By: TANVIR SALIM
In-spite of the fact that I have left India about a quarter of a century ago; my interest for the minorities in India always remained strong. I have found India as a country with a large Muslim population living amidst a larger Hindu population. For centuries both these communities have co-exist side by side in peace, but this peace is often shattered into pieces and then one realizes the fragility of the relationship between them. Some of the reasons for this fragility can be found in the pages of the history. There are discrepancies in the life style and in the social status between these two communities as well as in the sub communities which are the tributaries of these communities. Some attribute this to the discrimination, which is prevalent in India. The blame is also put on the leadership or on the lack of Muslim leadership.
Muslims were not in the deprived conditions all the times. They had ruled the country for the past many centuries. So what went wrong and where it went wrong? It is not correct to point fingers in every possible direction; there may be short comings in us too. On one side, after our famous ‘tryst with destiny’, we as a country did many things that were correct and appropriate, but on the other hand, there were occasions where we failed as a nation. We took great pride in electing the occupants of the ‘Rashtrapati Bhawan’, a Muslim, Sikh or Dalit. But how can we look straight in the eyes of the mother in Moradabad, who on the fateful day of Eid in the early1980s was waiting for her children to come back home after offering Eid prayer? How about the widow whose husband was lynched by a mob when Indira Gandhi was assassinated? It is not important under whose watch these dastardly incidents happened, but what disturbs is that why we failed to learn the lessons and similar incidents were repeated again after a couple of decades in Gujarat and elsewhere? In my opinion, it is due to the absence of the leadership everywhere and at all levels.
In spite of the fact that the Mumbai carnage got the government to its knees, the country is moving forward on the path of optimism with new found confidence. Muslims are in a dilemma, they want to participate in this progress like everybody else. But at places, they find themselves alienated and their loyalty being questioned. They are looked with suspicion. When they turn around to find who is advocating for their cause, they get a jolt. Like always, nobody. They lack a leader. This lack of leadership at this juncture is detrimental to their cause. If everything depends on the timing, then certainly this doesn’t bode very well for them. This is the time like no other time. Muslims need a leader. Muslims need a leader, desperately.
The Indian Muslims born after India gained independence never faced the apprehension which our fore-fathers faced. For them it must have been difficult to decide whether to ride to the crest of the wave to opt for the new country which was creating a sense of euphoria to many. In the future, it had not taken long to realize that this birth of a new nation was one of the biggest mistakes of that century. Pakistan was created because there was a lean and determined Gujarati on one side and on the other side there was another lean Gujarati, who eventually succumbed to the mounting pressure of his colleagues. The creation of Pakistan witnessed the biggest migration of the human being in the recorded history. I hear that such was the magnitude of the tragedy that some trains that were leaving with the living human beings from one side of the border, were arriving at the destination loaded with dead bodies. The debate whether this tragedy could have been avoided or not, continues. Now at this stage in time, in my opinion, this is merely a topic for historians. To move forward, we have to leave it behind.
The condition of the Muslims in India at the best can be described as dismal. During partition, a major portion of the Muslim intelligentsia had left the country for the dream land in the hope for green pastures. At that time, some of the Muslims who were a part of the feudal system were leading a satisfactory life, but the majority of other Muslims were struggling to find both ends meet and this downwards slide continued. Today, even after more than sixty years after the independence, Muslims are still behind in every aspect of the life. The intensity of these differences is acknowledged in the report prepared by the Sachar Committee, which was formed by the Prime Minister to study the economic conditions of the Muslims in India. According to this report, the condition of Muslims is pathetic. They constitute only about 5% in the government jobs and only 3 % in the elite Civil Services. This adequately raises an alarm when seen in the context of the total Muslim population in the country.
After independence, there were scant opportunities which took the country towards the path of progress. The ones, who were better educated, reaped the fruits of the independence. The Muslims generally lagged behind because they lacked self confidence and were poorly educated. There was nobody to motivate and guide them. Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) provided quality education, but was inadequate. For the Muslims, the greatest challenge was at the feeder level. In the beginning, the children of the Muslim feudal class were quick to avail the opportunity provided by AMU. Later, students from other diverse backgrounds also benefited from this great institution. Apart from AMU, the scions of the feudal and well to do families had access to other institutions and by the education they received there, they became engineers, doctors, lawyers, and other officials which formed the back bone of the Muslim middle class, which still was quite small in size. The rest of the Muslim masses, mainly artisans, small peasants and day laborers had no access and incentive for the modern education. Thus, they remained, by and large confined to their hereditary professions.
In business and various other fields Muslims were also at the bottom and were living by exiguous incomes. Along with the resources, they lacked the skills needed to conduct the business. The Muslim artisans, to some extent flourished in the cottage industry, because of their skills, and hard work, but since they were not cautious and diligent, the profit was generally cornered by the middlemen. This is another example where due to lack of leadership, an opportunity was lost. It was not like that for all the time, I remember vividly, in the mid seventies in Uttar Pradesh, under the leadership of my grandfather, who was then the small scale industries minister in the state government, the artisans were flourishing. But that ended with the change in the government policies and the fact that there was nobody to advocate for them. As a result, the small scale industry, which was the pride of the lower and middle class Muslim artisans, died a slow and tragic death. It is a pity that those artisans who were able to program their handlooms on the basic principles of today’s computers, are working as day labor and as petty vendors in the neighborhoods. However far fetched it may sound, but there is some truth in the allegations that some of the riots were systematically planned to destroy the localities where Muslims had achieved economic prosperity. In this context Meerut, Moradabad, and Aligarh is freely mentioned.
