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Indian Muslim : From ruling class to underclass

By Hasan Ghias

Six hundred and sixty six years separate the ascension of a victorious Mohammad Mu’izz Uddin Ghori to the throne of Delhi in 1192 and the banishment by the British of the defeated and decrepit Bahadur Shah Zafar to Rangoon in 1858. The curtains had closed upon the Muslim rule in India, marking the beginning of the descent that has seen the erstwhile rulers sink from the top to the bottom of the pyramid.

To reverse this slide, we must understand the reasons for this loss of power and privilege. “Surely, Allah does not change the condition of a people unless they change themselves.” (Surah Al Raad, Verse 11). While seeking guidance in the eternal wisdom of the Holy text, I claim no expertise in being able to interpret our current condition in religious terms, and prefer to leave this exercise to others who are better versed. However, one conclusion that I can clearly draw from the spiritual realm is that the destruction of our moral fiber has a lot to do with our present predicament.

Framing the issue in temporal terms, the first thing that one must understand about the advent of Muslim power in India is that it was not about religion but about conquest and empire building. Muslim conquerors from the North came to India not with the purpose to proselytize, but with the mission to rule.

The waxing and waning of power and empire is a common theme that runs through history and across geographies. The Muslim rule in India too has to be understood in terms of the rise and fall of dynasties. The emergence of British power in India was both a cause (among many others) and a consequence of the demise of the Mughal dynasty. Muslims ruled as long as they possessed competitive advantage. They had superior skills, not only in warfare, but also in governance. The industrial revolution turned the tide in favor of the West. The British came to India with superiority in arms, military organization and competence in governance. They had a clear competitive advantage over those they displaced.

If the loss of competitive advantage lies at the root of the loss of power, regaining competitive advantage must be the route to empowerment. This should be the central objective towards which our energies and initiatives must be directed. What, then, are the key sources of competitive advantage, not only in modern India, but in today’s world? The role of the political processes in democratic orders can hardly be overemphasized in terms of creating a level, or uneven, playing field for the different constituencies that compete for power and jockey for privilege.

Democracies respond to public opinion, which is, to a significant extent, shaped by the media. Skillful engagement with the media is essential for the dissemination to a wider audience of our aspirations, our concerns, our problems, our rights- in short our perspective and our narrative. However, at the core of the quest for competitive advantage lie educational empowerment, technological advancement and the creation of skills that the market values. While the political dispensation and media propensities are not within our control, we can change and impact our destiny through education and skill development, striving for excellence in everything we pursue.

Thought leadership must provide the springboard for action. Muslim intellectuals must join hands to put together an agenda for empowerment that would determine a road map for regeneration and revival through the building of competitive advantages. Can an educational institution or a foundation take the initiative to host a think tank of Muslim thought leaders in an effort to develop an implementable action program within the constitutional, economic and political ambit of our nation?

Hasan Ghias is a retired C-Suite executive and currently a US based Business and Organization Development Consultant. He is a Sloan Fellow of the London Business School and an Advanced Leadership Fellow of Harvard University.

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