Dear Muslims In Modi’s India: Embrace Politics, Don’t Shun It
Four options being discussed among Muslims: Shift to BJP, avoid politics, strengthen secular parties, move to MIM.
The killing of 24-year-old Tabrez Ansari in Kharsawan, Jharkhand – he was forced to say Jai Shri Ram and then lynched to death – is not an isolated incident. These are some of the other anti-Muslim hate crimes that are said to have taken place in the past one month:
- Mohammad Barkat was beaten up and forced to chant Bharat Mata ki Jai and Jai Shri Ram in Gurgaon, Haryana.
- In Begusarai, Bihar, Mohammad Qasim was shot at and told to go Pakistan.
- A hijab-wearing Muslim girl was harassed by men chanting Jai Shri Ram in North Bengal.
- Muslim youths were beaten up and forced to chant Bharat Mata ki Jai in Barpeta, Assam.
- Mohammad Momin was hit by a car in Rohini, Delhi allegedly because he refused to chant Jai Shri Ram.
Listen to the story:
According to Mohammad Asif Khan, who has been documenting hate crimes against minorities and Dalits, such incidents have increased in frequency after Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his second term in office.
In such a scenario, the central question that the Muslim community is grappling with is: How to survive in Modi’s India?
There are broadly four lines of argument being made by individuals within the community:
- Shift towards the BJP
- Stay away from politics
- Strengthen ‘secular’ parties like the Congress, Samajwadi Party, Aam Aadmi Party etc.
- Move towards a ‘Muslim’ party like Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen.
The individuals giving the first two arguments also tend to blame Muslims for their own woes. One such instance was Union Minister Arif Mohammad Khan’s interview to Karan Thapar in HTN Tiranga TV.
“Seeds of the problem are within the community.”Arif Mohammad Khan
In the interview, he denied that Muslims are feeling insecure in India, he even denied that there’s anything like a “minority” in India.
A similar argument was made by Firoz Bhakt Ahmad, chancellor of the Maulana Azad National Urdu University, in an article in The Indian Express.
“If Muslims have voted for the Congress for six decades, they must in the next election, vote en block for the BJP and see the change. The message of the recent mandate for the Muslim community is to distance itself from the rabble-rousing leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi and Azam Khan. This will pave the way for them to enter the political mainstream,” he wrote.
In another piece that generated a lot of debate on social media, the writer Sania Ahmad urged Muslims to take steps like “stop stealing electricity”, “stop your sons from zipping around on bikes without wearing helmets” and “start throwing garbage in bins”. She claimed that these steps can help make things “slightly better if not perfect” for the community.
The fundamental problem with these arguments is the premise that the plight of Muslims today is somehow their fault. That if they stay away from politics or start wearing helmets, their plight will improve.
It ignores the systematic majoritarian oppression that the community is being subjected to.
When BJP MPs in the Lok Sabha heckle Owaisi and Trinamool Congress MPs shouting “Jai Shri Ram” and “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, aren’t they encouraging Hindutva goons to do the same to minorities on the ground?
When BJP gives a Lok Sabha ticket to Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, who is accused of masterminding a bomb blast that killed 10 Muslims, isn’t the party incentivising violence against Muslims?
In such circumstances, how can anyone in his or her right senses suggest that Muslims should en masse vote for the BJP?
Such attacks are the result of widespread propaganda being carried out among the Hindu community that the mere existence of Muslims is a threat to them.
When a community’s existence itself is considered a threat, no amount of avoiding politics or invisiblising oneself in the public sphere, is going to solve the community’s problems.
In that sense, the problem doesn’t lie with Muslims in the first place.
What Should Muslims Do?
However, there is one weakness in the community that is contributing to the present state of affairs. The weakness isn’t too much politics, but too little politics. There appears to be a fear of politics among the Muslims of north India. This could be due to three historical reasons.
- When the British were discriminating against Muslims in the 19th century, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan urged the community to stay away from politics and focus on education and economic advancement. Even today, this remains a key blueprint for the community in times of crisis and many influential Muslims cite this as a solution to its current problems.
