The politics of exclusion was never so striking. A class of politicians claiming a moral monopoly on representing the so-called ‘real people’ excludes the other people who ‘do not mean anything’.
US President Donald Trump during his presidential election campaign offensively said — the important thing is the unification of the people because the other people don’t mean anything. Similarly, in India, an aggressive drive is on to unify the majority against the minority, who now don’t mean anything in Indian politics.
Demonising Muslims and denigrating Dalits is an important ongoing agenda of majoritarian politics in India. A portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, which was hanging in the student’s union office at the Aligarh Muslim University since the last 80 years peacefully, had to face communal turmoil. The grave of Tipu Sultan, who mounted one of the most serious challenges the British faced in India was dug to relocate the Tiger of Mysore to the darker pages of history.
From the lynching of Md Akhaq and Pehlu Khan in Rajasthan, Junaid in Mathura, fatwa against the Padmavat filmmaker, Kathua gang rape of a Muslim minor, controversy over use of loud speaker for Azan to disrupting Namaz in Gurgaon, the message is clear.
The attacks on Dalits celebrating the anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon and fogging them in Gujarat for skinning dead cows show that they continue to be despised.
The National Crime Record Bureau data for 2015 and 2016 show that the number of crimes reported against Dalits rose from 38,670 to 40,801 with UP, Bihar and Rajasthan leading the table. Christians and even Hindus who participated in Christmas celebrations in Aligarh were attacked last year, and police arrested Christians for praying inside their home in Mathura.
The other people consist of 20% non-Hindus and around 5% non-believers and agnostics. These sections of people are marginalised through divisive agenda to attract the majority for garnering political support. The impact of such a divisive agenda is reflected in the composition of Members of Parliament, where in a house of 545 MPs, only 22 are Muslims. In fact, 14 States have not elected a single Muslim MP in the last 25 years.
The politics of exclusion has always resonated with voters fearing loss of Hindu, upper caste dominance in India. The architects of politics of exclusion always use national security as a smokescreen for fanning such prejudices.
The Ahmadiyas constitute a mere 2% of the population of Pakistan, yet they are deliberately excluded. The community was declared non-Muslim through a constitutional amendment in 1974.
Recently, the Pakistani government changed the name of the National Centre for Physics at the Quaid-i-Azam University from Professor Abdus Salam Centre for Physics to al-Khazini Department, after Byzantine-origin astronomer Abu al-Fath Abd al-Rahman Mansur al-Khazini. Professor Abdus Salam, a Physics Nobel laureate was an Ahmadiya.
The Pakistani counterparts of Indian exclusionists too have mastered the art of divisive politics for capturing or remaining in power. A distinguished scientist who won laurels for his country has simply been disowned.
In Sri Lanka, Tamils were treated as the ’other people’ triggering a civil war in the country that ended in 2009.
The politics of exclusion has become so conspicuous in the US now that all similar attempts earlier look insignificant. Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the US and his promise to build a big wall along the Mexican border aims to deny entry to “undesirable” groups.
Interestingly, the US itself is a country of immigrants. The triumph of inclusion is vividly reflected in American history. African Americans, immigrant groups, gays and lesbians and other religious minorities have won equal rights.
The natives or American Indians have lost their primacy to the immigrant populations, and now even the older settlers often take anti-immigrant stances. They and their decedents prove their patriotism by voicing nativist views. Embracing traditional prejudice is a convenient way to prove one’s bona fide as a true American.
The dominant exclusionary group in the US sees Muslims as a threat to what they consider the Christian identity of the country, in spite of the fact that the US maintains a secular status since its creation.
Back home, in Assam, the Hindu immigrants who came after 1971 (a deadline set by the Assam Accord for granting citizenship to the Bangladeshi refugees and immigrants in the State) to the State are more vocal against the Muslim immigrants. Neither the government, which has brought a citizenship amendment Bill to grant citizenship to the Hindus who have migrated from neighboring countries nor any other group who are in favour of the Bill have bothered to consider India’s constitutional secular status.
Unity in diversity, the oft quoted phrase, is used to energise India’s oneness. In fact, India had shown great unity during the British Raj and thereafter, notwithstanding many communal and caste clashes.
With the ascension of the nationalists rightist forces in India, the era of winning elections by assembling a coalition of diverse voters is over. Divisiveness and politics of exclusion have marked their electoral success.
However, such political euphoria through segregation is short-living. India’s strength lies not in the dominance of anyone ethnic, racial, religious or casteist group but in the diversity of its people and their struggle to build a truly pluralistic society.
(The author is a senior journalist from Assam)