By Teesta Setalvad
It is the voter that is the ultimate arbiter and it will be the politically shrewd and savvy north-Indian voter of Uttar and Bihar Pradesh that will unequivocally decide the nation’s future in 2014. Unlike the two party options available in western India, the north has, post the BJP-driven bloody politics of the 1990s carved itself viable options that allow discontent to be channelized elsewhere. One divide or ‘Laxman rekha’ that seems non-negotiable is the secular-communal divide, never mind the BJP’s Goebelsian talent for anointing a lies, several times spoken, as their version of the truth.
Five thousand caps and burqas we are reliably informed went waste as none, or very few Muslims turned up for Modi darshan last Saturday. Kanpur where the rally was held has eight lakh Muslim votes. The BJP desperate and wily, in playing its double-games cannot escape the harsh questions that internet, television etc., make difficult questions like BJP and VHP what’s the relationship?
Ram Mandir yes or no? But Mandir apart what do Shah or Modi or Rajnath Singh or Jaitley have to say about the demolition of the Babri Masjid, an illegal and criminal act under Indian Law? Any answers? What about the party’s defiance of its own assurance to the Supreme Court?
In short, does the BJP believe in the rule of law and the writ of the Constitution?
To win minority hearts and minds, a pamphlet is doing the rounds in UP that attempts to paint more Goebelsian lies about Muslim safety, Muslim development and Muslim growth (not population!!) in Gujarat.
As a counter, here are some interesting facts:
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) assessing the goals for poverty reduction in India among different sections of the population (February 2013) has analyzed that the poverty head count for Muslims is “very high in states of Assam, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Gujarat”. In these states, nearly 50 per cent of agricultural laborers and 40 per cent of other laborers are below the poverty line in rural areas where households with primary level and lower education have the higher poverty ratio.” This certainly does not absolve other parties especially the Congress, Communists but it does not show the BJP or Modi up well either.
More specifically, there are recent studies that are interesting. Comparing the literacy rate of Gujarat’s Muslims which is at 73.5 per cent to Andhra Pradesh where it was 68 per cent, Kancha Iliah attributes to the fact that in Gujarat, Muslims study in Gujarati whereas in AP, education is divided into two languages–Telugu and Urdu. Hence while the basic literary level of Muslims was slightly better overall, in terms of each level of education Muslims in AP were doing much better.
Up to primary school, in terms of school attendance, the community in both states were at the same level – 74.9 per cent in Gujarat and 74.7 per cent in AP. Those Muslims who made it to middle school in Gujarat constituted 45.3 per cent whereas in AP it was 52.6 per cent. Worse, as they move up to matriculation, only 26.1 per cent of the Gujarati Muslim population passed Std X whereas in AP, 40.6 per cent succeeded. The dropout rate in Gujarat was higher but most surprising was the fact that barely 5 per cent of Gujarat’s Muslims completed graduation whereas in AP the figure was higher at 9.6 per cent.
Gujarat surprisingly given other economic growth indicators emerges as a state with high levels of hunger while at the same time boasting of higher per capita income and consistent income stability. Gujarat’s hunger levels stand side by side with Orissa and Bihar, only Jharkand, Chhatisgarh and Madhya Pradesh having worse levels.
Abu Saleh Sharief evaluating comparative data from the NSSO and NCAER sets right the false propaganda put forward by the BJP related to Muslims, Sachar Committee and Gujarat. Poverty among urban Muslims is eight times i.e.800 per cent more than high caste Hindus, about 50 per cent more than Hindu OBCs and the SC/Sts. Over 60 per cent of Gujarat’s Muslims live in urban areas and they stand today as the most deprived social group in Gujarat. Rural poverty amongst Gujarat Muslims is 200 per cent more.
While Muslims have bank accounts proportionate to the size of the population, the depth of institutionalized bias and prejudice is evident from the figures related to access to bank loans, microcredit. Poor financial inclusion is evident from the fact that of the total, barely 2.6 per cent loans dished out by banks are the beneficiaries Muslims. So much for equality, fair play and a level playing field! Muslims are also much more vulnerable to theft and burglary.
The most successful way of assessing security and integration is through the quality of life for one and all, the depth of societal integration, mixed neighborhoods and classrooms. The schools within urban Gujarat, especially in the majority dominated areas rarely allow admission to a child from this minority. Ghettoized existence has become a reality within large sections of urban Gujarat as the term ‘borders’ is used to define to segregation of neighborhoods.
Pertinently, let’s ask, how many Muslims are part of Modi’s government–how many Muslim candidates did he field in 2012? Modi has not a single Muslim Minister; in fact during his 12 year old term in office in Gujarat, he has never trusted a Muslim as a ministerial post. But then how could he? When he has never fielded a single Muslim candidate in the three elections in Gujarat that he has lorded over!!
Though 9.1 per cent Gujaratis are Muslim, they play no part in Modi’s government or state legislature party. It is arguable and debatable how many actually support him and his policies (this column will bring details on this one).
Today, as he desperately runs to keep in the race for 2014, a moot question to him would be, why not a law to prevent targeted communal violence? A law that punctures the culture of impunity for the perpetrators of hatred and violence?
A law that helps victims and complainants access the law and ensure that the guilty are punished? A law that actually recognizes the culpability of public servants and modifies the limiting provision under section 197 of ‘sanction’ that acts as a barrier against prosecuting public servants guilty of criminal acts? (Under the proposed law ‘deemed sanction’ will be given by a judicial authority if s state government does not act; in 2002, Modi as Gujarat’s home minister, despite the recommendations of senior police officers like his own ADGP Intelligence RB Sreekumar and SP Bhavnagar Rahul Sharma, refused to grant sanction for the criminal prosecution of the VHP/RSS pamphlets containing hate speech and the Sandesh newspaper for spreading hatred and venom and violating sections 153a and 153b of the IPC) ?
A law that recognizes command responsibility of political, bureaucratic and non-state actors? Will Modi’s BJP support such a law? To ensure that no Muzaffarnagars, no Gujarats, no Bhiwandi’s, no Hashimpuras, no Dellhis (1984) ever happen?
So far he has not let on what he thinks of such a law when violence could be prevented and the guilty readily punished. So far he has said not a word on the violence perpetrated by BJP elected representatives in the four districts of Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Baghpat and Meerut. No prizes for guessing the motives behind Modi’s mysterious silence.
* Teesta Setalvad is a renowned human rights activist, known among other things for her continuing fight for justice for the 2002 Gujarat riot victims and co-editor of Communalism Combat magazine