Debating India

The limits of logic

Saturday 11 March 2006, by THAPAR*Karan

It’s odd how sometimes a politician’s logic can be impeccable but he may still fail to win the argument. When this happens, more often than not it’s because he did not appreciate the limitations of his case. He pushed too far and tipped himself over the edge. That, in a nutshell, is the outcome of the BJP’s attack on the Government after tuesday’s Benaras bombs. Let me explain.

The assumption that one can tackle the problems Muslims face by targeting them as Muslims is neither valid as a principle nor efficacious as a policy. And before you think I am picking on Muslims, this also applies to any other religious minority be it Christian, Sikh, Jain, Jew, Parsi or Buddhist. It’s just that the case is best understood - and, of course, most contentiously stated - when made with reference to Muslims.

Three problems arise when Muslims are tackled as Muslims. First, the act of identification by religion, as opposed to nationality, sets them apart from the rest. The logic inherent in this approach is that they are different and need to be treated differently. Second, and worse, classifying Muslims by their religion pushes them under the thrall of conservative mullahs and orthodox organisations whilst, simultaneously, squeezing out liberal opinion. It creates the context which makes ?legitimate’ the fatwas sent to Sania Mirza and Taslima Nasreen or the voting directions given to the Muslim community by the Shahi Imam.

However, in India it’s the third problem that has the most significant political impact. It’s also the one that lies at the core of the BJP’s critique of ?minorityism’. The logic of tackling Muslims as Muslims leads inevitably to treating them as vote banks. Benefits are conferred on them as a group and, in return, they are ?expected’ to vote for you. Often this ?vote bank mentality’ can lead governments to ?defy’ the Supreme Court or alter the Constitution if, as a result, it can benefit the minority (vote bank) it wishes to help.

Thus, when the Supreme Court strikes down the Assam Migration Act or the Aligarh Muslim University Act rather than accept what the highest court in the land has done an effort is made to pass legislation or conjure up clever rules to undo or, at least, make irrelevant the Court’s verdict.

Now, if this approach to tackling Muslim problems had worked these concerns could have been accepted or, over time, lived with. But it hasn’t. Even after 58 years of independence, Muslims remain amongst the poorest, least educated and worst represented people in India. They need special help. But so too do tens of millions of others - Hindus, Jains, Christians, Jews, Sikhs and Buddhists. Tackling their problems is critical and it’s also what India’s democracy owes them - but not by categorising them as religious minorities. That can only invite a backlash as resentment amongst the majority community emerges and grows. The answer is to tackle the problems as economic or social issues that affect a whole cross section of the population.

However, the BJP has tipped this logic over the edge in three important, if not self-defeating, ways. First, its shrill rhetoric has made the analysis seem communal. One only has to observe how differently academics like Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Rafiq Zakaria and Abusaleh Shariff make the same point to know how the BJP has communalised an anti-communal critique.

Second, the instant and automatic call for a bandh might seem as if it is a protest against what’s happened but, in fact, it’s not. It’s actually a way of exploiting the troubled emotions before they are assuaged or calmed with time. This is fishing in troubled waters. It can yield potential profits but usually with unacceptable risks.

Third, by taking out yatras of alleged national integration what, in truth, the BJP is doing is mobilising the majority by awakening or stirring its consciousness of being disadvantaged by a minority. It’s not integration but separation that is the real intention. Otherwise, when emotions are so brittle and combustible, it would be politically wiser not to embark on yatras at all. Sitting at home and maintaining the peace is the real need of the hour.

As far as I’m concerned, the BJP is a classic case study of how a line of logic can be pushed so far it turns on itself. No doubt the Opposition has a point about minorityism; if only it knew how to make it and, more importantly, how not to extend it.

See online : The Hindustan Times

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