Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Nuclear Deal and the Muslim Vote Bank

The Nuclear Deal appears to be unravelling the domestic political scene that were long expected. The CPIM has withdrawn support from the Congress led UPA government in New Delhi and demanded that the President ask the government to prove its majority in Parliament. Since the Left opposition to the deal was discovered, it has been insinuated that they were doing so under Chinese influence and many commentators in the press, used such poetic post-nationalist references for the CPIM, who couched their opposition in anti-imperialist terms.

With the tenures of both, George Bush in the United States and the government in Delhi coming to an end, the Indian Prime Minister decided push ahead with the deal. When these intentions of the government was made clear, the CPIM Member of Parliament, MK Pandhe, let the cat out of the bag, when he said that the deal is opposed by a majority of Muslims. It was a revealing moment for the Left in India, for which Pandhe has been reprimanded but it did solve the mystery of the invisible Chinese hand and pointed to a more prosaic reason behind the CPIM's phrase of 'national interest'. That vote bank politics was the reason behind the CPIM stand would have never been guessed, looking at the words used to oppose the deal. Some such phrases that easily come to mind, because they have been repeated ad nauseum, were 'independence of foreign policy', 'the myth of nuclear energy', 'Junior Partner of US imperialism' and so on. All these phrases and the questions they raised have been answered in no uncertain terms by commentators in the Indian media. But the CPIM was not to be budged, these phrases were merely the obfuscating strategy to mask the reason behind their belated nationalism.

Discussing MK Pandhe's comment with strategic experts who happened to be Muslims was a hilarious moment for all. It was indeed hilarious due to purported power of this much abused vote bank logic. It is a reality that parties across the political spectrum in India employ, even the right wing BJP. In their efforts to restrict Indian politics within the ambit of caste, community, creed and regional prejudices, the discourse is centred around this ghost of vote banks. You will not see economic interests being represented here, rather they would be a particular community's economic interest in a restricted region.

The fallacy, myth and the danger of an All India Muslim vote bank should also be laid to rest. It is a mantra that everybody repeats and claims to represent but no policy is ever formulated for the progress of the community. The policies are geared to keep them powerless and behave like block of wood who need leadership to secure the community from the aggressive majority. It is this leadership space in which parochial interests of a section of the community finds its ambition.

That a, class identity is key, party like the CPIM choose to do is yet another reiteration of the bankruptcy of the Left politics in India. It is their sheer failure to actually go about creating and articulating economic interest of various groups rather than narrow sectarian interests is an answer one ought to put to Comrade Prakash Karat. One does wonder where Comrade Sitaram Yechury has vanished for the past few months. We need not go too far back for another manifestation of this strain, we only need to remember how the CPIM government in West Bengal pushed Taslima Nasreen out of the state within a day after a violent Musilm demonstration in Calcutta. This opinion piece that I am sharing is by AG Noorani, a respectable, credible and regular contributor on Indian foreign policy and diplomatic history. It is a crisis of credibility for the Indian Left, when they have someone like Noorani calling their bluff.

Myths About Muslims : Don’t communalise the nuclear deal by AG Noorani
The Times of India, 9 July 2008

There can be two opinions on the merits of the Indo-US accord on nuclear cooperation. But there can be no two opinions on the cynicism of those who have sought to play the Muslim card in the politics surrounding the deal. The timing betrays desperation. Hence, the recourse to cheap tactics.

Since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George Bush agreed, three years ago, to work on civil nuclear energy cooperation between India and the US, there has been extensive debate on its implications. None of any significance mentioned any communal aspect, because it simply did not exist. The credit for its discovery goes to a CPM MP, M K Pandhe, who confidently certified that “an overwhelming majority of the Muslim masses” opposed the deal. He urged the Samajwadi leader Mulayam Singh Yadav not to alienate them by supporting the deal. He was repudiated by CPM’s leaders.

But Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati saw an opening and jumped into the fray. She said the UPA government’s decision to proceed with the nuclear deal had angered Muslims and accused the Congress as well as the Samajwadi Party of attacking her because they saw Muslims shifting to the BSP. That was enough for a group of clerics to call on her in a delegation the very next day to congratulate her for her stand. An official press release claimed that the religious leaders urged her to use her influence to prevent the “anti-national” deal.

It is a pity that they had suppressed their views on the subject for so long. The country would have benefited hugely from their exposition of the flaws of the draft, and its “antinational” character, given their considerable expertise in the field. If the objection is to any accord whatever with the Great Satan, one would like to know how they explain the deeply religious Saudi Arabia’s close alliance with the US. Iran, another country which is as devoutly Islamic, offered the US a “grand bargain” on May 4, 2003 through the Swiss embassy in Tehran. It went beyond the nuclear issue and covered a host of topics including the peace process in Palestine and terrorism. It is another matter that the offer was brusquely rejected by the US and the Swiss envoy was scolded for his pains. Pakistan has been trying desperately but unsuccessfully for precisely such an accord with the US.

The only redeeming feature in this episode is the swift and sharp censure from Muslim organisations of standing which followed Pandhe’s remarks. The Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Hind’s spokesman, Maulana Abdul Hameed Noomani, protested on June 24 against Pandhe’s attempt to “club the nuclear deal with the Muslim community”. He asked, “Why have they singled out the Muslim community on this issue?” The Jamat-e-Islami’s spokesman, S Q R Ilyasi, spoke in the same vein saying “it only communalises the issue”.

The episode merits discussion because it reveals the cynical manipulation of Muslims by some politicians, the readiness with which some Muslims lend themselves to such manipulation and, indeed, the pathetic state of Muslim politics in the country. Evidently, it never occurred to those who waited on Mayawati on July 2 that neither she nor Mulayam Singh cared to issue a simple notification of the kind which Justice Jagdish Bhalla of the Allahabad high court on February 12, 2001 asked the UP government to issue in order to speed up the criminal cases relating to the demolition of the Babri masjid. Neither the SP nor the BSP wanted to burn its bridges with the BJP.

Muslims earned no little odium for India’s reluctance for long to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. In a speech at the Israeli Council of Foreign Relations in 2000, then foreign minister Jaswant Singh attributed it to a “very strong urge among politicians” to continue in office. The Muslim vote could not be ignored, he said. This was unjust as archival material establish. In a letter to a close friend Frances Gunther on June 26, 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru acknowledged pro-Arab feelings in India. “This was not confined to the Muslims but extended to others also,” he wrote. However, he added, “This feeling has undergone a considerable change recently... in favour of the general Jewish attitude in Palestine”. He had other reasons for stalling the exchange of envoys based on realpolitik.

Nehru’s policy paid handsome dividends. From 1948 till the 1965 war, Kashmir was a live issue internationally. But Pakistan could not even contemplate moving it from the UN Security Council to the General Assembly in order to escape from the Soviet veto, because Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt and a few Arab states would have given cold comfort to Pakistan. However, the myth of the Muslim veto and “vote bank” persisted.

Fortunately, there are signs that the depressing pattern of old, with its manipulative politics, is being broken. Muslims are beginning to accept realistically that in a plural society no political party would do anything to promote any sectional interest — religious, linguistic, economic or other — at the risk of losing majority support. But sectional interests are not helpless. They can articulate their demands within the national political process. Their effectiveness, however, will depend on their involvement in that process. In the final analysis there is no alternative to secular politics.

The writer is a Mumbai-based lawyer.

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