Muslims today

Seventy years after Independence, the Muslims of India have very real grievances. No political party, secular or ”communal”, has made a sincere effort to address them or simultaneously draw Muslims into the political mainstream and enlist the support of non-Muslims.

Published : Feb 14, 2018 12:30 IST

New Delhi, September 17, 1947:  Muslim refugees, evacuated from areas of unrest in the city, take shelter in the Purana Qila.

New Delhi, September 17, 1947: Muslim refugees, evacuated from areas of unrest in the city, take shelter in the Purana Qila.

THE Muslims of India face in 2018 a depressing situation not dissimilar to the ones they faced in 1857 and 1947. The old order was gone and they did not know how to meet the challenges of the new and unfriendly one. Mohammed Ali Jinnah appointed a moral coward, Chaudhri Khaliquzzaman, as the leader of the Muslims of India in 1947, in preference to the upright Nawab Mohammed Ismail of Meerut. Khaliquzzaman had a nervous breakdown and left for Pakistan where, in his declining years, he bitterly regretted the Partition of India.

Far from improving, 70 years after Independence, the situation has gone worse with a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) regime headed by its pracharak Narendra Modi as Prime Minister. They face discrimination everywhere. Their standing in national politics is accurately reflected in the results of all the general elections to the Lok Sabha since 1952. The figures of Muslims elected to the Lok Sabha over the years are: 1952–25; 1957–23; 1962–26; 1967–28; 1971–28; 1977–32; 1980–49; 1984–45; 1989–33; 1991–29; 1996–27; 1998–38; 1999–32; 2004–35; 2009–28; and 2014–22, which is an all-time low. Muslims constitute 10.5 per cent of the population. In the 2014 Lok Sabha, their representation is 4.2 per cent of the total membership, which has varied from 489 in 1952 to 543 in 2014.

In the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled States—Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh—the RSS’ political front, the BJP, has not a single Muslim Member of Legislative Assembly.

Official reports tell a sorry tale. On June 14, 1983, a “High Power Panel on Minorities, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes & Other Weaker Sections” submitted its report in two volumes to the Government of India. Only one of its seven members was a Muslim, a politician from the Congress, Dr Rafiq Zakaria, who served also as its Secretary. It is fair to mention that he did his best to ascertain the true state of affairs. In Chapter 2, on Methodology (page 7), the report reveals: “As we feared, while considerable (though not complete in any way) data was forthcoming in respect of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for whom statutory provisions existed, no such data was available, except in vague and general terms, in respect of the religious minorities. No Central Government Department or Public Sector Undertaking could enlighten us specifically as to the number of employees belonging to the minorities, nor how much benefits were they deriving from the economic activities. About the minorities, we were informed that as the authorities concerned were not required by law to maintain any data, they were unable to provide any data to us.” That the panel “feared” that statistics in respect of “the religious minorities” (read Muslims) would not be available reflects the clime in which it worked.

Next came the “Report of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities” in May 2007. The commission was headed by a Chief Justice of India, Justice Ranganath Misra, who had performed deplorably in every institution he had served and became a Congress politician. The data assembled are useful. The report has a dissent by the Member-Secretary Asha Das, a former senior bureaucrat, which had statements one would expect only in BJP circles. Lastly, we have the Prime Minister’s (Dr Manmohan Singh’s) High Level Committee for Preparation of a Report on Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community of India headed by Justice Rajindar Sachar. Its report, submitted on November 17, 2006, contains a wealth of information. For the first time, the remit focussed on Muslims alone.

Muslim recruitment to the police services is as poor as police behaviour towards them in some parts of India. The number of Muslim officers in the Army is abysmally low, as the scholar Ali Ahmed establishes with documentation in the brilliant study, “The Missing Muslim Army Officers”, Economic & Political Weekly, January 27, 2018).

Political representation

Yet, can you name a single political party which voices the Muslims’ grievances? Then, why blame Muslim political parties that do? Why blame men like Asaduddin Owaisi, MP, for their courageous stand? There must be a two-track approach—enlist the minorities to the secular cause while convincingly securing redress of their grievances. Off and on one hears a leader here or there criticising the wrongs. Sharad Pawar, for example, strongly censured the motivated arrests and prosecutions of Muslims.

