should ask for legally admissible proofs verified by courts to take a critical stance against SIMI; if so, we should ask for the same before blaming Narendra Modi for Gujarat massacre and the Congress for anti-Sikh massacre. Finally, while I recognise the distinction between aggressive (often majority) and defensive (often minority) communalism, I do not think that the way to mark this distinction is to oppose the former and tolerate the latter.
My real problem with the first two lines is not just the possibility of a factual error in a foreseeable future, something all of us are prone to all the time, a risk that political action must take. My real problem is that both these lines can lead to political suicide for Indian secular politics. Both these take for granted the association of the SIMI with the Indian Muslims and do not interrogate its claims to representing an ordinary Indian Muslim. Should their judgment prove to be even partially incorrect — should we discover at some point some credible evidence of SIMI-terror links — then this reading would encourage the opposite of what it intends. It would actually feed into the Hindu communal canard linking Indian Muslims to terrorism. That is why I think it is crucial to delink SIMI from Indian Muslims. There is no doubt that in the recent past a section of the Indian Muslims may have developed some sympathies for SIMI, thanks to the campaign launched by the security establishment (exactly as George Bush’s actions made Osama bin Laden something of a hero among the Indian Muslims). But an overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims has nothing of do with SIMI and the world view it represents. That is why it is crucial that secular politics must distance itself from SIMI and question any association between SIMI and the Indian Muslims. It is vital that this separation be carried out publicly and now, if we are serious about the future of secularism in this country.
That is precisely what I find attractive in Javed Anand line. Its public distancing from SIMI may prove to be a great asset for secular politics. That this critique of SIMI comes not from a right wing Hindu fanatic is precisely its strength. This line enables us to draw some distinctions that are fundamental to any secular political action: between SIMI and Indian Muslims, between Indian Muslims and ideology of terrorism, between secular politics and pro-Muslim politics. It allows us to focus on the real issue without taking on an excess and fatal baggage: the issue of harassment, witch hunt and indictment of ordinary Muslims. This is what secular politics should focus upon, while distancing itself and Indian Muslims from SIMI and similar organisation. SIMI (or for that matter RSS) must have the protection of the law of the land and its activists (even those who may be found guilty of terror links) must enjoy basic human rights. I believe that it is counter-productive to ban communal organisations and am opposed to any special laws that deny a due process to anyone accused of terrorism. But I do not see how the defence of these can become the primary locus of secular politics.
I am sorry this response has become longer than I had intended it to be. But as I read and re-read your responses and the posts from Gulam Muhammed saheb, I became more aware of the significance of what we are dealing with and the importance of having some clarity about it. I am grateful that you took a small and half-baked intervention of mine seriously and pushed me to think more systematically about this subject.