What is the reality of the Muslim appeasement by the Congress and assorted political parties? As India girds up for the battle 2014 and two principal parties dip into their bag of tricks, the issue is back in the spotlight. So is the minority community, bewildered at being forced from margins to the centre stage.

While the Congress portrays itself as an inclusive political force representing the resplendent diversity of the nation — a claim hard to ignore despite its myriad flaws and a long history of opportunism — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to resurrect the familiar ghosts of saffron pantheon. Muslim baiting is back in fashion as the opposition accuses the governing party of resorting to ‘vote bank politics’.

Recently, Narendra Modi, the much-touted prime ministerial hopeful of the BJP accused, the Congress of hiding behind “the burqa of secularism to cover its failures”, targeting both the grand old party and the community it is supposed to be mollycoddling. Congress’s Shashi Tharoor was quick to respond: “Burqa of secularism is preferable to khaki shorts of the Italian fascists.”

For once the party isn’t running away from this ‘secularism versus communalism’ debate and familiar taunts of Muslim appeasement. The Congress rejects the notion that it is either falling into the trap set up by the BJP or is deliberately playing along the agenda set by Modi in a bid to deflect attention from issues such as corruption, inflation and the economy.

The ruling party has finally mustered the courage to confront the BJP on its brand of divisive politics. All these years the Congress has tried to be all things to all people. And often it played both sides preying on the misgivings of the majority and insecurity of the minority. Having ruled India for better part of 66 years, Congress has sort of perfected the art.

In the wake of the Partition, Muslims instinctively rallied around the party and mostly stayed with it because of first premier Pandit Nehru, known for his liberal image, and stalwarts such as Maulana Azad, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai and Zakir Hussain. In dutifully voting for the Congress, Muslims hadn’t necessarily bucked the national trend. If they supported the party, so did the rest of India. After all, it was the party that had led the freedom struggle.

However, Muslims had been little more than a vote bank for the grand old party even as the community’s condition steadily worsened. Under Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, things went from bad to worse. Even as they faced the combined onslaught of Hindutva forces and increasingly communal administration and police in recurring religious riots across India — from Bhagalpur to Bhiwandi and Maliana to Moradabad — the Congress exploited the community’s insecurity and fear psychosis to keep it forever under its thumb.

Paying lip service to its grievances and demands and using dumb politics of tokenism — an Iftar party here and some ‘Muslim’ dummies in ceremonial positions there — the Congress has presided over the meticulous marginalisation and dispossession of the community all these years. Within six decades of Independence, the minority has been driven to the margins of Indian society.

When the Congress returned to power nine years ago with Muslim votes having played a significant part in its victory, there were great expectations. Under Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, it was perceived as a different party. Clearly though, the more things change for the Congress and Muslims, the more they remain the same.

The elaborate studies and recommendations of government appointed panels — Justice Sachar Committee and Ranganath Mishra Commission — remain on paper. On the other hand, hundreds of innocent Muslims have been languishing in jails across the country as terrorists or being summarily dealt with as Ishrat Jahan, Qateel Siddiqui, Khalid Mujahid and others have been.

No wonder many Muslims see little difference between the BJP and Congress; one is perceived as an open enemy while the other is seen as playing games forever calculating in terms of political constituencies and electoral profit and loss.

Rajiv Gandhi turned over Ayodhya’s Babri Masjid to Hindutva groups apparently to assuage Hindus’ anger over the Muslim Women’s Bill, brought in the wake of the infamous Shah Bano case. How an issue that concerns Muslims’ family laws affects Hindus is something only Congress pundits can explain.

India has paid and continues to pay a heavy price for those electoral gimmicks. Ironically, it was the Ayodhya agitation that helped the opposition BJP to transform itself from a 2-member outfit into the party of power and one of the two major parties today.

The Congress is too preoccupied with its too-clever-by-half calculations about the minority vote and majority sentiment to notice that it ends up squandering both. But in this cynical game of electoral poker and political one-upmanship, the real losers are the Muslims.

Muslims loathe the Congress for its treachery yet cannot help vote for it to keep out the Hindutva brigade whose raison d’être is their total subjugation.

So this perpetual tirade about the “Muslim appeasement” in Indian media isn’t just unfair and absurd, it’s downright silly. If Muslims had been ‘appeased’ and successive governments had doted on them all these years, would they be in the pathetic state they are in today?

Yet this brazen lie and narrative has been going around for so long and is so pervasive that everyone has unquestioningly embraced it. It’s not just the likes of Arnab Goswami who are forever beside themselves with righteous rage over proposals like fast-track courts to deal with Muslim ‘terror suspects’, more reasonable voices are peddling the same nonsense.

It’s fine if innocents are locked away for years without trial and without due process, as Delhi’s Mohammad Aamir and numerous others have been, but heavens would fall if hope of justice, however faint, is held out to Muslims.

God knows Muslims want no special treatment from anyone. They are not looking for favours and lollipops from governments or politicians. What they need is justice and their just and fair share of the pie with dignity in accordance with their numbers. Is that asking too much?

Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Gulf-based commentator. Follow him on twitter.com/aijazzakasyed