From Rajiv Gandhi to Modi, nobody defines ‘Muslim appeasement’ but all use it for votes

The idea of ‘Muslim appeasement’ has haunted Indian politics for nearly three decades.

The strength of Hindutva politics practiced by parties like the BJP and Shiv Sena in recent years has relied on two interlinked rhetorical devices – that Hindus are victims in secular India; and Muslims have been appeased in the name of secularism since Independence.

And yet no one has defined the phrase ‘Muslim appeasement’.

In a speech dedicated to Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, the founder of Jana Sangh and the official ideologue of the BJP, Narendra Modi said:

“…Fifty years ago, Pandit Upadhyaya said, do not reward/appease (puraskrit) Muslims, do not shun (tiraskrit) them but purify (parishkar) them’. Do not treat Muslims like vote ki mandi ka maal (vote banks) or ghrina ki vastu (object of hatred). Unhe apna samjho (regard them as your own).”

This was not the first time when Narendra Modi, like other BJP leaders, invoked the term ‘Muslim appeasement’ to criticise the policies, programmes and actions of non-BJP political parties. Although the meaning of the term ‘Muslim appeasement’ is not elaborated in the speech, Modi was able to make his point. He was certainly referring to the alleged privileges given to Muslims in India, which, in his imagination of sabka sath sabka vikas, had to be condemned for not achieving real development.

Modi cannot be singled out for using ambiguous, vague and unclear expressions to outline the distinctiveness of his party. The idea of ‘Muslim appeasement’ has haunted Indian politics for nearly three decades, but never really been given any adequate intellectual attention.

What is Muslim appeasement?

Broadly speaking, Muslim appeasement is referred to at least in two aspects of politics regarding Muslims: biased institutional apparatus and unfair political practices.

The constitutional provisions related to rights of religious minorities, which offer legal protection to autonomous bodies such Islamic endowments knows as Waqf, the Muslim Personal Law and educational institutions such as the Aligarh Muslim University, are seen as problematic and unfair. It is asserted that minority rights goes against the spirit of religious equality and secularism based on rule of law.

In an article published in the 1970s called Minorities Problems and Its Solution, written by Balraj Madhok, one of RSS’s known intellectuals, the problematic aspects of the Constitution are outlined. He says:

“Articles 21, 30 and 370, which are discriminatory being in favour of minorities should be abrogated from the Constitution of India. Such provisions be made in the Constitution that no discrimination between the citizens of India will be made by the Government on the basis of religions or methods of worship. ….Such Muslims and other minorities who are not prepared to abjure their separatist tendencies should be declared foreigners, and they should be divested of the right of franchise.”

‘Muslim appeasement’ is also used to denote specific forms of political practices. The assurance given to Muslims by the political parties with regard to educational and/or economic empowerment, distribution of tickets to Muslim candidates in elections and even declaration of holidays on Muslim religious festivals are treated as ‘Muslim appeasement’. A resolution passed by the RSS in 2005 is an example of this critique:

“The Akhil Bharatiya Karyakari Mandal (ABKM) decries the return of the demon of minority appeasement under the present UPA government. Its earlier decision to provide 50% reservation for Muslims in Aligarh Muslim University and its attempts now to go in appeal against the HC order on the minority status of the Aligarh Muslim University is a standing proof of its appeasement policy… Also reprehensible is the reported directive given to all the Chief Ministers of the Congress-ruled states to emulate Andhra Pradesh government in extending reservations to Muslims.

‘Secular’ response

Interestingly, the secular critique of Hindutva’s imagination of ‘Muslim appeasement’, does not propose any alternative idea. Although they tend to talk of the multi-layered structure of the Muslim community and its relative marginalisation, the possibilities of appeasement, its meanings, forms and impacts are not given any serious intellectual/political attention.

‘Muslim appeasement’ is simply refuted as Hindutva propaganda.

Even those scholars, who are critical of Hindu as well as Muslim communalism, could not produce any significant analysis of ‘Muslim appeasement’.

