'The BJP is spreading slow poison in India. The effect will not be seen now, but after 10 years you will see it for sure.'
Syed Firdaus discusses the Muslim mind with friends.
I rarely discuss politics with my Muslim friends, but last fortnight was different.
The results for the Bandra (East) by-election in Mumbai were about to be announced and politically-inclined Mumbaikars were speculating about the outcome. The by-election was necessitated by Shiv Sena legislator Bala Sawant's death.
A Muslim friend was worried about the electoral verdict because he felt the Hyderabad-rooted All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (the MIM) was gaining ground among Muslims in Mumbai and Maharashtra at a time when the Congress was losing its sheen in the community.
As Muslims my friend insisted we do something to save the Congress as it was the last bastion of secularism in India. If the Congress died, my friend felt so would secularism and along with it the future of minorities in India.
I felt he was over-reacting to the political situation and asked him to calm down.
At that very moment, I saw Arifbhai pass by. I felt we should ask Arifbhai -- a mechanic by training -- how he saw his future, and that of his children in India.
Me: Arifbhai, As-salaam walaikum (may peace be upon you).
Arifbhai: Walaikum as-salaam (may peace be upon you too).
Me: Arifbhai, we are discussing the future of Muslims in India under the BJP. What do you think?
Arifbhai: (unhesitatingly) No future.
Me: Arifbhai, how can you say you have no future?
Arifbhai: Because the BJP is spreading slow poison in India. The effect will not be seen now, but after 10 years you will see it for sure.
Me: On what basis are you saying this?
Arifbhai: Mahaul bahut kharab hai, hawa mein dikh raha hai dekhne walon ko (the times are bad and the people who can see it are seeing it).
Me: What has the BJP done to you?
Arifbhai: Right now nothing, but they have started with the beef ban. All the people associated with this business are Muslims. The BJP intentionally banned beef because they knew it would hurt Muslims the most.
Me: Many Hindus are also affected by the beef ban.
Arifbhai: What about the Bhagwad Gita then? Why are they introducing it in schools?
(It has been proposed to teach the Bhagwad Gita in Mumbai municipal schools, but the decision has yet to be implemented.)
Me: Is that a problem?
Arifbhai: Yes. And this is just the beginning. You wait and watch the future.
My Muslim friend: Not a day goes since Modi came to power when we don't hear Muslims or Christians being attacked. Either they are verbally abusing you or physically attacking you. Nobody in the government takes action. It is a free for all against the minorities.
What do you say, Aribhai? We need to save the Congress, we must strengthen its hands.
Arifbhai: Congress? (starts laughing).
Me: What is so funny?
Arifbhai: The Congress has not done anything for us and the BJP is worse.
Me: What do you think of the MIM?
Arifbhai: They look promising. I would surely give them a chance because they can protect Muslims.
Arifbhai then excused himself and left. My friend too left, telling me that it is only Allah on whom Muslims can now depend.
The MIM had won two seats in Maharashtra's assembly elections last year, and there was a feeling in some quarters that the party could spring a surprise in the Bandra (East) by-election since the constituency has a large Muslim population.
The BJP and Shiv Sena had contested the Bandra (East) seat separately in the 2014 election. The Sena won the seat polling 41,388 votes. The BJP stood second with 25,791 votes. The MIM bagged 23,976 votes, pushing the Congress, with 12,229 votes, to fourth place.
Three days before the by-election result, the Sena daily newspaper Saamna declared that Muslims in India must not be allowed to vote. Some observers felt the Saamna edit was provoked by the MIM's aggressive campaign in the Bandra (East) by-election campaign. Bandra (East), by the way, is where the Sena's ruling family lives.
In the event, the Sena needn't have worried. Its candidate Trupti Sawant won easily, polling 52,711 votes, trouncing the Congress's Narayan Rane -- the last Sena chief minister before he crossed over to the Congress -- by 19,008 votes. The MIM came third with 15,050 votes; its candidate lost his deposit.
Ironically, the result came in on on a day when Saamna published another editorial, this time demanding that Muslims and Christians need to follow strict family planning as the 'growing population of Muslims and Christians posed a threat to Hindus'!
My mind returned to the discussion with my Muslim friend and Arifbhai.
One wanted to see the Congress revive to save secularism; the other didn't mind giving the MIM a chance.
The Bandra (East) result revealed that even if the Congress and MIM votes were combined, it wasn't enough to defeat the Shiv Sena.
What a setback for my Muslim friend who wanted to save secularism by voting for the Congress! What a setback for voters like Arifbhai who want to back the MIM!
Elections result for Muslims, I believe, will always be a defeat.