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Arfa Khanum Sherwani denies the existence of Muslim appeasement in West Bengal, here’s how she is comparing apples and oranges

There are multiple flaws with that line of argument. The primarily being that economic prosperity may not be the primary concern for Muslims as a community in matters of politics.

Arfa Khanum Sherwani, ‘journalist’ with The Wire, has triggered quite a controversy after denying the existence of minority appeasement politics in West Bengal. The existence of the brand of the politics, which is an obvious reality acknowledged by political strategists such as Prashant Kishore himself, was deemed a myth by the ‘journalist’.

The argument provided for the train of thought was that even after decades, the Muslim community continues to score woefully in social development indices. Since Muslims as a community are not as prosperous as others, Arfa Khanum Sherwani declared that Muslim appeasement is a myth.

There are multiple flaws with that line of argument. The primarily being that economic prosperity may not be the primary concern for Muslims as a community in matters of politics. If Muslims prioritize religious issues over ‘Vikas’, then it will ultimately reflect on their economic standing in society. And the brand of leaders extremely popular among Muslims is evidence of the fact that this is precisely the case.

Arfa Khanum Sherwani argued that the “Periodic Labour Force Survey 2018-2019 shows that only 13% of Muslims” in West Bengal have regular salaried jobs and 34.3% of them work as casual workers, both significantly worse than the national average.

On the basis of such data, Arfa Khanum Sherwani argued that Muslim appeasement in West Bengal is a myth. One can understand why she is engaging in such a desperate denial of reality. The Muslim appeasement politics of Mamata Banerjee has provided the BJP with a great platform to engineer their meteoric rise in the state. It is what is likely to eventually cost her the Chief Minister’s chair.

Her arguments would have accrued some merit if politicians popular among the Muslim community were more concerned with economic prosperity, literacy and jobs than petty religious concerns. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The popularity of leaders such as Asaduddin Owaisi and his brother Akbaruddin and the rising stature of Islamist Abbas Siddiqui in Bengal politics is sufficient indication of the fact that the Muslim electorate prioritises religious concerns over all else.

Since the Muslim electorate is concerned more with religious issues, it is natural that appeasement will occur along the lines of religious concerns and not economic. Consider this, a group of individuals is demanding a hundred apples every week even though that would mean that another competitive group is deprived of apples entirely. The elected representative bows down to the first group and makes provision to meet their unreasonable demands.

After a year or so, it is discovered that the first group has a great deal of apples while the second group has managed to secure a greater number of oranges. Suddenly, a person supportive of the first group comes forth and argues that there has been no appeasement of the first group because they do not have a sufficient number of oranges. It is an absurd claim to make and yet, it is precisely what Arfa Khanum Sherwani is doing here.

The Muslim community wanted its religious concerns addressed and ‘secular’ parties have ensured that those, no matter how unreasonable, are met. The inevitable consequence of it has been the fact that they have faired poorly in matters of ‘Vikas’. Of course, one could blame ‘secular’ parties for the abject state of affairs but truth be told, if any ‘secular’ minded individual is interested in blame-games, he only need look at the mirror.

When politicians such as Akbaraddin Owaisi, of the ’15-minute threat’ to Hindus fame, are elected to power time after time after time, it is bizarre to believe that they have been elected to secure more jobs. When Abbas Siddiqui, who prayed to Allah to send a virus that killed 50 crore Indians, commands such respect among the Muslim community, it is patently delusional to expect that he will work to provide financial security to the community.

When politicians are elected to meet unreasonable religious demands, then it is those that will be met following their election; at the expense of social upliftment if needs be. For others to then deny the existence of appeasement itself based on completely different metrics than on the basis of which the community was appeased is sheer propaganda.

This is not a new development per se. It is a phenomenon that was observed even by BR Ambedkar himself. In his book ‘Pakistan or the Partition of India’, he noted, “There is thus a stagnation not only in the social life but also in the political life of the Muslim community of India. The Muslims have no interest in politics as such. Their predominant interest is religion. This can be easily seen by the terms and conditions that a Muslim constituency makes for its support to a candidate fighting for a seat.”

He continued, “The Muslim constituency does not care to examine the programme of the candidate. All that the constituency wants from the candidate is that he should agree to replace the old lamps of the masjid by supplying new ones at his cost, to provide a new carpet for the masjid because the old one is torn, or to repair the masjid because it has become dilapidated. In some places a Muslim constituency is quite satisfied if the candidate agrees to give a sumptuous feast, and in other[s] if he agrees to buy votes for so much apiece. With the Muslims, election is a mere matter of money, and is very seldom a matter of [a] social programme of general improvement.”

“Muslim politics takes no note of purely secular categories of life, namely, the differences between rich and poor, capital and labour, landlord and tenant, priest and layman, reason and superstition. Muslim politics is essentially clerical and recognizes only one difference, namely, that existing between Hindus and Muslims. None of the secular categories of life have any place in the politics of the Muslim community; and if they do find a place—and they must, because they are irrepressible—they are subordinated to one and the only governing principle of the Muslim political universe, namely, religion,” he added.

What BR Ambedkar observed holds true even now with the dominance of politicians such as the Owaisis, Amanatullah Khan and the rising prominence of Abbas Siddiqui. Mamata Banerjee tried to appease them on multiple fronts with initiatives such as ‘Imam bhata’ and restrictions on Durga Puja. But in the end, it appears extremely likely that it won’t be enough to fend off the Siddiqui threat.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

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