One example of the secular parties’ indifference will suffice. On February 12, 2001, Justice Jagdish Bhalla of the Allahabad High Court criticised the State government for not issuing a notification for the trial of two criminal cases after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in order to facilitate an early trial. In the last 17 years, not one Chief Minister—Mayawati, Mulayam Singh or Akhilesh Yadav—cared to do that. Whom else, then, can the Muslims turn to but Muslim parties and Muslim leaders? This is fraught with peril for all in the long run.

A minority community’s sense of identity is shaped by its understanding of its history. Its self-image is influenced, no less, by the image which the majority group in the country has of the minority community and by its understanding of history. Not seldom, historical perceptions clash. History does not speak in the same language to different peoples.

For long, the alternative to Partition seemed to be constitutional protection. Experience has demonstrated that constitutional protection without political participation, which alone can enable them to share power, provides no security.

It is not possible to understand the political mind of Indian Muslims today, nor their politics, except against the historical background. The same holds good for the approach which Indian political parties have adopted towards Muslims. To anticipate, both have tended to be protectionist. Participation has been largely formal; empowerment remains a distant goal. This is to no small extent the result of the political course which Indian Muslims and Indian political parties adopted in the early days of such politics.

The only Muslim League leader who began articulating a strategy in the new situation was H.S. Suhrawardy, former Premier of Bengal. His letter to Khaliquzzaman on September 10, 1947, listed the options (Khaliquzzaman, pages 397-399; see box). As he confessed: “We had not thought about it earlier.” One option was “holding fast to the two-nation theory”. He rejected it outright. Another was to retain “group solidarity” and yet seek friendship with Hindus. He raised an important question which is relevant still. “What I fear is, will they have respect for you if you have not strength that is to say if you give up your particular group solidarity? At the same time, any attempt to acquire solidarity or strength will raise suspicion in their minds as regards bona fides. Here the question what should be our attitude towards the Hindus is very important. Shall we treat with them as League treating the Congress or shall we create a political party of Hindus and Muslims? They may refuse to accept you as the League treating with the Congress and in a system of joint electorate will support the breed known as Nationalist Muslims.”

Several other options were mentioned, only to be dismissed. But on one point, he was categorical: “I think that the Muslims of the minority provinces will have to chalk out their own plan.” He suggested a convention of Muslim legislators. Khaliquzzaman was not interested. He settled down in Pakistan in October 1947.

Mohamed Raza Khan was a member of the Muslim League’s Council since 1943, of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) until 1963 and of the Madras Legislature from 1946 to 1962. His memoirs, What Price Freedom, published by himself in 1969 from Madras, described the Muslim mood at Partition, the short-sighted policies that the IUML pursued and his own disillusionment. “Having worked for the creation of Pakistan, they found themselves left without an organisation and leadership, with nobody to guide them. Mr. Jinnah left for Karachi to lead the new state. Most of the top leaders, who were on the League Working Committee and prominent Leaguers in different States, either left for Karachi to build up their own careers, as they felt they had no political future in India, or went into complete retirement. A fear complex had overtaken the Muslim community throughout the country. They could not think in terms of their political rights or their material welfare. All that they wanted was that there should be no communal trouble in their areas. They practically lost all interest in politics and wanted that they should be left to themselves.”

Azad’s advice

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s address to the Delhi Muslims assembled at the Jama Masjid has been much lauded for its oratorical qualities. Less evident, however, are those of political leadership. It was full of reproach. A heavy dose of nostalgia was administered in order to instil courage.

Another exercise in providing leadership was Azad’s speech at the Indian Union Muslim Conference at Lucknow on December 27, 1947. Strangely enough, it finds no place in any of the compilations of his speech. A report in The Times of India of the following day is quoted here. The audience numbered more than 60,000 Muslims, including some Leaguers. The Maulana was heard in pin-drop silence. Muslim leadership was his for the asking. Muslim politics was clay in his hands to mould as he wished. “All communal organisations must be liquidated. Even the Jamiatul-Ulema-e-Hind.” Its main task had been to guide the Muslims in the cultural and religious spheres. But it entered the political field in the cause of Indian nationalism. It “will have to cease its political activities now that India has achieved liberation”. He declared that any political organisation of the Muslims—and for that matter of any other community— howsoever nationalist and progressive its outlook, would be harmful to the interests of the Muslims and the country as a whole and could not be tolerated in the changed circumstances of this country.

