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The representation of a privileged Muslim community was woven around a palpably false theory of Muslim appeasement

Babri Masjid Most of the points listed have been convincingly refuted, but some carry conviction. This would not have been so if, instead of making petty concessions to religious fears and sensibilities, the secular establishment had conceived and implemented literacy and poverty alleviation programmes for the poor and impoverished Muslims.

It was all very well to push through a retrograde piece of legislation in the Shah Bano case or to rush into banning The Satanic Verses but such 'gestures of goodwill', usually timed to coincide with state or parliamentary elections, proved prejudicial to most Muslims.

Religious concessions per se, far from making them feel secure or improving their material condition, reinforced the stranglehold of orthodox and conservative clerics. They have also provided the Hindu parties with a stick to beat the Congress with, allowing them to expose the hollowness of a secular polity that rested on pandering to Muslim religious sentiments, invent areas of contestation between 'minority' and 'majority' interests, conjure up the image of the Other, homogenise the segmented Hindu population against the minorities, and create what Romila Thapar has so aptly characterised as 'syndicated, semitised Hinduism.

The representation of a privileged Muslim community was woven around a palpably false theory of Muslim appeasement, a theory based on the works of Savarkar, Golwalkar and Hedgewar, high priests of the Hindutva philosophy. But there were serious limits to what such representations could achieved electorally. So the evocative symbol of the Ram temple in Ayodhya was added to the BJP-RSS agenda. The strategy worked from 1986 to 1992 because of the attachment to Ram in the land of Aryavarta. It also worked because the Ayodhya symbol is simultaneously provided both a rallying counter-ideology against the divisiveness of caste and an all-embracing framework capable of mobilising Hindus as an undifferentiated community.

L K Advani At the same time, the long-awaited miracle at the hustings did not take place. L K Advani's chariot came to a standstill. A party riding roughshod over the political process and claiming credit for pulling down the Ayodhya mosque on December 6, 1992 suffered major reverses in state and municipal elections.

On 19-20 December 1964 the Indian Express carried two articles describing the position of India's 55 million Muslims as 'sad'. Its author A G Noorani commented on Urdu's plight on the Muslims unequal treatment in employment, and on the threat to their physical security. Add to this a near denial of even the rights to agitate for redress, even to ventilate grievances, and you have the malaise clearly spelt out.

Badruddin Tyabji, a retired diplomat, stressed much the same themes four years later in three articles published in The Statesman. So have others, with elaborate documentation. The Gopal Singh Committee submitted its report to the central government in June 1983. Radiance, the Delhi-based English weekly; Muslim India, edited by Syed Shahabuddin; and Aijazuddin Ahmad's studies reveal how most Muslims, chiefly in UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bengal, remain on the lowest rung of the ladder according to the basic indicators of socio-economic development.

The picture emerging from such writings is familiar. A large majority of the Muslims -- nearly 71 per cent -- live in rural areas, and are mostly landless labourers, small and marginal farmers, artisans, craftsmen and shopkeepers. Their social stratification and class interests are more or less the same as those of other people in the countryside. More than half of the Muslim urban population live below the poverty line, compared to about 35 per cent of Hindus.

Muslims Out of nearly 76 million, more than 35 million live below the poverty line. The rest are self-employed. Many fewer urban Muslims work for a regular wage or salary than members of other religious groups. In most areas the Muslim share in public and private employment is small.

In Kerala, Muslims had a comparatively higher literacy rate, yet they were far behind others, sharing the endemic problem of their co-religionist as a whole. The Mappilas, for example, held only between a quarter and half of the percentage of positions in government departments, proportionate to their share of the population.

Excerpted from Legacy of a Divided Nation, by Mushirul Hasan, 1997, Rs 495, with the publisher's permission.