Following the Bharatiya Janata Party’s landslide victory in the Uttar Pradesh election, at the beginning of March, Muslims across north India have been discussing what went wrong in hushed tones. What has left them feeling besieged is not just the BJP’s choice of the state’s chief minister—Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu priest who has regularly flaunted his anti-Muslim bigotry. The BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate in a state where Muslims form a fifth of the population; the party’s campaign was deeply communally divisive, making issues of such things as the presence of qabristans, or Muslim graveyards, and a supposed shortage of cremation grounds; and the new state government cracked down on cattle slaughter, which disproportionately affects the economic interests of Muslims, as well as Dalits. All of this comes against the backdrop of Muslims’ growing marginalisation in Indian social, economic and political life, as documented in the 2006 Sachar Committee report—which belies the BJP’s claims that governments have appeased Muslims since 1947.
Most Muslims are having these conversations at a safe distance from social media and sensationalist television shows, both presently hostile to non-majoritarian views. However, a recent statement by the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, a body of 16 Muslim organisations that seeks to transcend the various sectarian divides within the community, stated clearly that Indian Muslims “are in the grip of fear.” And in Urdu newspapers and other largely Muslim forums, a number of prominent figures from the community have been holding forth on the political future of Muslims in India.
One relatively small set of commentators has argued for a withdrawal of Muslim candidates from electoral politics, advocating instead a focus on educating the community and building up Muslim businesses. Their position aligns with that of the former Rajya Sabha MP Mohammad Adeeb. Speaking to alumni of Aligarh Muslim University four months before the results of the Uttar Pradesh election were announced, Adeeb said that the only role Muslim politicians can play in today’s polarised politics is one of counter-polarisation, where they serve as a “red rag” to get even those Hindus who might not have supported the BJP to do so. His advice: let Hindus fight among themselves about whether they want a Hindu rashtra or an India based on a secular constitution.