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Playing the Muslim Card on Nuclear Deal

The nuclear deal and other questions of foreign policy should be opposed or defended on their own merits. Sadly, both the government and its opponents have played fast and loose with the "Muslim" card, to the detriment of the community's larger interest.

COMMENTARYjuly 12, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly20Playing the Muslim Card on Nuclear DealSiddharth VaradarajanSiddharth Vardarajan (sv1965@gmail.com) is withThe Hindu and is based in New Delhi.The nuclear deal and other questions of foreign policy should be opposed or defended on their own merits. Sadly, both the government and its opponents have played fast and loose with the “Muslim” card, to the detriment of the community’s larger interest.Going by the statements Indian politicians make, Hindus and Muslims must be the most gullible people on earth. How else can one explain the cynical revival, in the run-up to the next general election, of the Ayodhya temple card by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L K Advani? Or the manipula-tive assertion by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati that the nuclear deal is anti-Muslim.Sadly, Mayawati is not the only one to look at one of the most important foreign policy issues confronting India in this manner. On June 23, M K Pandhe, a member of the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), warned the Samajwadi Party against supporting the UPA govern-ment on the nuclear issue because, he claimed, “a majority of the Muslim masses are against the deal”. The CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat wisely disowned this shocking statement two days later by saying that Pandhe’s remarks “are not the view of the party” but the damage had al-ready been done. Now that it has been let out of its bottle, this dangerous genie will not be exorcised easily. Parties eager to hoodwink Muslims into supporting them feelthey now have an issue. And waiting in the wings are the traditional Muslim- baiters in the BJP, who thrive on the com-munalisation of any issue and will point an accusatory finger at the community when the time is ripe.For the past three years, Mayawati has maintained a studied silence on the deal despite its supposedly “anti-Muslim” char-acter. Now that an alliance between the Samajwadi Party and the Congress is look-ing increasingly likely, however, she is discovering she can no longer afford to siton the fence. “The UPA government is adamant to sign the nuclear deal with the US at the cost of much cheaper gas from Iran but Muslims would never accept the deal”, she declared at a press conference in Lucknow on July 1.As if on cue, Muslim leaders like Zafaryab Jillani and Kalbe Sadiq have swallowed this poisonous bait hook, line and sinker. According to UNI, Jillani asked why the Congress government at the centre was supporting the deal when the minority community was against it. Can there be a better way of offering communal grist to the BJP’s political mill than the issuing of such foolish statements? Apprehensions on Nuclear DealLike a large number of Indians, most Mus-lims probably have apprehensions about the nuclear deal adversely affecting In-dia’s national interest. Even if they are agnostic or ignorant about the deal itself, the majority of Indians (including the majority of Muslims) are opposed to any kind of military or strategic alliance with the US. It is perfectly legitimate to hold such sentiments and express them too and it was wrong for the Congress Party to claim the foreign policy debate was being “communalised” because Muslim organisations demonstrated against the US president George W Bush when he visited India in 2006. However, for Mayawati or anyone else to suggest that the deal is “anti Muslim” or that the agreement should be scrapped because the Muslims are not in favour is an act of political cynicism that the “Muslim masses” would be well advised to be waryof. For today they are being used only as alibis to justify a political realign-ment. Tomorrow, they could well be turned into scapegoats when the next realignment occurs.In 2005 I had argued that the Manmohan Singh government was under pressure from the Americans to sacrifice the Iran pipeline for the nuclear deal (‘A Farewell to the Gas Pipeline?’, The Hindu, July 22, 2005) so I have no problem with Maya-wati attacking the Congress for this. But how is this a “Muslim” issue? India, I wrote at the time, needs Iranian gas till well into the 21st century and that it would be foolish for Manmohan Singh to “give up the energy in hand for two in the Bush”. Already, the shortage of gas in the country has led to more than 7,000 MW of installed thermal power capacity lying idle. According to ministry of

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