Ishfaq Hussain Malik reflects on the controversy surrounding Jinnah's portrait in AMU to explain the state of politics in India. The author explains the role the Right wing and associated organisations play in othering the Muslims in India, and how, in the AMU controversy, mainstream media played along the narrative. The author also takes a critical look at the absence of a Muslim leadership which can articulate the aspirations of the community and could establish bonds with other marginalized communities like the Dalits, Adivasis, and Women.
“The strategic adversary is fascism--the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behaviour, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us” - Michel Foucault.
The students of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Aligarh, who protested against the attack on former Indian Vice President and ex Vice Chancellor of AMU Dr. Hamid Ansari, endured many fractures on their bodies as they braved a brutal lathicharge. But these fractures are not just on their bodies. They are reflective of a fractured reality; they are symptomatic of a deeper fracture that is endemic in the very body politic of Indian state. They are reflective of the fractured existence of the Muslims, Dalits, Tribals, Women, workers and peasants, oppressed nationalities, and many others who live in the margins of India.
Anatomy of an Attack on AMU
The incident at Aligarh Muslim University has its origin in a letter written to Vice-Chancellor of AMU Prof. Tariq Mansoor by Aligarh BJP MP Satish Gautam who objected to Pakistan founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s portrait on the walls of the AMU Students’ Union office, triggering a row days after a student sought permission to have a RSS shakha (daily meetings of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh) on its premises, which was denied by the university administration. M.A Jinnah was accorded life membership of the Aligarh Muslim University Students’ Union (AMUSU) in 1938. He was the founder member of the University Court in 1920 and also a donor. The issue gained momentum on 2nd May 2018 with a lecture entitled “India has failed to establish a Pluralistic Society”. This was the topic of the public lecture organized by AMUSU where Dr. Hamid Ansari was invited to speak. He was also about to be awarded a lifetime membership of AMUSU. But what followed instead was a brutal crackdown. The Hindu Yuva Vahini, Hindu Jagran Samiti & other Hindutva terror outfits of the RSS barged in the campus armed with guns and pistols, desi-kattas and revolvers, and backed by Yogi’s police. They shouted slogans like “We will not let such respect for Jinnah pass in India”, “If you want to live in India, you must say Vande Mataram”, “Vande Mataram, Jai Shri Ram”. Against such hooliganism by sanghi goons, the AMU students took out a protest march where the same police who had shielded the saffron thugs earlier, cracked down on the AMU students with brute force - lathi-charge & tear-gas shelling that left about 40 students grievously injured. While on the one hand the police didn’t lodge a complaint against these saffron goons, police is reported to have, filed an FIR against 300 AMU students. By the day’s end, the blood on the street was testimony to the fact that far from establishing a “pluralistic society”, the present dispensation has only strengthened the Hindu majoritarian bedrock of the Indian state. Due to the result of inaction against perpetrators, some of the AMU students started indefinite hunger strike on 12th May to demand justice but it ended on 16th May without accomplishing much.
The corporate media played an obnoxious role in highlighting the issue. This is a time when not just on social media, but even on most of mainstream media, hateful lies and propaganda was deliberately spread to polarize people on caste and communal lines. The fact that the mainstream media is discussing Jinnah for many days, and not the saffron goons entering campus with guns or the blood soaked faces of AMU students, shows how deeply mob-justice and violence have been normalized in India. The portrait, which has been there since 1938, was only discovered just some days before Dr. Hamid Ansari was to speak in AMU. With support from Yogi's police, an attack was elaborately planned on students on the day the former VP was to speak. The conjured up narrative around Jinnah is part of the planning to justify the brutal violence.
Misinterpretation of Jinnah and Anathema towards Pakistan
A spectre is haunting India – the spectre of Jinnah. The history is witness to the fact that Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was one of the most charismatic leaders in the world. He played a prodigious role in overthrowing the British colonial regime in undivided India.