In spite of the fact that Sachar Committee report is a true reflection of the conditions of the Indian Muslims, I strongly believe that the Indian Muslims have not lost the hope. They believe in the democratic principles and vote for their best. They actively participate in the vote politics, and punish and reward the politicians with vengeance. They are aware of the discrimination, which daily stares them in their face, yet this does not deter them from making an attempt to move forward. They realize that they are not alone in being discriminated. They do notice that every other Indian is being discriminated by another Indian, at least once in their life time. One of the facets of the discrimination originates from the caste system. This malaise is prevalent in both the religions. In one religion, it is well documented, whereas in another, it is practiced clandestinely. For Hindus, it has worked for their advantage because of the reservation that is guaranteed through the Indian constitution. Like Hindus, some classes of Muslims are more deprived than the others, but because of a discrimatory constitution amendment in 1950, they don’t have any protection or reservation to elevate their position to bring them equal to their well to do brethren. To many this is a genuine cause for concern.
Let us ponder about the issues of the leadership. One of the casualties of the great migration after partition was the absence of Muslim leadership on the Indian side. After Independence, for decades the country was single-handedly ruled by a single political party, i.e., Congress party, which thrived on the support provided by the Muslims and other minority groups. Since the Congress party lacked inner party democracy, the leadership was entirely based on the nomination process, which was at the fancy and mercy of the party high command. Often, Muslims were selected and groomed based on the loyalty factor and were imposed on the populace in quest to gain the maximum mileage during the elections. In this process, where loyalty was the sole criteria, nolens volens, genuine grass-root leaders were sidelined to give way to the sycophants, who were there for their self interests. As a result, the interest of the common people became a casualty. The failure of the Congress to protect the minorities during communal flare-ups was seen intentional, because of the compulsions of the vote bank politics. Some even say that the Congress was working on the British doctrine of ‘divide and rule’ and believed that by creating a phobia of Hindu resurgent, they will force Muslims to flock to the Congress for protection. Such was the moral bankruptcy of the Muslim leadership that they were scared to raise the issues of Muslim security in the legislative bodies, because they thought that this act of theirs will chastise them for working against the party line. This honeymoon with the Congress lasted for quite some time, and produced leaders, some of them, although were pygmies in stature, but attained high offices and decorated the Parliament and other legislative bodies. This worked very well, cemented our secular credentials, and caught the imagination of the world. But unfortunately, this did not give the full return on the deposit. The deposit here was being the Muslim votes.
The Muslim leaders who were cultivated in the past were not effective, because they lacked the ability to get elected on their own. Never mind vision, they generally lacked the other ingredients needed to win an election, i.e., charisma, money and muscle power. There are Muslims desiring to be the leader who have access to the money and muscle power both, but they lack respectability and their acceptability level is low. Once elected, it is observed that they generally focus on getting access to more muscle and money power, because they are aware that in a wooden utensil, one can only cook, once.
The dilemma of being deprived of having a Muslim leader who was not nurtured from the lowest ranks amongst the Muslims had serious consequence which is being noticed in our day to day life. Why the Indian Muslims could not get their own types of Laloo, Chandra Babu Naidu, Narendra Modi or Mayawati? If we look carefully, we will notice that for all the time after independence there was no Muslim leader of towering personality. The last time we had a Muslim leader; it was either Jinnah or Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, with all India appeal. When Jinnah departed to Pakistan, the only Muslim leader who was in the field was Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, who unfortunately was systematically marginalized by the leaders of the Congress Party. Minus Azad, it may not be out of place to mention that the last Muslim leader India had was Mahatma Gandhi, who paid th e ultimate price for being the leader of the Muslims. In the second and third levels, there were many who dominated the landscape, but they had limited and localized appeal, along with the shorter shelf life. Their credibility got low, because to get elected, they compromised on the principles and hopped from one party to another. It is sad that were not given the leadership roles by virtue of their following among the masses, but they were there holding high as well as low positions because of the privilege of the access they had with the powerful satraps of small regional parties. Having no grass root support, they were made leaders by the virtue of simply co-incidence.
Looking at the past, we will realize that Indian Muslims after being betrayed by the Congress Party have put their destiny in the hands of the local leaders, like Mulayam, Laloo and recently Mayawati. Was that a wise move, or a simple act of sheer desperation? When the choice is between two evils, the good practice is to choose the lesser evil. But we should not forget that by doing so, we loose an opportunity to nurture or develop a leader from ourselves – a leader, who we always lacked and who when patronized by us, could cater to our needs.