The news report continued: “Maulana Azad observed that there could be no objection to the functioning in the country of communal organisations which confined their activities to religion and culture alone, and kept themselves scrupulously aloof from political squabbles. He said that the responsibility of those who participated in the Conference would not end with the taking of decisions to dissolve all communal bodies and joining non-communal political and progressive organisations. They had also to devise a machinery in order to make their decisions operative. A non-communal committee should be formed to change the prevailing atmosphere in the country in the light of the decisions of the Conference.”

No such committee was set up. Azad did not explicitly advise Muslims to join the Congress. That was left to the chairman of the Reception Committee, Hafiz Mohammed Ibrahim. On December 28, 1947, the conference passed a resolution moved by the vice president of the Jamiatul-Ulema, Maulana Ahmed Saeed, declaring that “Muslims of all shades of political opinion must take a united decision and abjure communal politics”. Another resolution, moved by S.A. Brelvi, editor of Bombay Chronicle, advised them to join the Congress.

The “non-communal committee” was not set up. It was a tragic abdication of responsibility. An organisation on the lines of the non-racist National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) in the United States would have set a trend. To this day, no one has thought of establishing a body comprising persons of commitment, regardless of religious and political applications, whose remit would have been to monitor violations of the rights and redress grievances of Indian Muslims on the premise that they are Indians entitled to all the rights to which Indians are entitled.

There were few takers for the Lucknow recipe. Suhrawardy, still in India, issued a statement in Calcutta on December 26, 1947, asking Muslims to “await his [Gandhi’s] signal” before joining the Congress. “Shall we be welcomed wholeheartedly and sincerely, shall we be trusted?” (The Times of India, December 27, 1947).

He was taking the cue from Gandhi’s remarks at his prayer meeting on December 22: “In my opinion, while they should hold themselves in readiness to join the Congress, they should refrain from applying for admission until they are welcomed with open arms and on terms of absolutely equality. ...Because the Congress has not always been able to live up to its professions, it has appeared to many Muslims as a predominantly caste Hindu Organisation. Anyway, the Muslims should have dignified aloofness, so long as the tension lasts. They would be in the Congress, when their services are wanted by it. In the meantime, they should be of the Congress, even as I am.... Today, every Muslim is assumed to be a Leaguer and, therefore, to be an enemy of the Congress. Such, unfortunately has been the teaching of the Muslim League. There is now not the slightest cause for enmity. Four months are too short a period, to be free from the communal poison.” Gandhi was emphatic, however, that the aspirations of communal bodies “can only be satisfied through the Congress, whether they are in it or not” (Bombay Chronicle, December 23, 1947).

Patel’s strange response

The Lucknow Conference evoked a strange response from Vallabhbhai Patel. Addressing a huge public meeting in the same city on January 6, 1948, he angrily asked: “To Indian Muslims I have only one question. Why did you not open your mouths on the Kashmir issue? Why did you not condemn the action of Pakistan?” It was a clear reference to Azad’s conference, held only a fortnight earlier. Patel was prescribing a loyalty test to Muslims—support to the Government of India’s stand on the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan.

Organisations of Muslims, and even meetings of Muslims, were taboo. But a convention of Muslim legislators held in Lucknow on March 19 and 20, 1958, drew praise for its support to the Indian case (Kashmir, Sisir Gupta, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 1966, page 450). Muslims of riot-torn Sambalpur met, in 1964, not to demand greater protection but to send cables to the President and members of the United Nations Security Council telling them that “Kashmir’s accession to India is irrevocable” (vide India’s Constitution and Politics, A.G. Noorani, Jaico, Bombay, 1970, page 362).

Vallabhbhai Patel did not stop at prescribing the loyalty test. In the same speech he said: “Select one horse. Those who want to go to Pakistan can go there and live in peace,” and “I appeal to the Hindu Mahasabha to join the Congress” (Bombay Chronicle, January 7, 1948). Azad relapsed into silence. The reality of a Congress so divided and the atmosphere in the country, after Gandhi’s assassination, had little effect on the League’s strategy. On April 3, 1948, the Constituent Assembly passed a resolution advocating “all steps” to prevent any communal body from participating in “any activities other than those essential for the bona fide religious, cultural, social and educational needs of the community”. The Muslim League members of the Assembly met under the presidentship of Nawab Ismail Khan and decided to dissolve the party over M.M. Ismail’s opposition (Raza Khan, page 366). In Bombay, the League became the Fourth Party. One of its prominent members, A.K. Hafizka, joined the Congress (ibid, page 367).