Mushirul Hasan’s assessment of the Shah Bano moment of Indian politics is a good example to underline this confusion. He writes:

“Debates on the Uniform Civil Code have gone on ceaselessly since Independence. Muslim orthodoxy was unequivocally opposed to change, and the liberal view became increasingly blurred because of the unhappy intervention of Hindu ideologues as vocal proponents of reform in Muslim personal law….. The government dare not change its strategy for fear of losing Muslim votes….Rajiv Gandhi imposed a ban on Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and his successor V.P. Singh declared Prophet Mohammad’s birthday a national holiday. Finally, Muslims were willfully appeased by the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, and through official reluctance to enact a Uniform Civil Code.”

(Emphases added, Mushirul Hasan, Legacy of a Divided Nation,Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 279)

It is certainly clear from this passage that Hasan is condemning the Hindutva politics, which appropriated the UCC debate. He is equally critical of the Islamic orthodoxy, which was supported by the state in the Shah Bano case. Yet, Hasan fails to specify his meaning of ‘Muslim appeasement’ and we are left with a few puzzling questions: Does Muslim appeasement only mean the political moves of the Rajiv Gandhi government? Or, does it mean that all Muslims were going to vote for Rajiv Gandhi in the election because they were “wilfully appeased” in the Shah Bano case? If this is the case, how is Hasan’s notion of Muslim appeasement different from the RSS’ conceptualisation?

Muslim appeasement in post-Sachar era

The publication of the Sachar report in 2006 gave a new twist to the idea of Muslim appeasement. As an official document, the report underlines the fact that Muslims of India are socially, economically and educationally backward and marginalised. Although the report very categorically emphasises upon the highly diverse and deeply stratified structure of Muslim community, the ‘Muslim victimhood’ as a new template of Indian politics began to take shape.

The report was invoked, particularly by non-BJP parties, to demonstrate that ‘Muslim appeasement’ was a myth created by the Hindutva forces and Muslims must be treated as an excluded community.

Hindutva politics also refashioned itself in the light of this response. It was argued that the Congress did not show any serious interest in the empowerment of Muslims — they were treated as a vote bank, which led to marginalisation and exclusion; and that the BJP’s firm commitment to equal treatment to all, as the argument goes, helped even the Muslims to prosper in BJP-ruled states. L.K. Advani’s assessed the Sachar Report thus:

“… I feel Gujarat should be grateful to Justice Sachar for proving convincingly to the country that under Narendra Bhai Modi’s regime, Muslims are far better off than their compatriots in other states.”

This argument later evolved into the party’s rhetoric: “Development of all, appeasement of none”.

Now, ‘Muslim appeasement’ has found a new political life in post 2014-India. The BJP has successfully established the fact that addressing Muslims as Muslims is an act of appeasement. The impact of this assertion is so powerful that even the so-called secular, anti-Hindutva, and non-BJP parties have gradually started distancing themselves from Muslims, simply to avoid the tag of Muslim appeasement.

Muslim appeasement and ‘good Muslims’

The assumption of ‘Muslim appeasement’ relies on Muslim homogeneity — an undifferentiated picture of a single Muslim community. However, the recognised ‘good Muslims’ in all political parties are never treated as beneficiaries of appeasement. In fact, these ‘good Muslims’ struggle with each other as organic intellectuals — either to refute ‘Muslim appeasement’ as a myth or to evoke the “development of all, appeasement of none” slogan.

The presence of these ‘good Muslims’ underlines the fact that ‘Muslim appeasement’ is not a description of an objective socio-political condition of Muslims; rather it is a metaphor of politics.

The unclear, ambiguous metaphor is cleverly employed to create a ‘fear psyche’ among Muslims. It tells Muslims that they are a pampered lot – even as they experience deprivation – and creates a psychological dissonance. This state prevents them from seeking equity or justice.

The Modi-led BJP is not an exception in this regard. The Muslim faces of the BJP – Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Zafar Islam and Najma Heptulla – are elite Muslims, who are being appeased in the name of sab ka sath sabka vikas.

Yes, ‘good Muslims’ are always appeased.

Hilal Ahmed is an associate professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

(The Print is publishing three series on minorities in India by scholar of political Islam Hilal Ahmed. The ‘Sarkari Muslim’, Minority Report, and Line of Law will trace the political journey of Muslims in the country. This is the second article under The ‘Sarkari Muslim’.)

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