So far, the upper echelons of the Muslim community, who were better educated than the socially and economically weaker sections, provided the Muslim leadership. This provided leaders, who were sincere, but generally were not effective. Since these leaders for most of the time were from affluent background, they had no clear understanding, nor did they ever attempt to understand the challenges faced by the common Muslim. As a consequence, they were not in a position to work for the betterment of the Muslim community in the first place. On the other hand, the leadership of the weaker section of the Muslim community gained momentum with the advent of All India Momin Conference, but gradually with the passage of time and due to the lack of foresight, this movement fizzled out.
It is sad. But in India, the votes are cast on the basis of caste affiliations. In today’s political scenario, some of the electoral gains made by the parties and the leaders are on the basis of the numerical strength of the caste they are affiliated with. By the same token, the person who is vying to be the Muslim leader should be in a position to affiliate him with birth or with association with the caste that has an advantage over others in the number game. In spite of the fact that Islam prohibits division based on caste and creed, the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent to some extent, practice the caste system, which basically is adopted from the Hindu caste hierarchy. On the basis of the caste system, the Muslim community is highly stratified and the economically weak are placed at the bottom. Although this section constitutes the bulk of the Muslim population, but politically they have been marginal ized. It will play to the advantage of the Muslim leader, if he belonged to one of the marginalized groups, because numerically these groups have tremendous advantage over the others and since democracy is the game of numbers, this approach will not be inconsequential and will pay rich dividends. The dividend can be a Muslim Mulayam or Laloo or even another Muslim Mayawati.
There is a need for an ebullient Muslim leader who can perform and negotiate based on his credibility without the aid of crutches. The crutches in politics generally are the patronage of business houses, or a godfather, like Kanshi Ram, who was doing the ground work for decades. It may still be not too late, for the Kanshi Rams of the Muslims to emerge. It will be advantageous to the Muslim leader if he is capable to provide for himself and his family by his own means. This way he will not forgo the pledge to his constituents and will not become a participant in the mechanism to generate money by questionable means. It is tragic, but the leader simply became a sycophant to the local center of powerful.
The person has to be educated, widely travelled, and should have the vision to look beyond the spoils of the power. The person should be able to inspire for the change and be able to provide hope. The person should know how to get connected with the people of Kashmir to convince them that a powerful and united India is the need of the day. He should be able to comfort the victims of Gujarat pogrom who are still struggling to put their lives back in order. He has to be believed by the migrant workers working in big cities, that he is aware of their plight and will advocate the case of their unfairly treatment. He should be equally comfortable in the company of the “rocket scientists” and should be on the same wave frequency with the not so educated constituents. That is the ideal leader we are looking for.
The foremost challenge for the Muslim leader will be to heal the indelible scars which are inscribed on the heart and soul of the Muslims. The Muslims are angry and frustrated over the happenings of the past. They have witnessed in dismay how Narendra Modi, a mendacious politician is able to build an empire on the graves of the Muslims, whose lives could have been saved. Their anger is a manifestation of their helplessness. During the independent movement some strayed and vented their frustration by killing the police personnel at a place called Chauri Chaura, in Gorakhpur. This single incident in all likelihood could have derailed the independence movement. But it was the charismatic leadership of Gandhi, which prevented another incident like this from happening elsewhere. Today, similar challenge is being faced by the Muslim leadership. The threat of the irresponsible outfits to creating chaos and hijack the Muslim leadership is real. To counter this calamity, we need a Muslim leader who can tame this tiger. We don’t have a leader like Gandhi, whose fast to death will bring cold sweats on the forehead of the bravest of the time. The challenge for the Muslim leader will be to put a leash on these irresponsible and emotional outfits because they threatens to negate the hard-won gains of a new generation of Muslims who have defied the odds to emerge as successful entrepreneurs and professionals.
It will be difficult to convince Muslims that to change their destiny, they have to believe that the panacea is hard work and good education. Some may be hesitant in subscribing to the concept of education. Today’s education is expensive and the gains of the education generally are not available immediately. In today’s life, where the foremost challenge is to provide for food and other immediate needs, the gains that may come from the education in the future looses appeal. In-spite of this shortcoming, for long term goals, the merits of good education should be conveyed to all, because education has brought wonders to the ones who have subscribed to it. Our leadership should be able to open new avenues in a quest that good education is available to all. We have witnessed sincere Muslim leaders, rather than championing the cause of getting good education, will put all of their energies on the agendas of getting reservation for the Muslims. There is no denying that soliciting for reservation will be beneficial and communities with reservations have benefited from this. But the leader should not be naïf, and be careful enough to pick his battles. One should not choose the battle which is insurmountable and will divert all your energy from the goal and rather will focus more on the path to reach it. This will wear them on the tracks and will take the attention away from the goal. The Muslim leader should be clear about the short term and the long term goals. Asking for the reservation for Muslims in government services is the example of long term goal, whereas guiding and mentoring them in achieving good education by the available resources is an example of the short term goal.
It is my hope that the Muslim leadership is somewhere in the making and the day is not far of when the leadership will emerge. All we have to do is to keep looking and punishing the rotten ones and embracing the deserving ones. If we are not careful in our choices, then who we are going to vituperate?