Indian Muslims, comprising so large a segment of the population that they can top the polls in any one of a hundred constituencies, are in a position to tip the political balance of the entire country.
Yet, paradoxically, it is the Muslim community, more than any other, which is suffering from political deprivation. Individually certain Muslims have managed, as a matter of chance, to secure an insignificant number of political posts, but the Muslim community as a whole enjoys no political pre-eminence on the national scene. Nor does it, at the international level, have any share in establishing political relations with Muslim countries. Even in so relatively small a country as Sri Lanka, the Muslim minority has greater political standing than its Indian counterpart.
It is common for Muslim writers and speakers to lay the blame for this at the door of the Hindus. But this view is entirely without foundation. In this world, by the very law laid down by God, gain and loss are not external but internal in their origins. Any explanation seeking to hold other responsible for our deprivation must be rejected prima facie, since it in no way accords with the law of nature.
If the truth be told, it is the incompetence of Muslim leaders which has given rise to this unfortunate situation. And Muslims, in actual fact, are now being made to pay for the crass ineptitude of leaders who launched movements based on shallow politics instead of creating among their followers a balanced political awareness—something for which there was a crying need.
If you go around any Indian city during the elections, you will find greater fervour for the elections in Muslim localities than in Hindu conclaves. This is a symbolic indication of the error which has led Muslims into their present state of political neglect. Misguided by incompetent leaders, they have come to feel that in simply empathizing with the national election fever, they are making an adequate contribution to the political scenario. They have stopped short of understanding that taking a real part in politics means full participation in the political processes of the country.
Muslims may display great zeal for sehri (food taken before dawn during the fasting of Ramadan) and iftar (the breaking of a fast in the evening after fasting all day during Ramadan), and for sermonizing on loudspeakers during the month of Ramadan, but they cannot be credited with taqwa (piety) if throughout the year they have not lead pious lives. Similarly, the mere display of enthusiasm for election activities on a few specified days will not bring them any significant political position in the country. They must realize that, for this, they must engage themselves fully and unremittingly in constructive national activity.
From 1947 till today, I have attended innumerable meetings without coming across any notable Muslim gathering which had been convened specifically to discuss the problems of the Indian nation. National issues simply do not figure on Muslim agendas. At Muslim meetings, communal issues, or more often, communal grudges are the favourite subjects of discussion. It would seem that national issues are of no concern to Muslims. I have often found, moreover, that Muslim speakers, invited to Hindu gatherings, give vent even there to the grudges of the Muslim community against the Hindus. This makes it abundantly obvious that Muslims have in no way identified themselves with the political mainstream of the country.
Muslims need seriously to consider the necessity to make their community an integral factor in the political system. For a start, their mode of entry into it could be an indirect one. For instance, Muslims could launch the publication of such newspapers as would be read throughout the country; they could play an effective role in trade unions and other such institutions which have a considerable influence on politics. But there is no significant Muslim presence in these organizations. And Muslim newspapers, if they are worth the name, are little better than communal complaint bulletins, bearing no relation to national journalism. So far as trade unionism is concerned, Muslims are barely aware of it as a concept. And so on.
Over the last fifty years, under the guidance of self-styled Muslim leaders, what Muslims have largely done in the name of political activity is vote the Congress. Yet, throughout this period they have never felt the need to become part of the administrative structure of the Congress Party. Now, frustrated with the Congress, they tread the path of negative voting. At present, any party claiming to oppose Congress policies can have the Muslim vote for the asking.
To my way of thinking, if Muslims want to have what is politically their due, they should first of all establish their own viability vis-à-vis mainstream politics. Only then will they be in a position to chalk out any real election programme and secure benefits which at the moment seem beyond their reach.
For this to become a reality, Muslims must develop a strong journalistic network which is decidedly national in character. This will establish the bona fides of their patriotism and provide an acceptable base from which to project a positive Muslim identity with a wholesome political stance. However, a brand of Muslim journalism which is genuinely national in character cannot come into existence simply by calling some publication a ‘national newspaper’ and placing it on the news stands. In order to launch and sustain such a venture, Muslims will be obliged to enter the field of industry. For, in the world of today, industry is the institution which ‘feeds’ the national press. So long as Muslims have no appreciable share in large scale industry, they will not bring into existence any journalism worth the name.
But it is not just the lack of their own nationwide press that helps to perpetuate the Muslims’ political under-representation. Even journalistic opportunities in the existing national press are not availed of by them because of their own backwardness. Major national issues may be regularly thrashed out in the national dailies, but whenever there is a Muslim contribution, it may be taken for granted that it is about some narrow communal issue and takes the form of a demand or a protest. Letters and articles by Muslims (and I have seen this in several major national dailies), far from urging Muslim participation in national political processes, are mere expressions of Muslim reactions against others in restricted local spheres.
Muslims need to be roused to a proper political awareness. They must be led to understand that politics, far from being just another name for reaction or negative voting, is actually the science and art of government. They must realize that inflicting defeat on one party in order to make another party victorious is only one aspect of politics. And it is nothing more than a kind of political somersault. If such somersaults have not improved the Muslims’ situation in the past, they are even less likely to do so in the future.
Muslims will have to make their presence felt—in a positive sense—in the political environment of the country, they will have to participate actively in the ongoing political processes. And they will have to prove at the national level that such participation on their part is of vital significance. For instance they can provide an important link in establishing good relations between India and West Asian Muslim countries, and they can play a useful role in securing different kinds of contributions from Muslim countries to the Indian State, etc.
It is regrettable that present circumstances and current attitudes rule out hopes of any such activity. For instance, whenever our Muslim leaders, both religious and secular, visit Muslim or Arab countries, they present a negative picture of India, projecting it as an anti-Muslim country. Due to this unwise approach, it is not possible to secure the kind of contribution from Muslim countries which would significantly enhance the status of Indian Muslims. If Muslims, on the other hand, were to play a positive international role—which is certainly possible—they would see a sudden and radical improvement in their image throughout the country. No longer would they be regarded as liabilities, but as national and political assets. The day this happens will mark the beginning of a brighter future for Muslims all over India.
There is no doubt that India offers every possibility for the construction of a great political future for Muslims. But the secret of securing such a future lies not in the ability to make or break political parties at election time, but in the reform of the community at the political level and in an increased political awareness. The secret, in fact, is not external to the Muslims but within them.
At present, everywhere among the educated classes of Muslims, discussions of the national Muslim agenda are going on. Meetings are being held. A whole spate of articles is appearing in the Hindi and English press. Books on the subject are being published. But nowhere do Muslims figure in their activities. They are almost entirely isolated from the whole issue.
The Muslim role in politics is the subject of much dicussion and features regularly in the press. But the founding of a political party on the basis of a single community is more likely than not to exacerbate Muslim problems. The need of the hour is for Muslims to join national political parties and, by becoming part of their organizational structure, make themselves effective at the stage where political decisions are taken.
At present, Muslims in this country are viewed as a group with a grievance. Nowhere do they assume the stature of political entities, either in intellectual discussions or in practical activities. The best way for Muslims to resolve this identity crises would be to throw themselves wholeheartedly into the political processes of the country. I am certain that, in filling this great vacuum, they would become a political asset to the country—to the point where, one day, one of their numbers might ultimately become the nation’s prime minister.