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Can A Muslim Become India’s Prime Minister?

10:24 16 February 2020 Author :  
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with later former President APJ Abdul Kalam

•          If a Hindu stands virtually no chance of winning from a constituency where Muslims are in the majority unless all parties field a non-Muslim, how fair is it to then wonder of the possibility of having a Muslim Prime Minister in a country with 85 per cent non-Muslim population?

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After the Aam Aadmi Party’s stupendous victory in Delhi assembly elections, in no small part due to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal surrendering to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s nationalist and Hindutva agenda, some analysts are wondering if the “secular consensus” is indeed dead.

From both major parties claiming to be secular a decade back, we have come to a situation where the parties are increasingly pitching themselves as soft Hindutva proponents against BJP’s so-called hard Hindutva.

Given the trend, one can say that ‘Hindutva consensus’ is replacing ‘secular consensus’ - of course, one similarity that remains is everyone has their own definition of Hindutva just like everyone had their own version and understanding of secularism.

In this scenario, some Muslims are asking if India can ever have a Muslim Prime Minister when all the parties are undergoing a ‘saffron makeover’ and their leaders feel compelled to indulge in Hindu symbolism.

The insinuation here is that Muslims are being ‘marginalised’ in the political sphere. The next step would be tacit approval of Muslim separatism and then either separate electorates or calls for another partition. We have seen this script play out in the previous century.

Therefore, it is important to set the record straight. Some Muslims may play victim by imagining political alienation when Hindutva is on the rise, but they are being innocent in behaving that they are anything but different.

Election after election has proved that while Muslims have always voted en bloc to defeat the BJP (see how strategically Muslims backed Congress in Lok Sabha vs supporting AAP in assembly), while Hindus have hardly done so.

The BJP at its best has not been successful in gaining even 50 per cent of the vote bank of Hindus, while Muslims, in election after election, have voted overwhelmingly (upwards of 70, 80 per cent even) for a party best placed to defeat the BJP.

Some Muslims wonder if a Muslim can become the Prime Minister of India, but the cat gets their tongue if someone shoots back by asking if a Hindu can become Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir.

Can a Hindu become a Member of Parliament from Hyderabad Lok Sabha constituency which has 65 per cent Muslim population?

There are 15 Muslim-majority Lok Sabha constituencies in the country. One is reserved for Scheduled Castes. Thirteen are represented by Muslims, one by a Hindu who fought on a seat where each party fielded a non-Muslim.

There are 27 Muslim MPs in the current Lok Sabha, which means that the rest 14 Muslim MPs have fought elections from constituencies where Muslims are not in a majority and still won.

If a Hindu stands virtually no chance of winning from a constituency where Muslims are in the majority (even 55-60 per cent) unless all parties field a non-Muslim, and that too at the level of Lok Sabha constituency where stakes are much lower, how fair is to then wonder of the possibility of having a Muslim Prime Minister in a country with 85 per cent non-Muslim population?

Not just that, in Muslim majority seats, only a certain type of Muslim is preferred. A BJP Muslim candidate is a strict no-no. If the next time someone wonders why the BJP doesn’t field many Muslim candidates, they should also put it in the context of Muslims not voting for even that BJP candidate who hails from their community, for he is considered ‘Uncle Tom’ for all practical purposes.

I am not even mentioning the historical factors behind aversion of the Hindu majority to a Muslim ruler who have persecuted and discriminated against Hindus on the basis of religion, while the reverse is not true.

We needn’t go back a few centuries. The example of Kashmir is for all to see.

Still, a Muslim candidate has a better chance of getting elected from a Hindu majority constituency than a Hindu does from a Muslim majority constituency.

In any case, winning elections in a parliamentary democracy is about stitching a coalition of votes more than your closest competitor. Election is all about polarising and more often than not, identity becomes a key factor. So, whoever is in the majority usually wins.

But Muslims have a terrible habit of making everything about themselves, which chiefly stems from the victimhood card they are ready to brandish at every available opportunity. After Boris Johnson won a thumping majority in the UK election recently, Muslim columnist Mehdi Hasan called it a ‘dark day’ for minorities, especially British Muslims.

UK has only six per cent Muslim population and there were scores of issues which the UK voted on, but facts never come in the way of Muslims who want to play victims.

In Punjab, Sikhs constitute only 57 per cent of the population but can a Hindu dream of becoming a Chief Minister especially in the current environment?

In other states too, castes which are more than the others in population usually succeed in having a Chief Minister from their own community and if someone else gets elected, there is a constant challenge to his or her authority, especially if he is considered hostile to their interests.

It’s not that no Muslim or Christian has become a chief minister of a Hindu majority state.

There are many such examples. But when such evidence is presented, the goal post is shifted. Then we are asked: It’s okay if a Christian or a Muslim can become the CM, but can an overtly religious Muslim or Christian get elected as Chief Minister or Prime Minister.

Such questions are put to make the Hindu majority uncomfortable, to paint them as bigots and intolerant to leaders from faiths different than theirs. But such context-free posing of questions is faulty.

An overtly religious Hindu who sports Tilak and goes to temples has zero chance of getting elected in a Muslim or Christian majority states as well.

And as I highlighted above, the same applies to other identities too - caste, language, etc. (Can a Hindi-speaking leader from Uttar Pradesh become Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu?)

Those who indulge in such thought exercises are either dishonest or naive and don’t understand how democracy works.

There are many people who worry too much over mixing of religion and politics. Those from the religious minorities worry even more for they are the ones who stand to lose the most in such conditions.

But the bitter truth is religion (or other identities) and politics can never be separated. What can be achieved at best is separation of religion and law.

But do we hear them supporting it? That depends. When religion is made a criterion for fast tracking citizenship (even if it is based on genuine commonsensical grounds) for persecuted minorities, it is opposed because the Muslims are excluded.

But when the same Muslims, Christians and other minorities are given more rights than the majority in India, no objection is raised by the same commentariat.

This is hypocrisy.

And here is the bitter truth. Yes, a Muslim or a Christian can become the Prime Minister of this country and he or she can be a popular one too.

But they would’ve to be more like APJ Abdul Kalam. But will the Muslim community itself accept someone like him as its own? Most likely not. That’s the irony.

*Arihant is Senior Editor, Swarajya

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