The question is how do we look at this issue? Yes, it is about the Jinnah’s portrait because the whole issue started with it. There is no need to be apologetic about it. And it is also about the greater conspiracy. The relation between modern Indian psyche and Jinnah is complicated, to say the least, but the overwhelming attitude is that of anger and lamentation, especially given Jinnah’s nationalist background. He is seen as a man who fell to the communalist camp because of his ambitions for power and was instrumental in dividing the nation. However, Indian Muslims, despite having been indoctrinated for generations now, retain some memory of Partition and Jinnah. For many of them, Jinnah is the author of Partition and yet one of the greatest leaders of “Muslim India” in the last century, who made the Muslim League into a national party by mobilising millions of Muslims across British India. The tensions implicit in the juxtaposition of these contradictory images of Jinnah reveal themselves from time to time, as they have done again in the case of AMU. The portrait of Jinnah has been there since 1938, reminding us of the fact that Jinnah had a distinguished recognition as being one of the most important leaders of “Muslim India”. These contradictions and outbursts also point to the fact that the Indian public is not fully informed of the debates in those ten eventful years before Partition or about the movement of creation of Pakistan, and is more influenced by propaganda and the social need to pay lip service to nationalism. In order to demystify Jinnah and to resolve such contradictions, a fuller discussion on Partition should have been a part of educational setup in India. However, it has been made impossible to know such a historic figure by attributing violence of Partition to him.
Much of the blame for this obfuscation should go to Congress. In order to hide its failures and accommodate the genuine Muslim demands and aspirations for political representation Congress has, in reflexive self-defence, stuck to the ‘One Nation’ catchphrase, and made any nuanced discussion on the terms ‘nation’, ‘community’ or ‘democracy’ impossible.The anathema towards Pakistan is also a reason for demonization of Jinnah and Pakistan. Most of the Indians have abhorrence towards Pakistan. It is ironic that AMUSU recently organised a protest against Kasganj communal violence that took place on 26th of January 2018 by thumping their chests by shouting jingoistic nationalism slogans and “blaming” some “foreign hand” i.e., Pakistan for its role in it while completely failing to understand the structural communalism and violence. The anathema towards Pakistan can also been seen in the speeches of most Indian politicians.
The apologetic approach of majority of the students in AMU by declaring that the issue is not about Jinnah speaks volumes about their misinterpretation of the issue and ignorance of history. The argument given by them is the perverted logic that liberal jingoistic nationalists of India give. Their criticism of Jinnah reflects their cynical understanding of history. They are so despondent that they have to hate Pakistan to prove their love for India. Their patriotism is always in question.
Jinnah, AMU and BJP
The extreme kind of nationalism and patriotism propagated by RSS and its political outfit BJP breathes mainly on Islamophobia and Pakistan bashing. This acts like a ventilator to the ideology of right-wing extremists in India. Remove Pakistan, Kashmir and medieval India from their vocabulary and see their ideology struggle for survival. Debate on Jinnah was meticulously orchestrated and executed in the wake of Karnataka elections keeping AMU at the centre stage. This was a calculated move to distract attention of public from other issues like hike in petrol prices, farmer suicide, black money, unemployment etc, on which BJP has badly failed. Dr. Hamid Ansari’s visit to AMU came handy for the goons of Hindu Yuva Vahini to create a scene thus throwing AMU into a full blown crisis. Besides AMU, Jinnah’s portraits are also present in Bombay High Court, National Archives, Parliament House etc, but sanghis choose AMU only given its Muslim character to polarize the electorate ahead of 2019 elections. The debates and news covering the incident say it all. Jinnah worship, eulogizing Jinnah, Jinnah as a hero, praising Jinnah etc are some of the punch lines used by the media to describe the issue. In doing so, the media also absolves the goons of their murderous attack on the former Vice President of India and students on the AMU campus.
In a recent interview, a former BJP IT cell member came out and said, among other things, that BJP is always on the lookout for any issue that has anything to do with Muslims or Pakistan and turn that into a Hindu vs Muslim affair. They have realized that in order to win elections and remain in power, the only weapon in their arsenal is the religious extremism currently on the rise in India and they have to stoke its flames. They have understood that they don't need the Muslim vote bank as long as they have the support of a strong and growing sector of Hindu extremists and even seemingly liberal but closet Hindu fanatics who see Hindutva as a panacea for all their political, economic or social problems and who display an almost pathological hatred towards the Indian Muslims. BJP wants to capitalize on this hatred and mobilize it to their full advantage. So we can pretty much guess as to why the issue Jinnah portrait was raised in the first place.
There is not an iota of doubt about the fact that this was a pre-planned attack keeping in mind the requisite polarization before the Karnataka elections. Yogi’s cohorts were heard saying in public that time has come now to “teach” AMU a lesson. What they used as a pretext this time was a photo of M.A Jinnah. This in fact comes as part of a continual effort on the part of the saffron forces to beat the Muslims and their institutions into submission so as to push them further into being second class citizens, to vilify and terrorize them. Yogi’s police has already attacked the AMU students twice in a row. First, we must not forget how during the ‘Rail Roko Aandolan’ seeking Justice for Najeeb, was brutally lathi-charged and this time again they wanted to assist the RSS to teach AMU a “lesson”.
