By R. Upadhyay
Addressing the Kozhikode conclave of the BJP in Kerala on September 25, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the political parties not to consider Muslims as “vote bank or commodities”.
Separately, the Minority Affairs Ministry decided to hold ‘Minority (Read Muslim) Panchayat’ all over the country to apprise the latter of the welfare schemes of the government for them. The opposition parties have however viewed the move as a part of vote-bank politics particularly on the eve of U. P. Assembly election next year. But what needs to be said is that perhaps for the first time in the post-Independence history of Indian Muslims, the chief executive of the country has raised this hard reality about the second largest religious majority and asked the people to treat them as ‘ours’.
It is too early to make an assessment whether the appeal of Prime Minister will be responded to by the political parties as well as Muslims and translated into action. Do we go by the Islamic history in the sub-continent that suggests that even after Independence, the latter remained under the siege of their Islamist leaders? Or whether they would realise the need for an assertive movement for freedom from the Islamists? These are the issues that need to be addressed today.
Unfortunately, no attempt has ever been made either by the community leaders or by the political parties to launch a movement for their freedom from the Islamists who have repeatedly reminded their community members that “they have ruled the country before and can rule it again, mercifully using the constitutional methods of vote-bank politics”.( hindunet.org/hvk/articles/1008/1.html)
Muslims as a religion-centric society became a demoralised group after partition as they lost their exclusive political identity and bargaining power, which they enjoyed in British India. On the other hand, Muslim-centric political parties namely Indian Union Muslim League and Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen with their influence confined to Malabar region of Kerala and old city of Hyderabad respectively and National Conference and PDP in Kashmir valley had no significant presence at the national level. But with new ethos of constitutional privilege to the minority communities, the Congress party tried to make the Muslims feel that they are more important now than in British India.
Since then, the Muslim leaders for their self-seeking interest for sharing political power treated their community members as market commodity and bargained with various political parties during election time. The minority-majority syndrome virtually vindicated the divisive policy of the British recognising the political distinctiveness of the Muslims, which was however contrary to the democratic concept in a pluralistic society of India.
Factually, the grammar of vote bank politics in India is a political reality ever since Independence. With the spread of regionalism, proliferation of political parties and unprincipled alliance, elections in India are hardly contested on the basis of political and nationalist ideology. Almost all the political parties distorted this vote bank politics according to their political convenience. Although, its character varied from state to state on the basis of caste, ethnicity, language and regional factors, the Muslims as a consolidated religious group with about 20% of country’s population remained a most sought after group at the all India level in election time. Needless to say the election promises were soon forgotten and the Muslims were left to fend for themselves!
The history of the communal polarisation of Muslims in Indian sub-continent started with national renaissance movement particularly after the advent of British rule but politicisation of this communally organised socio-religious group got a momentum when the Muslim leaders looked at the formation of Indian National Congress in 1885 not for political rights of Indians as such but more for a separate identity from the Hindu main stream.
Ignoring the efforts of nationalist leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lajpat Roy, Aurobindo and Vivekanand, who tried their best for Muslims’ political integration in Indian society, the common Muslims played into the hands of their community leaders under the patronage of the British and floated a separate organization-the Muslim league in 1906 with a divisive concept of two-nation theory.
Noted socialist leaders like Ashok Mehta and Achyut Patvardhan observed, “Religion and politics are inseparably associated in the minds and thoughts of Muslims (“Communal Triangle in India, 1942, page123)
The movement to keep the Indian Muslims under siege dates back to the last decade of sixteenth century when the great Mogul Emperor Akbar’s religious ‘liberalism’ started decaying. Their concerted efforts to keep the through the ages from Shaikh Ahmad Sarhindi (1564 – 1624) to Shah Waliullah (1704 -1762) and from Sir Sayed Ahmad Khan (1817-98) to Sir Allama Iqbal(1873/76-1938) the Indian Muslims devolved themselves to maintain a separate identity as a movement which is basically synonymous with a separate political identity.
