Do Indian Muslims need a separate political identity?

Shams Ahsan
Shams Ahsan
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In an interview with me here in Jeddah last month, Assaduddin Owaisi, Member of Parliament and President of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, dropped a bombshell by urging Muslims in India to carve out a separate political identity for themselves.

He said: “Muslims must realize that they have to have a different political identity. (But) they must get out of the thinking that if they have a different political identity that will lead to strengthening the communal forces. This is a totally wrong understanding of the situation. This will strengthen our parliamentary democracy."

He said that the national and secular parties in India have completely failed. “We have tried and tested secular parties but they have not come to our rescue."

These comments have led to an extensive debate on Internet forums. I have been following the verbal saber-rattling from the fence with much amusement.

As happens with most of the debates on Internet forums, this discussion also swings between two extremes, often punctured by personal diatribe.

Muslims have to shed the minority mindset. The Muslim population of India is the world’s third largest and it varies from sizable to noticeable across the country.

Shams Ahsan

There are those who support Assaduddin’s views, saying “a community as big as Muslims without any organization of its own cannot protect its identity.”

“Keeping themselves aloof from politics and handing over their political future to someone else would be suicidal for Indian Muslims,” is a common refrain among his followers.

“I am fully convinced that no minority can safeguard its survival or secure its rights without concerted political action. Surrender, capitulation, self-liquidation, and self-incrimination are terms not found in the dictionary of living peoples,” claims another Assaduddin supporter.

Some are advocating a middle path of having a political outfit with representations from other minority communities and people from the lower strata of the caste-based society.

But there are others who argue that the political and demographic realities have changed since the partition. So it is in the interest of the Muslim community to support secular parties.

What haunts the Muslims?

The burning question is: Do Muslims in India need a separate political identity? This question keeps haunting the Muslims in the country from time to time. In many cases, it stems from a sense of deprivation and discrimination. Those with a decent memory and grasp of history know the answer to this question: It is a definite “no”. Those who suffer from amnesia or lack of foresight and wisdom are condemned to live with a defeatist outlook, thus they clamor to be an island unto themselves.

Separatism, ghettoization, bigotry are regressive tendencies; amalgamation, inclusiveness, moderation are progressive approaches. Do Muslims in India want to be the prisoners of the past and spoil their present and future with regressive tendencies or do they want to shed the baggage of history and move on with a progressive approach?

Muslims in India know their malaise. The diagnosis has been made so many times by so many experts, including Justice Sachar and Justice Rangnath Mishra. What they must do is find treatments for the ills afflicting them. There cannot be a panacea for all these ills. Each problem needs a different approach.

Justice Venkatchallia, Chairman of the Constitution Review Commission, said in a report that the representation of Muslims in legislatures has fallen well below their proportion of the population.

Furthermore, the percentage of Muslim representation in parliament (Lok Sabha) has reached double digits only once since 1952. In the seventh Lok Sabha in 1980 the Muslim representation was 10 percent. This is one of the reasons why Muslims are voiceless, although they comprise 14 percent of the population.

This calls for a tactical political posturing to ensure that the Muslim vote is not divided.??It is no secret that Muslims suffer from educational backwardness despite being given the constitutional privilege to establish and administer educational institutions of their own. This is because, in most cases, Article 30 of the Constitution is misused for commercial gains.

Most members of the Muslim community enjoy 27 percent reservation as Other Backward Castes. But politicians have been calling for raising the quota for Muslims. Affirmative action is good when it creates equal opportunities, but if it renders the beneficiaries inert and inactive then it is better done away with.

In an in-depth interview with me here in Jeddah a few months ago, Indian Minister of Minorities Affairs K. Rahman Khan held Muslims partly responsible for their backwardness. His statement raised many an eyebrow back home. But he was telling the truth. And the truth hurts.

Muslims have to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps. Depending on reserve handouts is not going to help.

Muslims have to shed the minority mindset. The Muslim population of India is the world’s third largest and it varies from sizable to noticeable across the country.

Be progressive and proactive!

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on August 20, 2013.

Shams Ahsan, a winner of the 2006 journalism fellowship of the International Center for Journalists, is Managing Editor at the Saudi Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected]

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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