- Muslims in north India have, somewhat unfairly, being carrying the burden of Partition with the belief that it was solely the result of assertion by Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League.
- When the Deobandi Ulema led by Hussain Ahmad Madani threw their lot with the Congress and opposed Jinnah in the run-up to Independence, it was based on an understanding that Muslims would stay away from identity politics while the new Indian State would give the community space in the realm of personal law.
All three sentiments have contributed to north Indian Muslims’ antipathy to active community-oriented politics. They are important but not entirely relevant in the present context.
Yes, as Sir Syed said, Muslims must concentrate on education. But politics need not necessarily be seen as being in opposition to educational advancement of Muslims. In fact, the two go together.
And personal law is an important aspect, no doubt. But even to protect personal law, Muslims need political mobilisation. This was quite evident in the last Lok Sabha when the only parties who were actively resisting the Modi government’s allegedly draconian Triple Talaq Bill were the AIMIM and a few regional parties.
Is a Muslim Party the Only Solution?
There are two communities in India who have successfully proven that political empowerment is the key to social and economic advancement: Dalits and Sikhs. Muslims don’t have a party of the scale of Bahujan Samaj Party or Shiromani Akali Dal. The two oldest Muslim parties – AIMIM and Indian Union Muslim League – have their area of influence in Telangana and Maharashtra (AIMIM) and Kerala (IUML). It is not surprising that these also happen to be regions where Muslims have done better educationally as well as economically.
But Dalits and Sikhs have shown that political empowerment isn’t just about having one’s own parties but having a power equation of equality with all political parties.
This means that Muslims may need to assert themselves even vis-à-vis secular parties like the Congress, SP, TMC, AAP etc. The community needs to organise itself and exert pressure on these parties with a set of demands like taking a stand on hate crimes or acting swiftly if such cases take place in the states ruled by them.
There can be a similar set of demands on the social and economic concerns of Muslims as well.
The key point is that Muslims’ power equation with ‘secular’ parties needs to change. These parties must not be allowed to remain complacent in the belief that Muslims will tactically vote for us any way, to defeat the BJP.
Self-Pride, Not Self-Loathing
To know where one is headed, sometimes it helps to remember ones’ roots. Islam has a very old and very special history in India. Islam reached India during the life of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him). The first documented Muslim to reach India was Malik Dinar, an Islamic preacher from Basra. According to the Encyclopedia of Islam, the concept of “inner jihad” – the war to purify one’s own soul – was originally articulated by Malik Dinar.
This concept is cited even today to define “true jihad”. It is of huge significance that the originator of this concept brought Islam to India and is said to have died here.
Malik Dinar built India’s first mosque in Kodungallur, Kerala, supposedly in 629 AD, just seven years after the prophet’s migration to Madina.
It was built on an abandoned monastery given to the Muslims by Chera emperor Cheraman Perumal and was named after the emperor. Cheraman Perumal is said to have been deeply sensitive towards the message of Islam. There are several legends regarding the emperor and according to one he left for Arabia where he met the prophet and eventually died there.
The story of Malik Dinar and Cheraman Perumal is important for India’s Muslims even today. It shows that the story of Islam in India began out of mutual respect between a Muslim scholar and Hindu ruler. There was an equal give and take of ideas and neither side was indebted to the other. It was not like what is often called Ganga-Jamuni-Tehzeeb, in which the metaphor itself means one river merging into the other and losing its identity.
Being Muslim in today’s India doesn’t mean self-loathing, self-blame, losing one’s identity or having a relationship of servility towards the powers-that-be.
It means having pride in one’s identity as Muslims and as citizens of this country. It is precisely the manner in which Muslim MPs in the Lok Sabha asserted their patriotism as well as their Muslim-ness, without feeling apologetic about either.
The solution lies in what Babasaheb Ambedkar said: “Educate, Organise, Agitate”.
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