In fact the separatist ideology of the Islamist thinkers influenced even the contemporary Muslim thinkers who were the repositories of their heritage and therefore ignored this perpetual conundrum of Indian Muslims. Contrary to it, M.J.Akbar, a reputed journalist and now a leader in BJP found “Indian Muslims evolving through ages” and linked their evolution through the poetry of Khushru, Ghalib, Iqbal and Akbar Allahabadi.
Rafiq Zakaria in his book “where the Muslims have gone wrong” complimented M.J.Akbar and said that he had “convincingly refuted Sir Vidia Naipaul for his propagation that Indian Muslims have developed no roots in India “. Every Indian would have gladly accepted this compliment of Zakaria had the Indian Muslims been sensitive to their socio-cultural past.
Contrary to the Islamic revival movement only through theological education, Sir Sayed Ahmad Khan, a Mogul scion and loyalist to British power launched a parallel Aligarh movement with the objective to provide modern education to Indian Muslims. He was the first scion of Mogul family in modern history of India, who launched a unique Muslim separatist movement with a political and educational ideology and an objective to restore the lost pride of his community after the fall of Mogul Empire. Deeply aggrieved with the plight of Muslim Indians particularly after the failure of Sepoy Mutiny in 1857and “acutely sensitive to the ending of Mogul dominance”, he is widely known as founder of Islamic modernism in India.
Sir Sayed Ahmad Khan while taking inspiration from Shah Waliullah’s concept of tactical moderation of Islam formulated the two-nation theory which not only formed the basis for the demand for a separate Muslim land of Pakistan but also coincided with the ‘hate-Hindu campaign’ of Shaikh Sarhind, Shah Wai-Ullah and Ahmad Barelavi. Through scientific and modern education to Muslims his movement produced a sizeable section of Muslim middle class with doctors, engineers, scientists and scholars of modern subjects. This new class of Muslims however, also came under the influence of the fundamentalist forces, worked as the fighting force for Muslim elite and gradually succeeded in getting embedded in the mindset of common Muslim masses.
Though, a staunch believer in Sunni order of Islam, his outlook took a decisive change after the Sepoy Mutiny in which he had personally witnessed the sufferings of his community members at the hands of the British. But as a part of his tactical move to bring back the Muslims into the confidence of the British, he continued his loyalty to the British throne till his death.
Strongly opposing the formation of Indian National Congress in 1885 on the plea that it was a Hindu dominated organisation Ahmad Khan prevented the Muslim elite from joining it. Restoring confidence among the despairing Muslims of his age he is largely regarded “as a forerunner of Pakistan”.
Instead of making any sincere effort towards the Hindu-Muslim unity Sir Sayed Ahmad rather convinced the British rulers that the two major religious communities of India were not capable of unity. (Hali’s Hayat-e-Javed, translated by K.H.Kadari and David Matthews, 1979, page 199, Idarh-e-adabiyat-e-Delhi Qasimjan Street, Delhi – Quoted from Pioneer dated 20.10 2004 in a letter to editor column by Roopa Kaushal).
A noted Muslim scholar M.R.A.Baig also observed:
“Being a descendant of high Mogul officials, he (Sir Syed Ahmad) emotionally could not accept that Muslims should be ruled by their former subjects. He also feared that Hindu rule will result in the imposition of Aryo-Dravidian culture on the Muslim Persio-Arabic civilisation”( The Muslim Dilemma in India by M.R.A. Baig – page 51-52).
Religious obsession of Muslims remained a potential factor during freedom struggle and formation of All India Muslim League (AIML) in 1906. Internationally known historian R. C. Majumdar in his book ‘Struggle for Freedom’ (Page 127, 1969) maintained: “Aligarh movement gradually alienated the Muslims from the Hindus in the political field…..The anti-Hindu feeling was conspicuously shown in the Muslims’ attitude towards Indian National Congress since its very inception”. He further said:
“It occurred to the Muslims that in order to counteract the political organisation of the Hindus, particularly the Congress, they must have a central organisation of their own” (Page 150, 1969). He added, “the spirit of Syed Ahmad dominated the Muslims who with rare exceptions, regarded themselves as Muslim first and Indian afterwards” (Ibid. Page 152). He quoted Sir Percival Griffiths, ICS, who “stressed the Muslim belief that their interest must be regarded as completely separate from those of the Hindus, and that no fusion of the two communities was possible”(Ibid. Page153). “Middle class Muslim nationalism sabotaged the natural process of electoral democratisation”(Ameena A.Saeed in an interview in Times of India dated November 29, 2003).
