While Pakistan has attempted to secularise, India has gone the other away. The one thing India can claim is that it does not prevent Muslims from holding high office. India has had Muslim presidents but unlike Pakistan, India’s presidents are figureheads with no real authority. If they had the power to dismiss Parliament, such as Pakistan’s presidents had, it would be interesting to see how many Muslims India would have elevated.
Today, there is no Muslim chief minister in India for the first time since 1947, no Muslim minister at all in 15 state Cabinets, and in 10 states there is only one Muslim minister usually given minority affairs. Of the 303 Lok Sabha MPs of the ruling party, none is Muslim. There was no Muslim among its previous 282 Lok Sabha majority either. When Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who has not been given a Rajya Sabha seat, loses his position as minister, there will be no Muslim in India’s Union Cabinet for the first time. Whether the exclusion of minorities from power is through law as in Pakistan or through practice as in India, the exclusion is real.
On the side of the laws of course India has moved substantially away from pluralism. Starting in 2015, Bharatiya Janata Party states began criminalising the possession of beef, triggering a series of beef lynchings.
In 2019, India’s Parliament criminalised the utterance of triple talaq in one sitting, punishing Muslim men for a non-event (because the Supreme Court had already invalidated triple talaq earlier). After 2018, seven BJP states criminalised interfaith marriage by disallowing conversions and invalidating such marriages, including those which had children. Conversions to Hinduism — defined as “ancestral religion” — are exempt and not counted as conversions in the BJP states of Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh. Nobody has ever been convicted of forced conversion in India so these laws are not required but the intent is to harass.
In 2019, Gujarat tightened a law that keeps Muslims ghettoised by denying them access to purchase and lease of properties from Hindus. In effect, foreigners can buy and rent properties in Gujarat that Gujarati Muslims cannot.
We need not get into the treatment of Kashmiris here because the collective punishment imposed on them no longer arouses interest in us.
In effect there is no real difference between India and Pakistan as they move towards each other from two sides. One began at the communal end but has edged towards secularism. The other began at the secular end and has slipped into communalism.
(The writer is an author, columnist and commentator. Views are personal)