When the League’s Council met in Madras on March 10, 1948, barely 30 members turned up. There were no representatives from Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Delhi. Uttar Pradesh had a sole representative in Maulana Hasrat Mohani. “It was decided to continue the League with emphasis on non-political activities.”

M.M. Ismail was elected President and was authorised to establish branches in all the States. The League, however, continues to be a regional body still, with a strong base in two States, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, but nowhere else.

In the Constituent Assembly, the League members’ approach was reactionary in the extreme. As late as on May 25, 1949, two of its members moved that separate electorates for Muslims should be retained, drawing a withering response from Patel. Mohammed Ismail supported the amendments Z.H. Lari opposed, both reservation of seats and separate electorates: “I am no longer satisfied with sending some Muslim advocates of certain causes. It is my ambition that my representative, be he a Muslim or a Hindu, shall have an effective voice in the governance of the country” (Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol. 8, page 283, vide pages 269-355 for the debates). Azad did not participate in the debate. Not long thereafter, Lari joined the ranks of League leaders who went over to Pakistan, not to forget others like the poet Josh. This exodus only added to the demoralisation. No Muslim leader cared to develop the Lari line—How to proceed beyond protection to participation.

Congress and the Muslim League

Two lines of approach emerged—one was to join or support the Congress and the other was to buttress the League. They were not mutually exclusive. In good time, the League became a staunch supporter of the Congress. Under M.M. Ismail’s leadership, the League in Madras began by according “full and complete support to the Congress”, sought “some sort of private understanding between the Congress and the League” (Raza Khan, page 447). It received encouragement from the Congress leaders, particularly K. Kamaraj, who sought the League’s support, albeit on his terms. But Ismail, as Quaid-e-Millat, was the poor man’s Quaid-e-Azam. When his emissaries reported to him, “He rejected Mr. Kamaraj’s offer off-hand and insisted that the Congress should recognise the League as the sole representative organisation of Muslims; the League would select all the Muslim candidates and these nominees who would contest on Muslim League ticket should be supported by Congress; when elected these Muslim League candidates would support the Congress party in the Legislative Assembly” (ibid, page 467).

In 1961, Raza Khan broke ranks. In a speech on August 19, he deplored that instead of working amongst the Muslim masses to raise their social, educational and economic levels, “We bother ourselves only with elections in Madras and Kerala, and that too without any corresponding benefit.”

He added: “Being a minority, spread throughout the country, the Muslims could not afford either to antagonise the majority community or the major parties.” Their goodwill and sympathy has to be sought, he said (ibid, page 492). By then, the League had gained respectability as a valued ally of the Congress in its campaign to oust the first Communist government in Kerala in 1959. A ministerial berth proved difficult to grant. The League had to make do with the Speakership. But a political marriage had been arranged which has served both parties eminently. Not one tangible gain has accrued to the community; no grievance redressed; no reform carried out. The insecurities remain. Muslims continue to perceive their identity to be under threat. The principal gainers were, of course, the League’s leadership in its varying composition. It acquired a standing—in Congress eyes and used it to draw support for itself. It was the League’s identity which acquired a sharp relief. The situation was significantly different in Kerala. The League had a strong mass base, and a record of commitment. The Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, under the leadership of Asaduddin Owaisi, MP, is following a somewhat similar course—advocacy of Muslims’ rights plus an outreach to Dalits and other underprivileged, backed by social services.

It would be most unwise not to notice the near total failure of intellectual creativity in the community. Saif F.B. Tyabji was a popular Bombay attorney deeply committed to the cause of Muslim education and to the success of the Anjuman-e-Islam in Bombay. In September-October 1955, he wrote a series of eight articles in the Urdu daily Inquilab which were translated into English and circulated widely in mimeo form.

He was opposed to communal parties; but was equally zealous of preserving the Muslim identity. What then, “should be the aim of the Muslims to (sic) attain?”

