What exactly does politicisation mean? How do we decide if a matter of public importance has slipped into the realm of politics? How are we to judge who is enlightened and who is not?

These are among the questions that have risen from a seemingly modernistic speech Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered on Saturday at a function to honour Basaveshwara, a Bhakti saint and founder of the Lingayat sect, in Karnataka.

Referring to the debate on triple talaq – instantaneous and irrevocable divorce among the Muslim community that can only be pronounced by men – Modi predicted that “enlightened people from the Muslim community will emerge and come forward to fight against all that Muslim daughters have to undergo”. Given that enlightened Muslims have already been rallying against triple talaq and that it is inevitable that more members of the community will join them, it might be asked why Modi even felt the need to forecast this.

He did this because he senses the danger of Muslims letting “the issue slip into the realm of politics” or, as the prime minister’s website said, that they will begin to perceive triple talaq “through a political lens”.

Presumably, once an issue is examined through the political lens, truth – that elusive reality – will get mangled. Of course, it is quite obvious that Uttar Pradesh cabinet minister Swami Prasad Maurya was not wearing the political lens when he accused Muslim men of exploiting triple talaq to change wives continuously to satisfy their lust.

Politics of politicisation

Truth is what the prime minister and his men say it is. Those with contrarian opinions are thought to have erred by choosing to view an issue through the political lens. Thus, Maurya sees triple talaq without any lens, but Faizan Mustafa, vice chancellor, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, presumably does.

As Modi put it, he expects “people from within the community” to “come out to save our mothers and sisters who have to suffer triple talaq”. This creates the impression of teeming millions reeling under the scourge of triple talaq.

But Mustafa recently wrote a piece in The Tribune showing that the incidence of triple talaq is rather low. He analysed data from the Darul Iftaa – Islamic institutions that issue fatwas or opinions – in 10 states to show that only 6.5% of 340,206 of all fatwas in one year pertained to triple talaq.

Mustafa also pored over data of 33 Darul Qaza, or Sharia courts, which the Supreme Court has referred to as arbitration councils, to find that none of them granted triple talaq. Instead, they permit divorce through only one pronouncement “preceded by efforts of reconciliation through arbitration”.

Because Mustafa has established that the problem of triple talaq is not as widespread as the Bharatiya Janata Party claims it is, he would, in Modi’s formulation, stand guilty to the charge of politicising the issue.

(Photo credit: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP).

The abolition of triple talaaq has now become the BJP’s theme song, thereby breaking the earlier consensus in the political class that the Muslim community should determine whether the practice of triple talaq should be discontinued. In this sense, it is the BJP that has politicised triple talaq.

However, triple talaq has also been politicised because neither the BJP nor the prime minister is willing to wait until May 11 for the Supreme Court to determine its constitutionality. This is consistent with the BJP’s habit of privileging its opinions over those of others. For instance, it has always held that the courts have no business attempting to determine whether the Hindu deity Ram was born at the site where the Babri Masjid once stood in Ayodhya or a Ram temple was destroyed before Babur’s general built a mosque on its ruins.

Thus, all those who refuse to subscribe to the BJP’s opinion on what the consensus on any issue should be are guilty of politicising it. When Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in Dadri, near Delhi, on the suspicion of consuming and stocking beef in 2015, Home Minister Rajnath Singh pleaded, “The incident should not be politicised.”

In 2016, guess what Anandiben Patel, then the chief minister of Gujarat, said after visiting Una where Dalit youths were flogged for skinning a dead cow? “Such incidents should never be associated with politics. I request all the political parties to refrain from doing politics.”

(Photo credit: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP).

The suicide of Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad Central University in 2016 triggered a huge uproar and prompted Opposition politicians, including Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, to visit the university. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad held street protests against them. The Deccan Herald quoted the BJP-affiliated students’ body leaders as saying, “Rahul Gandhi is indulging in promoting the politics of caste and vengeance. He should spell out the reasons for politicising the issue.”

In the uproar over the killing of Pehlu Khan by cow-vigilantes in Alwar, Rajasthan, in April, BJP MLA Gyan Dev Ahuja said, “We should not take law into our hands. But we have no regret over his death because those who are cow-smugglers are cow-killers, sinners like them have met this fate earlier and will continue to do so.” Killing for cow is, thus, a religious action, not a political one.

Likewise, Modi, who fed bovines in a gaushala in Varanasi before the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, did not politicise the cow. It was merely a public display of his devotion to it. By contrast, Muslims who invoke Islam to claim triple talaq cannot be abolished are guilty of letting the issue slip into the political realm, of wearing the political lens.

Not only have they politicised the gender issue, they are also not among the enlightened ones Modi spoke of. But the violent protectors of cows are both enlightened and valiant, performing their religious duty, regardless of the deleterious impact of their action on farmers, the meat industry and tanneries, all of which support millions. To speak of their plight is to politicise the cow.

A monofocal lens

The lens that the prime minister and his party prescribe is monofocal even though it has many names – political, social, religious or human. It shows Muslims only what the BJP wants you to see of the world.

If they try on alternative lenses, they will not be among the enlightened ones who are helping the prime minister’s in his quest to modernise Muslims. Forget the cow and its violent protectors, and the baiters of Muslim men who marry Hindu women. That is only their dhamma.

Ajaz Ashraf’s article, ‘If Pakistan and 21 other countries have abolished triple talaq, why can’t India?’ can be read here.