Thursday, October 1, 2009

Search for the Muslim leader

Search for the Muslim leader
By Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 22.09.2009


It was heartwarming to find several newspapers publish photographs of Eid congregations, Navratra and Durga Puja side by side. We shall live to rue the day we take this exquisite mosaic for granted.

The biggest danger to this marvelous tapestry comes from electoral uses of the minority issue.

The Sachar Committee report on the socio-economic condition of Muslims was an audacious step taken in good faith by the UPA. But a report of this nature is meaningless without follow up action. It is here that electoral politics trumps altruism.

Since the 80s, atleast, the Congress, including the Muslim component of its leadership, lives in fear that its Hindu vote might slip away because the party, in their faulty perception, if seen to be pro Muslim, will annoy the Hindus. This leads to a cyclical fear that the minorities will desert them.

A quest, therefore, begins for the Muslim leader who will help attract the flock. This is a much more complicated process than most people imagine.

It is complicated, because, without our being aware of it, we live in a system of uninstitutionalized apartheid. Monochromatic evolution of settlements around Jama Masjid and Jhandewalan respectively gives an idea of the phenomenon.

The prevalence of this separation entails that the party, say, the Congress will not know which kind of a leader resonates with the community.

In the absence of knowledge, the easiest approach is to pitch in for a religious leader. This explains the proliferation of lengthy beards and headgear at official Iftar parties.

Empirical evidence should have taught politician that this variety of Muslim leadership has religious, functional uses rather like the Purohit at marriage “pheras”, but it has limited say in political matters.

Remember, Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistani had influence on the establishment, but never on the voters. The party seldom won seats upto the 90s. The Muttahida-Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) is the Army creation to control secular, political surge. Just as in Kerala where there are “Munanis” with links to the Sangh Parivar but no seat in the assembly.

Politicians promoted the Senior Imam of Jama Masjid as a Muslim vote catcher. The Imam came a cropper.

In fact, the projection of bearded clergy on political platforms has a communalizing visual effect. Muslims thus projected come across only as a religious quantity. The whole projection is a falsehood. Of the country’s 150 million Muslims, not even a million would resemble the characters politicians attach to themselves as vote-catchers. Remember the Osama bin Laden look-alike Ram Vilas Paswan carted on his bandwagon during the campaign? Paswan is not even in the Lok Sabha now.

From the clerical extreme, the search lights are then beamed to search the liberal Muslim leader.

The liberal Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Christian leader is a contradiction in terms. You can have a liberal leader who will, per chance, belong to anyone of those denominations. Maulana Azad was a liberal, national leader who happened to be a Muslim. Those who have not read Ghubar-e-Khatir will know nothing of his elegant descriptions of playing sitar by moonlight at the Taj Mahal! Let any of the Imams match that one. Or Azad’s knowledge of the Quran.

Who then should lead the Muslims. Under the given circumstances, not a Muslim certainly, because that choice leads to the Sole Spokesman syndrome.

Remember until his death in 1964 the undisputed leader of Indian Muslims was Jawaharlal Nehru as he was of the majority of Indians. In other words, Muslims need a liberal, secular Hindu to lead them. This does not obviate a leadership role for Muslims. But these Muslim leaders will require the majority community as well to line up behind them. Only with this cross-knitting can we weld the country together. Only in this fashion can we proceed towards a just society for all, including Muslims. Otherwise tokenism fuels communalism and the falsehood of Muslim appeasement.

What can be done?

To begin with, dismantle the Ministry of Minority Affairs. And if you must have such a ministry, place it under a liberal Hindu. Reason? I have never seen a Muslim minister do a jot for Muslims for fear of losing his or her secular credentials. And if you do find the rare Muslim who helps other Muslims, he will instantly open himself to the charge of being communal. A liberal Hindu in that slot can be a much more useful and harmonizing entity.

Subsidies and a special air terminal for Haj helps only an infinitesimal minority of muslims and irritates many more Hindus. Why must the Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia be a Muslim? I refuse to believe that a Hindu Ambassador cannot oversee Haj arrangements.

More to point is the lamentable absence of an Arabic speaking ambassador or even junior staff in any Arab country except, perhaps, Egypt. Why? Somewhere here can we begin to shed tokenism, which irritates, and do the real things which serve the national purpose.

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