He recalled: “This has happened before. In 1856 the last Emperor of Delhi was deposed and his sons were shot. The wells of Delhi and Lucknow were heaped with the bodies of the flower of the Muslim aristocracy, and there was no water to drink, because there was only blood. The rule of the British had finally arrived. But our forefathers did not see the writing on the wall. They did not realise that a new world had dawned, and this new world would require a new way to live in. Decades passed without this being realised, and it was only many years later that farsighted thinkers such as the founders of Aligarh University in the U.P. and of the Anjuman-i-Islam in Bombay, made efforts in new directions, often against the strong and persistent opposition of the conservatives, and ultimately, many years later, these efforts began to bear small and stunted fruit. We must not make this mistake again. We must not make this mistake again. We must realise what has happened in this country. We must ascertain the facts and act as they require.”

Muslims had two objectives—economic and political. He analysed the Constitution of India and of the Congress. Both provided a shortcut to the attainment of those objectives. Muslims “must be numbered amongst the poorest sections of the population. Fortunately for the Muslims all the important political parties of India are now finally and irrevocably attached to Socialism. By the now famous Avadi resolution, the Congress has set before itself the aim of creating a Socialist State in India. The Socialist Party by its very name stands for Socialism. And the Communist Party differs from the others only as regards the means and the timing of the steps that must be taken and adopted for introducing Socialism.” A typical politically naive lawyer’s image, which bore no relation of reality even then. In 2018 it seems absurd.

Importance of political awakening

He emphasised that “the first step that is necessary for the economic regeneration of Muslims is their political awakening. The Muslims must become active in politics and above all they must join in and become influential in the ruling party, the Congress. It is finally those who are influential in the Congress who decide who should become the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman and the directors of the State Bank of India, and of all the enormous state owned institutions and factories that are growing up, and it is in these institutions and factories that commercial and industrial employment will be available to Muslims.”

It is significant that even so secular-minded a person could think of nothing better than Muslims joining a political party en bloc. For one thing, the party bosses in the States had their own priorities. But the basic objection is that it is wrong to stress political participation alone. The best course for the Muslims, surely, is to participate in the entire spectrum of activities that constitute the national life—the trade union movement, cooperative movement, women’s and students’ bodies, etc. There is a yet more important duty to perform. It is to use the political platform for expression on national issues from a national perspective. Was a leader of proven identification with the national weal to voice the grievances of the Muslims also, the impact of his pleas would be much stronger. Both the nation and the community would be the richer for the contribution.

In 1961, the community took yet another wrong turn. The year began with riots in Jabalpur, the worst since Partition. The veteran Congressman Dr Syed Mahmud convened an Indian Muslims Convention in New Delhi on June 10 and 11, 1961. One of its moving spirits was Maulana Hifzur Rehman. The most vital issue before it was one of securing a “due share” for Muslims in government services and in other walks of life such as trade and industry. Due recognition of Urdu was another, as also withdrawal of offensive textbooks. Among the participants were Brij Mohan Toofan, president, Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee, Subhadra Joshi, MP, Father J.S. Williams, a Bombay bishop, G.M. Sadiq of Kashmir, Z.A. Ahmed of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and Prof. M. Mujeeb. Some 600 delegates participated (The Times of India, June 11 and 12, 1961).

None of this prevented The Times of India (in the edition dated June 13, 1961) and the rest of the press from denouncing the convention though its conveners had excluded Muslim communalists. Muslim self-assertion is a recent phenomenon. In the 1960s, any advocacy of Muslim rights was regarded as obscene. “Muslims should suffer in silence and should not even be allowed to cry out in pain,” Dr Syed Mahmud exclaimed (Noorani, page 362). He was not wrong in this assertion. The Majlis-e-Mushawarat that was established wielded little real influence.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board that followed was and is a haven of dinosaurs. No organisation was established on the lines of the NAACP, which is open to all groups, to fight wrongs against Muslim groups. Muslims’ grievances were genuine but their validity was denied (vide the writer’s paper The Grievances of Indian Muslims drawn up for the Union Home Ministry at its suggestion and reprinted in Opinion, July 8 and 15,1969; vide also Noorani, Muslims of India, Oxford University Press, pages 366-407).

