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Indian Muslims at Crossroads

By Asad Mirza

SEVENTY three years after attaining independence, in the struggle for which it played a crucial role, the Indian Muslims community is standing at a crossroad one again. In 1947, it was the question of whether one should migrate to Pakistan, a country created by the Britishers in the name of Muslims, or continue to stay in a country where our forefathers lie buried. And which promised equal rights and duties to all of its citizens. Instead after 73 years that question has turned into an existential one instead of whom to support.

However, it would be better if the Muslim community instead of turning the issue into an existential one, introspects and find the areas and issues, where it has floundered to be seen as part of the county’s mainstream. Following it with judicious and committed planning and strategising, so that these difficulties could be overcome and after the next 26 years, when we’ll be celebrating the century of our independence, we can proudly say that the community has fulfilled the aspirations of its followers and countrymen, both.

Indian Muslims after the partition

In the initial years after independence, the Indian Muslims while continuing to wish away the negative repercussions of the partition tried to organise themselves politically, educationally and in business. The community leaders like Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani, Maulana Hifzur Rehman, Maulana Azad and Dr Zakir Husain tried to provide as much succour and guidance to a community, which was feeling orphaned, as the crèmede la crème of the community had migrated to Pakistan and the vast multitudes of Indian Muslims were left rudderless. They paid particular attention to its educational development. But during this time the leadership, which was desired to be provided by the religious leaders of the community was not forthcoming.

A rudderless community

From 1970s till 1980s, the Muslim community was completely rudderless, as most of its stalwart leaders had passed away by 1969; it had no political leader of any stature to lead the whole community. Unfortunately, the community leadership passed on to amateur and sycophants, who had no political vision or strategy to lead the community except self-aggrandisement.

During this phase, the gold rush in the Middle East started and a big percentage of Muslims from the coastal states of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra migrated to these countries in search of lucrative jobs. The money remitted by them was used in educational development of the community, but only a very small percentage. Though even this small investment paid big dividends in the long term in increasing the educational level of the community and its economic progress and social development in the aforementioned states.

But this was not accompanied by the reforms required for the upliftment of the Muslim society as a whole. At the political front pygmy and amateur leaders represented the community, and on religious front also they were not united. Instead, what happened was that the flow of easy money from the Gulf further subdivided the community into many more sub-sects religiously.

Betrayal by secular forces

From 1980 till 1990, the Muslim community as a whole faced a plethora of politico-religious issues, and unfortunately once again it was let down by its religious and political leaders and country’s secular leaders both. But, economically the community was on the road to progress, based on its achievements in the educational fields. The credit for this little progress should be given to the countless number of faceless Muslims who worked passionately for the emancipation of the community, without any mature or visionary leadership or a cohesive plan.

Rise of anti-Muslim elements

From 1990 onwards, the right-wing forces representing the majority community in the country, which had got emboldened after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, further made headways in consolidating themselves on the political landscape of the country.

Muslims were being pushed to the margins of the political stage of the country. The right wing forces continued to consolidate themselves on the basis of ideological and psychological tactics and political brinkmanship. It scored its greatest victory when AB Vajpayee became the country’s prime minister in 1996.

1996 onwards, the right-wing BJP continued to consolidate itself in various Indian states and was ultimately able to form the government with a majority in the lower house of the parliament in 2014. From 2014 onwards Indian Muslims have faced an onslaught of attacks one after the other. Yet the response of the community leaders had not been up to the mark, as a whole.

The way ahead

This leads us to ponder over the main question again, what the Indian Muslims should do now?

The answer lies in introspection and analysing the issues, which have held the community down. This should lead to prioritising the issues at hand. Altruistically speaking, first, it should try to present a unified image, not beleaguered by sectional differences. Secondly, it should adopt a proactive approach not a reactionary approach to handle issues at hand. People who do not represent the community at any level should not be seen as representing the community at any level, instead they should be excommunicated. Thirdly, it should try to forge sustainable links with other minorities in the country like Parsis, Sikhs and Christians. Further it should try to learn from these minorities, as to how they have fared well in educational and economic sectors, utilising the community’s donations and guidance by experts.

Fourthly, it should engage in self-introspection and try to reform itself of practices, which are detrimental for the growth of the community as a whole, such as curbing wasteful expenditure on marriages and other religious functions. And lastly, the message to change the community’s psyche and approach on issues facing it should be conveyed in a logical and easily understandable format to all, by a committee of elders representing all the factions and schools of thought of the community besides the political and social activists.

At the political front, Muslims should adopt a multi-dimensional strategy, strengthening the secular and democratic forces of the country, assured of the support of 63% secular and right thinking population of India.

Until and unless the Muslim community as a whole decides to change its psyche and reform itself, nobody can help the community survive the present onslaught.

  • Asad Mirza is a Sr journalist and commentator based in New Delhi. He was also associated with BBC Urdu Service and Khaleej Times of Dubai. He writes on Muslims, educational, interfaith, international and current affairs. Email:

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