Muslim Identity and its Abuse for Political Gains
The students of AMU were attacked because they belonged to a particular community, because they have a particular identity, because they are Muslims. The idea of declaring India a Hindu Nation was sown when RSS was founded in 1925. It is the strategy of the Fascist Brahmanical Indian state to witch hunt minorities in India. The lynching, raping and oppressing of Muslims and Dalits have been normalized in India. They are the victims of structural violence. Muslims identity in the post-independence India has been abused by both Congress and other political parties. The vote bank politics by the so called secular parties has rendered Muslim identity as a sore in the eyes of majoritarian community. BJP has successfully propagated the myth of appeasement of Muslims by Congress and has reaped its political dividends in both regional and central elections. In recent elections in Karnataka a BJP candidate went on to the extent of saying that the election was a fight between Islam and Hinduism. Devoid of any concrete achievement and progress, the BJP has nothing but the card of Muslims as a threat to Hinduism as a winning mantra in the elections. Once an election approaches something ‘Muslim’ from history is taken out by BJP and the circus goes in full swing from TV debates, hate mongering, denationalisation of Muslims, open xenophobia and what not. The polarization on the basis of faith and identity has become a hallmark of Indian politics in the election campaigns of BJP. After 2014 elections this ugly truth has come to fore like never before. The lynching of Muslims and Dalits under the very protection and patronage of BJP, the dissolution of protective concessions to Muslims like minority scholarships and subsidies in certain areas speaks volumes about the identity politics of BJP.
The issue of Muslim identity is not limited to the election seasons. Muslim identity is inextricably linked with the history of Muslims in the subcontinent and it has been and is being questioned in today's Indian imagination every now and then. It is not a new phenomenon. It is as old as the modern Indian state itself, maybe older. With the emergence of BJP and ultra-right wing sentiment in India, it has only intensified and on the last sighting, it was only seen as getting worse.
The fact that Brahmanical Indian state wants the Muslims to renounce their identity and any residual affinity to their history is rooted in a myth that has been time and again propagated, often with seemingly innocuous intentions. It is a myth that India has always possessed an "astonishing inclusive capacity to absorb foreign races and cultures (Nehru's words, who goes on to quote Vincent Smith who essentially says that the Muslims who came to India-as if there was such an entity- were slowly assimilated, and with time "universally yielded to the wonderful assimilative power of Hinduism, and rapidly became Hinduised"). So today if a Muslim asserts the Muslim identity, based on the above assertion, that person is going against the ethos of “being an Indian”. This analysis misses an important point that has been made by many historians but isn't taught or propagated as its aforementioned counter-narrative, although being well within the range of respectable opinions.
The fact is that Muslims who came to India almost irrevocably altered the very fabric of Indian society. It affected the religion, culture, food habits, legal theory, language and many aspects of civic life. In other words, Modern India is as much a product of Muslim cultures of middle and central Asia as it is of the Hindu culture. Modern Indian Hindus largely ignore this reality and view India as some kind of ancient entity that was contaminated with the coming of Muslims and now feel that Hindus have to reassert their presence in the country and the only way to do so is to expunge any foreign elements still lingering behind. And more often than not, Islam or Muslim identity is recognized as the only remaining foreign element.
The Muslim Response
The partial blame for deteriorating condition of Muslims is on Muslim intellectuals of India. In the Post-Independence period, the Muslim scholarship is visibly constrained by the fear that any engagement with Muslim identity politics would brand them as sympathizers of Pakistan. Even after 70 years of independence the fear of freedom of Muslim intellectuals is hanging around the issue of Partition and formation of Pakistan and Bangladesh. This fear can be done away with only when the Muslim intellectuals could establish a common bond with the Dalit-Bahujan scholars, with rooted history, culture and the necessary courage and confidence, as they have an iconic figure like Ambedkar and his writings to guide them. After the demolition of Babri Masjid, a whole range of Hindu-cum-secular intellectuals came in support of the Muslim right to exist in India with dignity. But those intellectuals did not pose the question whether Muslims- who constitute more or less equal number to that of the Hindu upper castes, who have been ruling India ever since India got independence – have the equal right to rule India. After the Communal Award granted by the British rulers was withdrawn, (after the Independence and Partition) at least the right to proportional representation could have been put in place. The Muslim community’s under-representation in the Central Parliament and the State Legislatures is too well known. After the Constitution was adopted, if the Communal Award was at least translated into political reservation based on the size of their population, their situation would have been different.
