Dr. Javed Jamil
Following the latest elections, there is renewed frustration and a feeling of hopelessness and desperation in the Muslim community. Like always, our political discussions are always centred on the prospects or results of certain elections. If the party supported by the majority of us wins, we celebrate, if not we mourn and moan. In elections too, our major concern remains nothing more than the performance of Saffron Brigade.
We will have to look beyond the elections.
If we are failing to have any significant say in the political affairs of the country, the reasons are:
(1) The problem is that Muslim masses, leaders as well as social and political activists regard Political Empowerment limited to only the electoral successes. I have been arguing it for several yeras – both in my writings and lectures, that it is much more. It includes (a) the ability to understand and raise the issues in an effective way (b) to properly understand and spell demands and create an environment in favour of them; (c) to generate not only public opinion in favour of the demands but also to put pressure on the political parties; (d) to isolate or effectively counter the elements opposed to us in an effective way through well-planned advocacy; (e) to plan the moves in a way that the demands are met without negatively influencing the outcome of the coming elections and to turn the issues into political support when the election time approaches;
(2) Muslims continue to act and behave as a minority. I have been arguing again for several years and this is the basic theme of my book, “Muslim Vision of Secular India: Destination & Roadmap” that Muslims have three not one status in India. Legally, they are a minority and have the right and duty to seek their rights as minority. Ideologically, they are the second largest majority of the country after Hindus. Socially, they are part of the deprived majority. But our political and social activists as well as thinkers hardly ever try to influence the directions of the national policies in social, economic and international affairs in accordance with our ideological positions. Further, we never raise issues concerned with the common people despite the fact that we are even bigger sufferers of these problems. Still more, we do almost never join the other deprived communities or classes when they suffer or campaign.
Political Empowerment is normally the pivot of the socioeconomic empowerment. But the political structure in India since Independence has had such strange dimensions that it has kept Muslims perpetually engaged in issues related to their security and sentimental religious and cultural issues. Muslims have neither become politically powerful enough to have things in their own hands nor have been able to pressurise others to make any direct impact on their real issues particularly related to their socioeconomic conditions. The problem lies not only in the system and the national political parties all of which have ignored Muslims but also in their own way of planning. Their own political, religious and social leadership has failed to produce any commendable results. The minority complex has kept Muslims as well as their leaders resort to emotional issues. Their decisions in the elections are more often than not driven by the desire to preserve their status as a religious minority. They have failed to become a major player in the governance, something which they ought to do considering their big share in the populace. In an election system where the winning candidates do not get more than 35-40 percent votes, a population of around 15 percent is sure to become a major player if it plays its cards well. The result of inapt handling of the prevailing conditions is that
1. They have much less share in parliament than their population demands;
2. They have much less share in most state assemblies than their populations in those states demand;
3. They have almost a negligible role as a group in determining the policies of the government – in centre as well as states;
4. They have not been able to produce any remarkable leaders except very few; there have hardly been any Muslim leaders of national stature in major political parties. The fate of most of the Muslim leaders in these parties depends on the support or disfavour of the leadership of these parties;
5. They have been unable to create any political group in the country that can rightly claim to be the true representative of Muslims;
6. Though the country has had several Muslim Presidents, Vice Presidents and Deputy Speakers of Parliament, the country has yet to have a Muslim Prime Minister, Defence Minister or Finance Minister. There have been only a few Muslim Chief Ministers. There have been Chief Ministers in Bihar, Maharashtra and of course Kashmir. But there has been none in Uttar Pradesh, the biggest state of the country with a sizeable Muslim population, nor in Assam and Bengal.
7. Muslim members of Parliament with a very few exceptions have not figured in parliamentary debates on major national issues. Muslim MPs are not known to have taken important parts in discussions in any budget debate except the allocations to schemes related to minorities. They have not shown any interest in the national affairs except when some of them have happened to be ministers. Even when speaking on Muslim issues, they have normally (with few exceptions) stuck to the party line.
8. Muslim MPs have never taken any initiative to develop a common line of thinking on issues of national importance including issues concerning Muslims. Some attempts have been made but there has emerged no such trend.
Proactive rather than reactive politics needed
If Muslims want to become the second largest majority in the true sense of the term and part of the deprived majority, they will have to take concrete steps.
