Ramchandra Guha, you were wrong in understanding the situation of Muslims in the country. In the article on Tuesday, March 20, in the Indian Express, Guha quoted Hamid Dalwai who said that there is a necessity of the liberal elite to lead the Muslims in the country. There is a presupposition among most people in India about the state of the Muslims in the country. When people including Guha talk about Muslims with a seemingly modernistic outlook and not “a bigoted or backward politician like Asaduddin Owaisi or Syed Ali Shah Geelani”, they fail to understand the state where the Muslims are currently in.
The crisis in the leadership started after the partition. The erstwhile freedom fighters were now the leaders of the two nations, India and Pakistan. The division of the country had left Muslims in turmoil. Majority of the leaders in the country had shifted to Pakistan. There were very few Muslim leaders left to participate in the politics of the country. The crisis which started during the partition was felt in the late 1980s. The wave of communalism against the minorities had started in the 1990s. The demolition of Babri Masjid had left the Muslims clueless. It was more of a psychological shock than a physical shock.
Since the 1990s, the primary impulse for Muslims has been ‘survival’, not ‘existence’. The rise of right-wing parties and the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh or the RSS has put the demand for the minority rights in the backyard. There is a rising pessimism among the Muslims about their possible state in the country. Amid the politics of communalism and hostility for the minorities, the Muslims are just seen as vote banks by the national and regional parties. The purpose of the parties entertaining Muslims vote banks is not to empower them through participation – it is more of an appeasement.
Though the third largest Muslim population resides in India, their current membership of the Indian parliament is at an all-time low of 22. The Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), which is the ruling party in India does not even have a single Muslim in any of the state assemblies. Seeing the communal politics of the BJP, other national parties have also started to adopt soft Hindutva to nurture votes in the elections. When we talk about national leaders from the Muslim community, it is not even a handful.
Muslims are very backward in education and employment, as was noted by the Sachar Committee formed in 2005. Most of the Muslims students go into informal employment than in government services. There are lots of statistics to prove this. Today, the prime purpose of education within the Muslim community is sustenance. Moreover, a large section of Muslims goes into madrassas without any future prospects. Yet another section goes for diploma courses in technology and short-term courses to get jobs in the Middle East. Very few Muslims enter the field of research.
In the current crisis when Muslims are viewed with hostility and treated as second-class citizens, how can we expect leaders with a modern and secular outlook to lead them? In the country which is facing an ever-increasing rate of hate crimes against the Muslims in the form of mob lynchings, the anti-national fracas and the treatment meted to Kashmir, the rise of reactionary politics is obvious. When people say that a certain section of leaders from the Muslim community is communal and myopic, I disagree with the view. The onset of the current leader among the Muslims will always be reactionary. If it arises, it will arise in reaction to the rise of right-wing nationalism – and therefore, it may even be on similar lines as right-wing nationalism.
Uplifting the Muslims in the country would mean nurturing the community from the grassroots level along progressive lines. In my opinion, one such space is the political arena in the universities. But, in the times we are living in, talking about nurturing politics in educational institutions is futile, since the government itself is targeting that space in most universities. Still, if the leadership vacuum needs to be filled the starting point has to be the university. A pertinent example to bring in here is that of the Aligarh Muslim University. The university has given chief executives to countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Maldives. The other universities have given very limited space to Muslims in student politics. In other cases like the Jamia Millia Islamia, the students’ unions have been banned for a long time, and in the Aligarh Muslim University, the students’ union elections are not held each year.