Worsening situation

These grievances cover a whole range of matters—employment in the public and private sectors; representation in the legislature and the government; educational opportunities; glaring communal bias in textbooks; Wakf properties; police partiality and the state’s utter and persistent failure to protect Muslim lives and properties. The situation shows no sign of improvement. Under the BJP-RSS regime, it has become worse.

Urdu deserves special mention. It has been treated for the most part as a Muslim language. The truth was stated admirably in a Government of India publication, ironically. The Publications Division periodically brings out pamphlets on “Muslims in India”. One, of 1952, had a chapter on Urdu which recognised handsomely that “Muslims of every State learn Urdu also” besides the regional language.

Second only to Arabic, it is Urdu which is the medium in which their religious works are written. But non-Muslims “too cherish and enrich Urdu as their own language”. Stress on Muslim identity led Muslims to neglect this fact to their own loss and to the detriment of Urdu.

The Lucknow Conference

Dr Syed Mahmud abandoned his own valiant effort of 1961. The Muslim leaders’ convention he convened at the Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulema, Lucknow, on August 8 and 9, 1964, set up a united front of Muslim Organisations—the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, comprising the League, the Jamaat-e-Islami, a faction of the Jamiat, the Progressive Muslim League, the Anjuman Tamir-e-Millat, the Ittehadul Muslimeen of Hyderabad, and prominent leaders including Dr A.J. Faridi. The very first paragraph of the Objectives Clause of the Mushawarat’s Constitution required it “to bring about better understanding and promote unity amongst the various communities...”. Another mandated it “to enlist the support of the members of all communities for the full implementation of the Constitution of India...”. That remained on paper.

Its Uttar Pradesh unit decided on June 3, 1968, to form a new political party, the Muslim Majlis, led by Faridi. On October 13, 1968, the All India Federation of Muslims and Scheduled Caste and Backward Classes was formed under the auspices of the Majlis. It comprised also representatives of the Republican Party, Sikhs and Christians. Faridi’s contempt for Congress Muslims was unconcealed. He used to say that like German silver, which was neither German nor silver, they had no standing in the Congress or among the Muslims. Both the Congress and its leading Muslim figures have proved Faridi right. Not one Muslim member of the P.V. Narasimha Rao government resigned after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Faridi died an untimely death. But the strategy he had in mind is not one to be dismissed out of hand. The state of Uttar Pradesh’s politics is a cruel reminder that while it can have some value in the short run it will wreak havoc eventually. Any success in exploiting differences among political parties to extract concessions for Muslims will lead to a Hindu backlash—a consolidation hostile to Muslims.

The solution lies not in denying the reality of the grievances but in devising a form and context of agitation which simultaneously draws Muslims into the political mainstream and enlists the support of non-Muslims. This has never been tried. It is no mere strategy. It is, without exaggeration, a path of salvation.

The Mushawarat never concerned itself with any but Muslim questions. It provided a platform for Sheikh Abdullah in 1971 when, alienated from Indira Gandhi, he exploited it to push through in June 1971 a resolution markedly soft on Pakistan on the crisis in Bangladesh. On August 18, 1973, he led a deputation of Muslims to her to plead for redress of specific Muslim grievances. One of them concerned Aligarh’s Muslim character, another the new Criminal Procedure Code on maintenance for divorced Muslim wives. Indira Gandhi had no hesitation in conceding their point. The provision was amended. Thus were sown the seeds of the Shah Bano question (1985-86).

Indira Gandhi’s protectionism and cynicism

Two points she made are significant. She complained that “the Muslim community had sought the support of the opposition parties” and she objected to their leaders adopting “an agitational approach” (mimeographed minutes). Her counsel to Gen. Shah Nawaz Khan was the same. In her letter of January 21, 1983, she warned that “confrontation and the spreading of an atmosphere of desperation is likely to be more damaging to the minorities themselves by arousing reaction in other communities” (Mulk-O-Millat Bacho Tehrik: Correspondence of the Amir with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, page 14).

Such fears of Hindu reaction did not prevent her from writing to the so-called Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Delhi, Syed Abdullah Bukhari, on November 20, 1979, pledging redress of Muslim grievances, listed in detail in the letter, while soliciting his support in the elections. It was preceded by a meeting between the two on September 17, 1979, at his residence—at which Sanjay Gandhi was present (vide A Call of 150 million Muslims to UN... March 1, 1983, published by Bukhari, pages 10-11 for the text).

