The oath-taking ceremony for the elected representatives of the 17th Lok Sabha beautifully captured the precipice at which our country currently finds itself in. The Parliament resounded with chants of “Jai Shri Ram”, “Joy Maa Kali”, “Jai Bheem” and there was also a Muslim MP who declared that chanting Vande Mataram is contrary to the principles of Islam.
For the first time in a great, great many years, our Parliament turned into a battleground of cultures. There are justifiable reasons why some people might be uncomfortable with the events that transpired, however, in a Democracy, it is in the best interests of everyone involved that the Parliament accurately reflects Indian social anxieties and concerns.
The Gods, themselves, have entered our Parliament finally it appears. While BJP MPs from Bengal took their oaths amidst chants of “Jai Shri Ram”, those from Trinamool raised slogans of “Jai Maa Kali” and “Jai Maa Durga”. This was consistent with Trinamool’s efforts to separate Bengalis from the larger Hindu identity on the basis of the Gods we worship. The Muslim leaders, too, responded with “Allahu Akbar” and other Islamic slogans. This is how Nehruvian Secularism dies.
Asauddin Owaisi, quite smartly, used the opportunity to further his pet political project. Along with “Allahu Akbar”, he also threw in “Jai Bheem” into the midst indicating his long-held desire of forging a Dalit-Muslim vote-bank. It is, of course, a fantasy that will never ever materialize. Efforts towards that end have been made since decades, however, as time has gone by, Dalits have only become more and more saffronized in terms of their politics.
The saffronization of Dalits is quite evident from the findings of the CSDS post-poll survey. BJP’s vote-share went up among all Hindu castes. 34% of Dalits voted for the BJP compared to 24% in 2014, the same numbers for Adivasis are 44% compared to 37%. Thus, it appears Owaisi’s dream of a Dalit-Muslim vote-bank will remain so for quite a while.
There’s a reason why the fantasy vote-bank will never materialize. Dalits, by and large, suffer the most at the hands of Islamic extremism. There have been numerous occasions when Dalits have been the victims of crimes committed by Muslims. In sociology departments of reputed Universities, it might be fashionable for scholars to theorize about a possible alliance between them but such theories are not based on ground realities. On the ground, there’s great animosity between the two groups. It can also be legitimately argued that it was Mayawati’s increased proximity towards Muslims that further eroded her support among her community.
There’s also something extremely perverse about Owaisi chanting “Jai Bheem”. Bhimrao Ambedkar was a vocal critic of Islam and the Muslim community and it is safe to say that had he been alive today, he wouldn’t have had very nice things to say about those who support evil traditions such as Triple Talaq.
Here is an example of what Ambedkar thought about the Muslim community:
“The second defect of Islam is that it is a system of social self-government and is incompatible with local self-government, because the allegiance of a Muslim does not rest on his domicile in the country which is his but on the faith to which he belongs. …. Wherever there is the rule of Islam, there is his own country. In other words, Islam can never allow a true Muslim to adopt India as his motherland and regard a Hindu as his kith and kin.”
Some people have opined that BJP MPs chanting “Jai Shri Ram”, “Vande Mataram” and “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” when Asauddin Owaisi was approaching towards the podium to take the oath was ‘bullying’. Although the behaviour may appear deplorable at first, there’s a larger context to it that everyone appears to be missing here. There’s a reason why Owaisi attracts such reactions.
It was Owaisi’s brother, Akbaruddin Owaisi, who had argued that if Police was withdrawn for 15 minutes across India, then Muslims would show 1 billion Hindus who is the boss. Asaduddin Owaisi, quite ostensibly, does not consider that a disqualifying remark and we have Akbaruddin as the current MLA in the Telangana Legislative Assembly.
People of a secular hue might forget such things but ordinary people don’t. Asaduddin Owaisi has never tried to shy away from the image the Hindutva camp has portrayed of him. He may appear eloquent with his words and quite the intellectual but his actions betray his intentions. Therefore, ‘bullying’ is the wrong word to use here. The more appropriate description of it is ‘mocking’. Whether mocking Owaisi was appropriate or otherwise will vary depending on one’s own political inclinations.
In his first speech after reelection, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that the brand of Secularism which was practised in the country thus far was dead. While the conduct of his own government since then betray his words, the elected representatives have amply demonstrated that the days of Nehruvian Secularism have long since past.
Going forwards, Politics in the country will likely become even more polarised as the battle transforms directly into one between the forces of Hindu Consolidation and that of Specific Castes plus Muslim vote-bank politics. And one thing is for certain, the ‘Secular’ characteristic of the Parliament will be further eroded which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself. And Asaduddin Owaisi will have a crucial role to play in the years to come.
Perhaps in the chaos of the Parliament, our leaders will be able to find the answers that have long plagued our country. Who are we as a nation? Why does India exist? What is India’s purpose in the world? What is India’s core identity? The polarised environment within the Parliament provides us with an opportunity to deliberate upon these fundamental questions. It’s only when we, as a nation, have answered the fundamental questions of our past that we can move forward towards a ‘New India’.