Muslims in India are facing an existential crisis after 73 years of independence, but the issue to ponder is whether the community should blame itself or others for the position it is in
Seventy-three years after attaining independence, in the struggle for which it played a crucial role, the community of Indian Muslims is standing at a crossroads once again. The choice it faced 73 years ago was whether to migrate to Pakistan or continue to stay in the country where one’s forefathers lay buried. India promised equal rights to all its citizens. For those who chose India, the dilemma before them now is existential.
However, it would be better if the Muslim community instead of turning the issue into an existential one, introspects with the aim of finding out where it has floundered to be seen as part of the county’s mainstream. It must act judiciously and with commitment to ensure that all obstacles are overcome and after 26 years, when we’ll be celebrating the century of our independence, we can proudly say that the community has fulfilled the aspirations of its followers and countrymen both.
Indian Muslims after Partition
In the initial years after independence, the Indian Muslims while continuing to wish away the negative repercussions of the partition tried to organise themselves politically, educationally, and in business. Community leaders like Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani, Maulana Hifzur Rehman, Maulana Azad and Dr Zakir Husain tried to provide as much succour and guidance to a community which was feeling orphaned, as the crème` de la crème` of the community had migrated to Pakistan and the vast multitudes of Indian Muslims were left rudderless. They paid particular attention to the community’s educational development. But during this time the leadership which was desired from the religious leaders was not forthcoming.
A rudderless community
From 1970s till 1980s, the Muslim community was completely rudderless, as most of its stalwart leaders had passed away by 1969. Unfortunately, the community leadership passed on to amateurs and sycophants, who had no political vision or strategy to lead the community except self-aggrandisement.
During this phase, the gold rush in the Middle East started and a big percentage of Muslims from the coastal states of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra migrated in search of lucrative jobs. The money remitted by them was used in educational development of the community, but only a very small percentage. Though even this small investment paid big dividends in the long term in increasing the educational level of the community and its economic progress and social development in the aforementioned states.
But this was not accompanied by the reforms required for the uplift of the Muslim society as a whole. At the political front, pygmy and amateur leaders represented the community, and on religious front also they were not united. Instead, what happened was that the flow of easy money from the Gulf further subdivided the community into many more sub-sects.
Betrayal by secular forces
From 1980 till 1990, the Muslim community as a whole faced a plethora of politico-religious issues, and unfortunately once again it was let down by its religious and political leaders and also by the country’s secular leaders. However, economically the community was on the road to progress, based on its progress in education. The credit for this little progress should be given to the countless number of faceless Muslims who worked passionately for the emancipation of the community, without any mature or visionary leadership or a cohesive plan.
Rise of anti-Muslim elements
From 1990 onwards, the right-wing forces representing the majority community in the country, which had got emboldened after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, further made headways in consolidating themselves on the political landscape of the country.
Muslims were now pushed to the margins of the political stage. The right-wing forces continued to consolidate themselves on the basis of ideological and psychological tactics and political brinkmanship. They scored their greatest victory when AB Vajpayee became the country’s prime minister in 1996.
From 1996 onwards, the right-wing BJP continued to consolidate itself in various Indian states and was ultimately able to form the government with a majority in the lower house of Parliament in 2014. From 2014 onwards Indian Muslims have faced an onslaught of attacks one after the other. Yet, the response of the community leaders had not been up to the mark, as a whole.
The way ahead
This leads us to ponder over the main question again, what the Indian Muslims should do now?
The answer lies in introspection and analysing the issues which have held the community down. This should lead to prioritising the issues at hand. First, the community should try to present a unified image, not beleaguered by sectional differences. Secondly, it should adopt a proactive approach, not a reactionary one. People who do not represent the community at any level should not be seen as representing the community at any level. Thirdly, it should try to forge sustainable links with other minorities in the country like Parsis, Sikhs and Christians. Further, it should try to learn from these minorities as to how they have fared well in educational and economic fields, utilising community donations and guidance by experts.
Fourthly, it should try to reform itself of practices which are detrimental for the growth of the community as a whole, such as curbing wasteful expenditure on marriages and other religious functions. And lastly, the message to change the community’s psyche and approach to issues should be conveyed in a logical and easily understandable format to all, by a committee of elders representing all the factions and schools of thought of the community besides political and social activists.
At the political front, Muslims should adopt a multi-dimensional strategy, strengthening the secular and democratic forces of the country, assured of the support of 63% secular and right thinking population of India.
Until and unless the Muslim community as a whole decides to change its psyche and reform itself, nobody can help it survive the present onslaught.
The writer is a journalist and commentator based in New Delhi. He was associated with BBC Urdu Service and Khaleej Times of Dubai. [email protected]