By Tanweer Alam
July 4, 2016
While defending himself at his trial for sedition Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living”. This piece is written in that spirit, seeing what the faith community in which I was born and raised has been up to of late. A recent discussion on economist Abusaleh Shariff’s book ‘Institutionalising Constitutional Rights’ suggested that issues of development do not resonate among middle-class Muslims. Admittedly, once in a while a microscopic proportion of Muslims in Delhi, Mumbai and other metros do discuss these issues. But exceptions do not make a rule.
This is despite a conceptual shift in political and policy thinking about Muslims in India over the last 15 years or so. This shift is from the issues of identity and security to rights-based entitlement to the country’s resources and equal protection of law. But the old discourse within the community does not seem to have changed much, caught as it is in a time warp. There is scant reflection of the larger paradigm shift in Muslim thinking.
What a certain community thinks can be understood from who they follow, what they discuss and debate, their dominant preoccupations, their aspirations. Muslims in their daily life follow their own socio-religious leaders. In crisis they approach political leaders. If one looks at the issues being discussed in Masjids, madrasas, seminars, Jalsas and Urdu papers, one finds only reactions, complaints, victimhood narratives, besides hair-splitting and feuding over contentious religious dogmas of bewildering diversity.
TV channels have not helped either. For provocation by oafish characters is sexy, development is not. The result is that the discourse is caught in a rut. By way of ‘Muslim issues’, most of the time the discussion is about triple Talaq, Sharia, Fatwas, terror, IS and other peripherals as if Muslim daily life revolves only around these matters.
Why is the discourse among middle-class Muslims not about development, but only about religious identity, security and internal sectarian differences? Is it fair for their leaders to tell them only half of the story? There is no denying that Muslims face discrimination in jobs and admissions and also communal violence. However, claiming that nothing good has happened for Muslims since the Partition is a gross misrepresentation. Muslim leaders are actually pushing the community to victimhood and alienation.
Is it not true that Muslims are also among the beneficiaries of major developmental schemes like MGNREGA, food security measures and Indira Awaas Yojna? And these are not minority-specific programmes. However, one must concede that the benefit to Muslims has not always been in proportion of their share in India’s population. Thus the discourse should have been focussed on how to maximise the benefits. A lot has been done and a lot remains to be done.
Where did the Muslim community leadership fail? Why don’t we see these leaders starting a movement to help deserving Muslims get BPL cards, EWS cards, Voter ID cards, Aadhaar cards, bank loans and making them aware of their rights as citizens? Why has the Muslim leadership not found a discourse appropriate to their needs, the country’s Constitution, its social ethos and the residual trauma of Partition? This discourse must hinge on our common citizenship based national identity rather than on our diverse faiths.
Let me risk some unpopularity to assert that it is the Muslim social and religious leadership which has failed the community. They are the ones who should have been guiding the community. We see the sudden emergence of these self-appointed leaders from their subterranean hibernation when elections are round the corner, making appeals, taking delegations out to meet political leaders and making bargains on behalf of the Muslim masses who hardly care, anyway. Where do they get this impression that the community votes on their advisory?
They often get some personal sops from different parties for making appeals in their favour. If their desires don’t get fulfilled from some parties they loudly complain that the party is ‘not secular’ as if they are a certification authority. They say these are anti-secular parties. But Muslim voters are as mature and smart as any other group. They vote for a party which can take care of their interests. So where do these self-appointed leaders fit in? To tell the truth, nowhere. Some important politicians have publicly snubbed them yet ended up getting more votes than usual.
Such Muslim leadership gains more support because of people like Sadhvi Prachi, Yogi Adityanath and Giriraj Singh. The virulent anti-Muslim vituperation of these worthies sends some frightened Muslims into their religious leaders’ camp. What we must remember is that the idea of India is strong enough to withstand such provocations. But a socio-religious leadership appropriate to the idea of India has to take shape in the days ahead.
There is already a reliable model in the near past – found in Dr Mukhtar Ansari, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Husain Ahmad Madni, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and their ilk who fought for India’s freedom and also opposed Partition tooth and nail as they believed India is a civilisation, and a civilisation cannot be divided.
They believed that the well-being of Muslims lay in an inclusive vision, not in exclusive politics, in the idea of equal citizenship-based nationality not in markers of separate identity. Muslim socio-religious leadership must remember our solution does not lie in competitive communalism and outsmarting Prachi and Adityanath.