Indira Gandhi was not a bit interested in drawing Muslims into the mainstream of national politics. Her attitude was strictly protectionist and largely cynical (vide the writer’s survey of her record in “Indira Gandhi and Indian Muslims”, Economic & Political Weekly, November 3, 1990).

Myron Weiner holds that there was a swing back to the Congress in Muslim Constituencies in 1980 but to no greater extent than did others (India at the Polls, 1980, Myron Weiner, American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C., 1983, page 124). In 1977, they, like the others, voted against her (ibid, page 115).

Nor was Rajiv Gandhi more principled. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, enacted in order to nullify the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Shah Bano case, gave the Muslims a bad name but it followed, did not precede, the unlocking of the gates of the Babri Masjid (Neerja Choudhary’s disclosures in The Statesman, April 20, 1986). That was done under a deal between the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Indira Gandhi in 1984.

Babri Masjid issue

When the Babri Masjid question erupted in 1986, leaders of Muslim organisations made no effort to enlist support of non-Muslims in order to make it an issue of the rule of law. They so treated it as a Muslim issue as to neglect even the elementary duty of collecting the documents and historical material in order to arouse enlightened public opinion. The best studies emerged from the labours of non-Muslim scholars like Sushil Srivastava, Romila Thapar, S. Gopal and Neeladri Bhattacharya. Muslim writers who exerted themselves were the ones outside the charmed circle of Muslim politicians (Anatomy of a Confrontation, S. Gopal, Viking, 1991).

The demolition of the Masjid on December 6, 1992, did not induce any rethinking in those circles. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board became even more active than before. It was set up at a convention in Bombay on December 27, 1972. It is highly significant that uniquely among the Muslim bodies, it was this one body which the Bohra chief patronised and used for his ends.

None of this should blind. The communal atmosphere has deteriorated to an alarming degree. But there is a fundamental flaw in the fight against communalism, as K.N. Panikkar pointed out in the Fourth V.P. Chintan Memorial Lectures on October 9, 1990. “The anti-communal struggle is a negative struggle. It is a struggle which tries to evolve ways and means to oppose communal propaganda. The agenda is set by them and the secular forces are made to respond to it. At every stage the secular forces are either trying to counter, say, a Mahant Avaidyanath or an Advani. They are ahead of us. It is necessary to reverse this order. If so, we have to transform our struggle against communalism to a struggle for secularism. Such a struggle can be meaningful only if it is a part of a struggle for a humane society—a society in which human beings are recognised and respected as human beings and not as ‘Hindu’, ‘Muslim’ or any other religious denomination. Such a struggle is possible only if we integrate the struggle for secularism with the larger struggle for a just society.”

Muslim participation for a just society

In 2018, this might seem a distant political goal. But the first steps towards it will have to be taken urgently and with determination. The responsibility is not theirs alone. The so-called secular parties also bear a heavy responsibility to ensure Muslim participation in the struggle for a just society. The leaders of secular political parties must assist them in the participation by responding to the genuine felt needs of Muslims while enlisting them in the struggle, and by giving them a place of importance and by listening to them.

Of this, there is no sign whatever. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress president, won fame for his sudden surge of religious fervour during the Gujarat elections. He had hitherto successfully concealed his religious fervour. Years ago, a Congressman, V.N. Gadgil, warned Indira Gandhi that any espousal of Muslims’ rights would entail loss of the Hindu vote. On her return to power in 1980, she followed this course.

Vajpayee took fright as he saw her stealing their saffron attire while they were swimming in the Ganga. His BJP followed this very course and its consequences face us today—a complete marginalisation of the Muslims of India. Since none espouse their cause, it is unfair to blame Muslim parties which do. This is an understandable reaction. It is no solution to their problem.

Muslim political parties and others who share their woes must get together and devise a concrete strategy. Dalits and the Left should be welcomed, as also individuals like Harsh Mander. Muslim Congressmen and the BJP’s touts should be excluded. A small group should prepare a draft manifesto for public debate on what course the Muslims of India should adopt in the days ahead.


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