Shazia Ilmi controversy: 'Secularism' is a cake no party can overlook

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It is a disappointing fact that even after 66 years of independence, the Indian political mindset has yet not overcome the secular-communal debate when it comes to election time. What is even more unfortunate is that the politics which was started decades ago to make permanent vote-banks, has left a deep influence on the minds of even those who entered the arena of politics with a vision for a fresh change.

Congress, SP, VHP, AAP... everybody wants a share of the cake

Take for example, the series of controversies around the secular-communal question that have rocked the country's general election in the second decade of the 21st century. While the chief of the Congress party is discussing with a top Muslim cleric how not to split the Muslim vote-bank in this election so that the BJP doesn't win, a right-wing leader like Pravin Togadia is making strong statements against the Muslim minorities. And now, an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader is seen advising the Muslims to become communal and not remain secular. In between, a senior Muslim leader of the Samajwadi Party, a party known for its ideology of social justice, even communalised the Indian Army.

Congress always took advantage of the Muslims's disadvantage

The secular-communal debate is a structural problem of Indian politics. The Congress, because of historical reasons, has projected itself as the real guardian of the Muslims in the post-independence period. The Muslims in this country did not have an alternative to the party which cashed in on the secular legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru and slowly were reduced to a monolithic vote-bank because of little viable electoral options. The Congress took advantage of this disadvantage of the minorities for a long period after the independence.

But the situation was hit by the decline of the Congress in post-Indira Gandhi days and the gradual rise of the right-wing BJP. The first factor led to the rise of a number of regional parties and they hijacked the Congress's idea of social coalition and began presenting them as the real custodian of the minorities. The rise of the BJP, which just tried to take the game to the opposite extreme by fuelling majoritarian sentiments, also helped these regional forces.

The likes of Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad flourished by cashing in on the widening gap between the minority versus majority politics, known as secular-communal debate in decent terms.

Each of these parties, whether the Congress, BJP or Samajwadi Party, have toyed with the idea of minorities from various angles just to compete for the political resources. Leaders from these parties don't hesitate to go to the extreme end to either appease or threaten the minorities during the elections. That is how politics in India has been structured.

Shazia Ilmi also does the same because this is how India's electoral politics functions

And when a leader like Shazia Ilmi flirts with the same structural problem, one feels more disappointed than shocked. It is more disappointing because being a member of a party which claims itself to be the representative of a resurgent India, Ilmi has not been successful to get over the traps of structuralism. She asks the Muslims not be secular and turn communal. Her words, which could have been put in a better way, create more confusion because in India, the meanings of communalism and secularism have been messed up. Even a Muslim reacts when Ilmi said Muslims are too secular. Why this stereotyping, even after 66 years of independence?

Okay Shazia, Muslims need somebody of their own but that own is Kejriwal?

Ilmi, a leader of a party which had raised much hope in Indian political circles recently and still is a force to reckon with, proves that politicians in this country, no matter what school of thought they represent, feel compelled to think around the same-old vote-bank politics. Or else, why should Ilmi ask the Muslims to vote for someone who they feel as their own and it is none other than Arvind Kejriwal?
Structuralism is a difficult nut to crack. It is because of this that we see even a Christian Catholic chief of the oldest party in the country and a youth leader of a revolutionary outfit donning the same-old mantle of 'secular Indian'.

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