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Politics of Hope in the Age of Pessimism

 

Shah Nawaz Afaque

 “For a revolution it is not enough that there is discontent. What is required is a profound and thorough conviction of the justice, necessity and importance of political and social rights.” 

  • B.R. Ambedkar

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Is it just me or is there a lot of negativity in the air? Ideological clashes at the dining table, political battles in the Facebook comment sections, people mad at each other, and some very bad vibes. Left discrediting the non-Left by dubbing their intellectual position as ‘ahistorical,’ conservative voices ridiculing all progressive concerns as ‘anti-Nation,’ liberals getting bashed from both sides not knowing what they did wrong, and self-help author Mark Mansion publishing books after books, each time breaking his own record for the most number of F word usage in his best-sellers, reminding us every time how f....well, how doomed we are! 

We live in pessimistic times. We feel our future is doomed and something has to be done about it; else ‘they’ would take over our children and our children’s children as slaves. And mind you, this apocalyptic vision isn’t just a conservative camp phenomenon; the pessimistic worldview is a cross-ideological malaise. 

Political parties know best how to capitalise on people’s paranoid vision to strengthen their electoral base. In the contemporary Indian scenario, the ruling Bhartiye Janata Party for instance, paint a gloomy picture of the future where Aurangzeb 2.0(with an even longer beard) rules India, simultaneously projecting the party as the only remedy to such an imminent future. The Indian National Congress and Left parties on the other hand play to the fears of the minority, prophesising the emergence of Hitler 2.0, only this time sporting a white stubbed beard instead of his signature moustache, and who by the way love Dhoklas. 

modi - maulana

The Two Alternative Paths - Pessimism/Hope

I would like to recall the bitter cold night of 15 December, 2019. Two of the leading minority institutions of North India, Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University had just faced the wrath of Delhi and UP Police forces respectively, and students of the two universities had been assaulted ruthlessly. The atmosphere in the Capital was so tensed and polarised that a communal violence seemed inevitable. We surrounded the Delhi police Headquarter at ITO, demanding their apology and the release of student activists who had been taken into police custody. 

I can clearly recall the thoughts rushing through my anxious head as I stood staring at the abysmal gate of police headquarter. It was a state of utter paranoia and extreme pessimism that made me think “well, it’s over now, our (my community’s) fate is sealed and we would meet a similar fate as German Jews.” Where did I catch that idea from? German Jews-Indian Muslims, similar fate, seriously! The superficial comparison mustn’t have popped in my head out of vacuum. 

So, now I figure, it was carefully crafted and ingrained into our heads by those parties that feed on our paranoia and thrive on our votes. What comes out of such a pessimistic vision of politics is an absolute dependence on the promises of security offered by the secular-left parties, promises that are breached as soon as the need arises to appease the majoritarian sentiments in face of any crucial electoral gamble. Ladies and Gentlemen, that’s seventy years of secular India for you. 

The same night, a man clad in a navy blue shawl sat atop his car at the ITO protest, and offered his chest to regime’s bullet. The man is Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan,’ a dalit activist turned politician from Saharanpur, who till then was an unknown figure in most Muslim households. He was offering something different, something unique; an alternative vision to the mainstream politics of pessimism, the kind as embodied in the political struggle of Ambedkar, Malcolm X and Martin Luther Jr. When the following Friday he occupied the stairway of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, surrounded by thousands of his Muslim supporters, the moment which was captured in an iconic image of him waving a copy of the Constitution, could be considered symbolic. It marks the dawn of the politics of hope, of optimism, a politics devoid of servitude to secular parties. 

The hope is for a Nation that doesn’t divide and discriminate, and the path towards achieving it is to struggle for the ideals that our Constitution holds sacred. The Judaeo-Christian tradition is full of such accounts of struggle and sacrifice, reflected especially in the stories of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Persecuted people require a sense of hope and a defined path to attain their goal, not a constant reminder of their misery and servitude that only makes them numb and passive. 

The Ram Mandir Bhoomi Poojan event attended by Prime Minister Modi made the secular parties go berserk. In a state of panic, some of the secular columnists declared the event as marking the ‘death of Indian secularism.’ But was there a need to react that way? I can find no pyre of secularism, no marked grave, but I can certainly see the brighter picture, the one in which BJP is the best thing to happen to the Muslim community. 

It’s the job of secular columnists and human rights enthusiasts to monitor and report the assaults laid on the minority by the ruling party, and they are doing their job quite well. My job is to play Moses, and bring to my people the good news that their suffering is already a matter of the past and joyous times lie ahead! I shall name my optimism ‘The Good News Project’ and lay down before you the core assumptions of the project:

1. BJP’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

The BJP has politicised the Indian Muslim community like never before. A 200 million strong community’s frustrations were kept at bay by the previous regimes, often subduing their concerns by throwing at them little concessions once in a while, which the BJP rightly calls the ‘politics of appeasement.’ The covert operations where Muslim youths were abducted on charges of terrorism and tortured in dark cells back in the UPA years could obviously not catch as much attention as the lynching of Muslim men by cow vigilantes today, given the social media outrage, but it was as grave a persecution of the minority as the current regime, only that the latter does it blatantly. 

But when the chips are down and as the anti-Muslim global trend recedes, even such blatant shows of Muslim bashing wouldn’t prevent the ‘floating’ voters (that determine electoral victory) from deserting the BJP’s camp. And as the dust settles down, what the Nation would witness would be a Muslim community, ever more politically assertive and dominant, that shall know exactly what it wants. By attacking a minority so numerous and backed by influential foreign players, the BJP is only working towards realising its self-fulfilling prophecy. 

2. The Mullah-Lutyens’ Nexus

The Congress regime had arrested the social and intellectual progress of the Muslim community by assigning to the clerics immense socio-political control over the community. All community decisions were determined by the clerics, who in return for their patronage secured the Muslim vote bank for their secular allies. The Shah Bano verdict reversal reveals the unholy ‘Mullah-Lutyens’ alliance that was in place for over seventy years until the BJP’s victory in 2014. The 2019 Supreme Court’s verdict on Triple Talaq was in fact a death blow to the authority of clerics and they could never recover from the setback.

The baton of Muslim leadership thus passed from the obsolete arches of Madrasah to the vibrant libraries of University, and student activists came forward; not the stereotypical religion bashing hipster kind of activists but students-intellectuals with a deeper perspective on belief and identity. This has opened the doors for the Indian Muslim community to step out into the modern world, face its chaos and come up with some real answers to their identity question, than depend on Fatwas issued from Darul Iftah.

rahul gandhi

3. The Game of Numbers

The Indian Muslim- German Jews comparison is a total farce. This might sound quite insensitive to some but in the game of numbers that define modern politics, a 200 million strong minority cannot be persecuted in the same fashion as half a million jewish minority of The Third Reich. Since we are talking about numbers here, take a guess at the total jewish population in Germany percentage wise? It was to be precise, less than 0.75% of the total German population. 

Now, no matter the horrible fate that the jewish population of Germany met with, which is totally abhorrent and condemnable, the notion that a genocide similar to Auschwitz is inevitable under the present circumstances is totally unreal, a hyperbole, a case of extreme paranoia and the end product of a pessimistic political imagination as encouraged under the earlier regimes. The paranoia must go and give way to hope, the sooner the better. 

~~~

Shah Nawaz Afaque, I completed my graduation in Political Science from Ramjas College in 2016 and postgraduated in Political Science from Jamia Millia Islamia in 2018. I was involved in activism against Indian Government's controversial legislation on citizenship. I also manage campaigns for political parties independently.

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