Aligarh Muslim University, a citadel of Muslim Middle class played a major role in Pakistan movement under the guidance of Muslim elite. The then Muslim leadership used this new class to strengthen the siege of Islamic orthodoxy over the common Muslims with the ultimate objective to achieve its political hegemony.
The Muslim leaders who had mobilised the support of Muslim masses in favour of partition migrated to Pakistan with the result those who stayed back in India had very leaders left. . Since then, those few mediocre leaders still left continued with the objective of having a separate identity more to keep their hold on the masses than for any progress and welfare of the community.
The attitude of the political parties without exception to treat the community as their vote banks without any consideration for their welfare or their dignity became the strength of the minority and particularly those leaders who had the community under their control. Initially, these leaders became the agents of Indian National Congress but gradually sold the community votes to the highest bidders and thus turned the Indian Muslims into a vote bank commodity. So much so, instead of allowing them to independently avail the constitutional right to equality; the Muslim leaders kept them in isolation and didn’t allow them to see beyond the mosque and madrassa.
Ironically, even the contemporary Muslim ‘liberals’ did not make any attempt to identify the fault lines and prevent the Muslim clerics having “complete sway” on the masses and retaining the exclusivist identity of the community. These so called liberals behave like fence sitters and avoided any confrontation with the religious orthodoxy.
“As long as Muslims felt that they were an important and even decisive element of the ruling group they did not feel that they were a minority a term that implicitly condemns a community to the margins” (M .J. Akbar in his foreword of ‘Indian Muslims : Where have they gone wrong’ by Rafiq Zakaria, Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, 2004).
There are a number of Muslim intellectuals who write about this bitter truth but it is an irony that they hardly speak this truth assertively when they face Muslim congregations. They often quote the address of Maulam Azad to the demoralised Indian Muslims in front of Jama Masjid after partition but they hardly assert to ensure that the Indian Muslims are freed from their medieval mindset and grip of the Muslim Clerics.
In post Independent India, Muslim intellectuals have been putting blame on Hindu nationalists for the Hindu-Muslim divide. But they never raise any voice against Sir Sayed Ahmad Khan, who sowed the seed of two-nation theory and Allama Iqbal who propagated it. Both of them are highly revered among the Indian Muslims. Zakaria admits that “Indian Muslims became pawns in the hands of political parties” but he has ignored the historical facts that his community members always remained under the siege of the Muslim elite of this country.
The assertive institutionalisation of the communal distinctiveness of the Muslims by their leaders obstructed them to think independently about their overall development as a part of Indian society as a whole. They in fact created a myth about the fear of the cultural absorption of the Muslims by the majority.
Despite the fact that there is no Hindu vote bank as such, there is a view that the political mobilisation of Muslims as a vote bank made the secular politics questionable which ultimately worked as a catalyst to the electoral growth of the BJP. It looks now that the BJP leadership has also gradually realised the importance of the second largest religious majority and therefore, made a tactical shift from the sole ideology of Hindutva to the development of all with a new slogan of “Sabaka saath sabka vikas” which was also to woo the Muslim voters. Will this work? Difficult to say right now.
With the best of intentions, even Mahatma Gandhi failed to prevent the “separate identiy” perpetrated by the leaders of the community. If PM Modi succeeds where the icon of India failed, it would be a miracle but still it could be tried. With trust, the Indian Muslims may like to unload their mental medieval burden by launching an incredible movement under the patronage of the current political leadership of all hues.. With conviction, they should launch an assertive movement and an intellectual jehad to generate collective concern among the Muslim leaders to free the masses from the siege of the Ulema.