The last four years have provided a brutal lesson for Muslims in the deprivation of rights, as campaigns of communalism have been waged over rapes, murder after murder, over allegations of beef eating, to attacks on Muslim institutions. As the BJP has captured power in state election after state election, the representation of Muslims in state assemblies – never very high to begin with – has nearly disappeared. The only Muslim leaders found on stage are people like Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who went to the extent of denying the lynching of Pehlu Khan in the Lok Sabha despite widespread reporting on the details. The attacks on Dalits have become routine, so much so that Ambedkar’s statue was caged, while Dalit grooms were attacked for riding horses and others attacked for ‘flaunting moustaches’. The list is long and horrendous. At the same time an oppressive policy in Kashmir has led to bloodshed in a scale not seen in the recent past, with war crimes, such as parading civilians tied to vehicles (Human Shield), being publicly celebrated and maiming of thousands of people with pellets. Nor are Muslims the only minorities targeted, with Christians also facing the rising tide of majoritarian violence. Adivasi communities are losing hard won rights for their land as forest rules are tweaked and they are also being killed, raped and displaced from their lands, and all of this has been accompanied with the steady drip of misogynistic violence in the public space as women are told what to wear and what to do.
For many self-styled Muslim leaders, these are all separate issues. It is hard to recall any leading Muslim intellectual or politician speaking of Dalit rights in the recent past. At critical periods, Muslim leaders have, in fact, rallied against the idea of equality. In appealing against the reading down of the regressive colonial section 377, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board stood with other regressive elements (even if some Muslim groups opposed them). On the Triple Talaq issue, and the fundamental right of Muslim women to marry and divorce as equals to men, Muslim leaders have refused to speak in clear terms in support of gender justice. When an NGO posted an ad for safai karmchari and said that “candidates from the general category – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Patels, Jains, Syrian Christians, Parsis, Pathans and Muslims – would get first preference”, it was attacked by upper caste groups, including Muslims. The Raza Academy, which portrays itself as “a Sunni Barelvi organisation of Indian Sufi Muslims”, had the gall to file a legal notice against the NGO on the basis that Sayyeds cannot be asked to clean toilets, reflecting the deep caste-ism that is to be found.
In India, the fight against patriarchy and caste system is internal to class struggle. The semi-feudal social relation, which, in collaboration with big capital, oppresses and exploits the vast majority of people, is constitutive of, just as it is simultaneously being constituted by, caste system and patriarchy.
With each step against the fight for equal treatment, these self-styled Muslim leaders have alienated themselves, and Muslims at large, from the larger fight for fair treatment of citizens as citizens. If Muslims don’t speak for other marginalized groups, why should other marginalized groups speak for them? As one of the largest marginalized communities in India (women would make up just under 50% and Dalits account for nearly 17%) Muslims have a disproportionate role in making the argument for equal treatment and fair play, and yet their leaders have either been missing from the debate, or been against it.
The Muslims in India generally don’t rise in rage against the atrocities done to the people of Kashmir, Northeast and Central India. The clangorous boasting of majority of the AMU students, teachers and AMUSU raising voice against injustice and oppression is hollow and spurious. Did they organise any protest against Kunan Pushpora incident in which 150 women were raped on cold dark night of February 23/24, 1991 by Indian army? The victims of this mass rape ranged in age from 13 to 80 years. Did they organize any protests against the rape and murder of Asiya and Neelofer of Shopian in Kashmir? Did they organize any protests against genocidal killings of Kashmiris and tribals of India? Did they organize any protests against widespread farmer suicides in India? Did they organize any protests against privatization, globalization and capitalism? The answer to all these questions is a big NO. Organizing very few protests about some selective issues isn’t testimony to the fact that they raise voice against injustice. Selective condemnation is a lie and deception and reveals the hypocritical, pharisaic and phony nature of the people.
The sudden waking up of people in Asifa’s case is hideous. People raised the Indian flag high both in support of the rapists and in demanding justice for Asifa. In Kashmir, the Indian flag has always represented oppression, savagery, fiendishness, sadomasochism, torture, molestation, maiming and brutishness. When its true colours were displayed, they didn’t know where to hide themselves and their shame. No amount of self-flagellating pounding is going to ease their complicity in these war crimes. There is no flag large enough to cover the shame and opprobrium of raping, killing and demeaning of Kashmiris by the Indian state. ♦
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Wande Magazine.