1. They will have to play a significant role in national affairs and will have to be in a position to influence the direction of the country’s policies on all it he issues without exception. They must work for the alleviation of poverty and reducing economic disparity, reducing crime rates, developing a successful health infrastructure and taking part in the development of educational policy. They must influence the international policies and must run campaigns and movements against social evils, injustices of all kinds and corruption.
2. They must at the same time make sure that their own issues are dealt with utmost promptness. They must refrain from being always driven by sentiments and must think about their socioeconomic empowerment. This does not mean that they should not care about the religious and culture issues. Our religion and culture are extremely important for us and we cannot compromise on them. At the same time we have to learn how our religious principles can be transformed into general programmes for the welfare of the whole mankind and the nation.
3. We must learn to be issue based in our decisions rather than party/organisation/individual based. If even an otherwise hostile group says something which is in accordance with our line of thinking, we must not hesitate to support it on that particular issue. Similarly even if a party or group or individual considered close to us happens to take a divergent view, we must not hesitate to criticise them on that specific issue.
4. We should not make permanent commitments to any political party but must weigh our support or opposition on the eve of the elections, and must learn the art of hard bargaining. We must learn that there are no permanent friends or foes in politics. We know it very well by now that no single “secular” party in the country has been good enough towards Indians in general and Muslims in particular. So there is no need to feel sentimentally aligned to any political party or permanently placed against anyone else.
5. Role of Muslim MPs: Muslim members of Parliament must realise that they are the representatives of the people belonging to their country, their constituency and their community. They must act responsibly in all the three positions. As MPs they are not expected to only speak on minority issues but they must let their opinion be known on all the major issues of the country. At the same time, they must not forget that they are the representatives of a community which expects a lot from them. They may normally be expected to follow the party line in tune with the demands of a multi-party democracy. But there come occasions when one has to rise above the party. This is the time when they can make their presence felt and can emerge as the true leaders of the people. They must take special interest in the Budget. They must understand the aims and objectives of their presence in Parliament. While individual MPs must play their roles in their specific positions, Muslim MPs as a whole must make collective efforts in influencing the direction of the country.
6. After the establishment of Panchayati Raj, the importance of Pradhans has become paramount. In every district there are big numbers of Pradhans with Muslim Pradhans having a significant share. Pradhans need to be kept informed about not only the needs of the rural areas they represent but also the situation confronting the Muslim community as well as the country as a whole. For any future mobilisation of masses, engagement of Pradhans is essential. The same is true for the members of Municipalities and other civic councils.
7. There can be many views regarding the need of a political party dominated by Muslims. But what is urgently required is the creation of a Semi-political Forum that discusses political issues and can use political methods like demonstrations and processions to highlight its demands but does not enter the election fray. This group must have all the Muslim MPs as its members but it should have non-political experts of politics and other relevant fields as office bearers. The forum must conduct regular seminars on important issues particularly before each session of the parliament, and must try to develop a unified strategy. Muslim MPs must be persuaded to agree to a certain strategy at least where it does not have any serious hindrances within their political groups. This forum may also try to build a consensus during the time of national as well as state elections. The forum must have regular updates of the constituencies, Parliamentary as well as Assembly, and the relative strengths of different politically relevant sections of population in each of them. Furthermore, the Forum can have State and District Units. State Units must have MLAs and MLCs as its members along with other important Muslim personalities. District Units must have Pradhans and members of Municipality. To avoid any disturbances the political leaders may only be given the status of patrons and the main units can be largely run by non-political academicians and other persons with good social record.
We must understand that we are just 15 pc and we cannot become a politically effective force unless we have the support of at least 15 pc more. This is possible in two ways: either we become passive partners and join the other parties having support of other groups; or we become active players and try to woo 15 pc of the population. This again can be done in two ways. First, we can try to have equal partnership with other social groups like Dalits, OBCs, Jats, etc. Second, by organising big nationwide movements on the issues of common interest like Economic Disparity, Law and Order situation, Social vices, etc hoping to enlist the support of at least 15 pc of the non-Muslims. Ideally, both methods should be tried simultaneously. Ironically, it is the parties like Janata dal, BJP and Shiv Sena, which have run campaigns against issues that should have been our priority like Alcohol, Bar culture, gambling, etc.
Finally, we have to plan things very cleverly. Any government will listen to our demands more in the first two years of its term rather than close to the elections when it fears the wrath of the majority community. So we must run campaigns for our demands as minority in the first two years and should run campaigns on national issues closer to the elections.
(Major parts excerpted from “Muslim Vision of Secular India: Destination & Roadmap” by this writer)