By Wajahat Masood
(Translated from Urdu by New age Islam Edit Bureau)
The story of the alienation of the Muslims in India from the popular democratic process is very old. The foundation of modern political discourse is not laid on such identities that can’t be changed. For instance, citizens cannot change their ethnic identity, language, culture and generally, their belief. If the political process is founded on these identities, the society is not only divided in constant majority and constant minority but also gets stuck in the vicious cycle of division after division and subsequently such a society disintegrates because a single citizen bears more than one identity at a time . It is quite possible that a citizen belongs to the majority in terms of language but is in the minority in terms of his belief.
It does not mean that the democratic process belies the ethinic, religious, linguistic and cultural identities of citizens. On the contrary, the foundation of democratic process is laid on economic and social theories and strategies while accepting their myriad identities and ensuring their protection and growth. Citizens having different constant identities can be a part of the same political ideology or party and also support a different party by changing their views acoording to their conscience and understanding. It can therefore be concluded that in democracy there is nothing like constant majority or constant minority.
Octavian Hume had founded the Indian National Congress on the same principle. Its doors had not been closed on any particular religious, ethnic or linguistic group. Nevertheless, the intellectual mould of the Muslim elite had been derived from the pre-1857 world. The Muslim elite believed that the Muslims had ruled India for 850 years whereas the truth is that the million of Muslims of India had no part to play in the affairs of the government. Right from the Sultans of Delhi to the Mughal kingdom, a few Muslim clans ruled India with the help of a handful of elite Muslims.
A large number of these privileged Muslims resided in the north-central India. In social and economic lexicon, this section was called zagirdar who had been conferrd estates by the Muslim rulers to collect revenues and, in times of war, to mobilise man-force and arms.
The English rulers had invaded India from the south-west where the majority of the inhabitants was non-Muslim. Due to the non-participation of the people of this region in the government, they put up little resistance against the new rulers. Therefore the south-western region went ahead of the Muslim majority areas of the north-west by a century in terms of education, trade and social growth.
When the signs of modern political process became evident in India, the Muslim elite became jittery at the thought that this process might lead to the loss of their privileges. Moreover, as compared to their 25% votes, the non-Muslim especially the Hindu votes will be 75%. It will, therefore, be hard for them to protect their interests. These apprehensions were based on wrong assumptions. Their apprehensions were evident in the views of the Muslim reformer of the 19th century Sir Syed Ahmad Khan that Muslims should keep away from the Indian National Congress.
When the elections were held on the Local level for the first time in 1892, Sir Syed very regretfully wrote to a friend, “ Man, it’s unbelievable. In our town, eighteen Muslim elite were expected to win, but no one was elected.” Let’s consider the word “elite” in his sentence, then recall Iqbal’s famous couplet composed decades later complaining that in democracy men are counted, not weighed.
The basic principle of democracy is equality among citizens in terms of rights and status. There is no discrimination between the layman and the elite because the citizens take part in the affairs of the government as a member of the state. They do not participate directly or indirectly on the basis of their lineage, education or wealth. The concept of superiority or inferiority by birth cannot exist in the intellectual profile of human equality. This merit of democracy, unfortunately has been considered as a flaw by the Muslims of South Asia for centuries. Iqbal once wrote that the brains of two hundred donkeys cannot smell like the brain of a man. After the defeat of the Jamat-e-Islami in 1970, the pro-Jamat poet Saleem Ahmad had written, “ It was the defeat of the East.” The point is that democracy does not see humans as “elite” or “asses” because this way of thinking is synonymous with declaring the social differences among human beings constant or absolute and their efforts to use their capabilities futile.
The opening article of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights passed on December10, 1948 says:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Albeit, in every state there are regions, groups or sections of people that lag behind in the race for progress due to historical, geographical or political reasons. For instance, the members of Kailash community inhabiting the northern areas of Pakistan are a backward minority in terms of geographical location, language and culture and lack economic opportunities. Similarly, after the partition of India, the Hindus left in Pakistan turned into a small numerical minority and it had a negative impact on their political, social and economic development.
In democracy, the regions, groups and sects which have lagged behind in progress for specific reasons are encouraged to join the economic, social and political mainstream of the country with the help of positive initiatives, benefits and incentives. These steps are not permanent but time-specific and their purpose is to ensure a uniform social, cultural, economic and political development for all the sections and groups of the society.
The Covenant of Lucknow signed by the Congress and the Muslim League at the initiative of Qaid-e-Azam in Lucknow in 1916 was in fact, the verification of the principle of “Positive Discrimination.” It was wrong to consider it a permanent licensee for the politics of appeasement.