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Paper No. 428                                20/03/2002

by Dr. Subhash Kapila

(The views expressed are those of the author)

In the dawning age of the third millennium, countries and communities all over the world are moving towards political and cultural progressivism.  It is an age which in keeping with the overall trend of globalisation is witnessing the elimination or blurring of political, social and cultural frontiers.

In such an age it is painful to see that India’s Muslims comprising about 130 million out of a total population of over a billion plus wrapped in a ‘time wrap’ or an attitudinal freeze’ more reminiscent of the medieval age.  It is in marked contrast to "the other 900 million Indians" of India who despite the imperfections of India’s political and economic structure have moved ahead.

India’s Muslims have not moved ahead not because of any discrimination by the Indian Constitution or structural impediments of the Indian state.  Had it been so then India’s Muslims would not have provided: (1) Presidents of the Indian Republic, namely President Zakir Hussain and President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed (2) Vice President Hidayatullah (3) Chief Justice of India’s Supreme Court Mr. Justice Hidayatullah and Mr. Justice Ahmadi. (4) Chief of Air Staff of the Indian Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Zaheer (4) Number of Indian Army Generals and the most notable Bharat Ratna APJ Abdul Kalam who pioneered, developed and structured India’s missile arsenal.

These distinguished members of India’s Muslims besides a large galaxy of many others in various fields, rose to prominence and eminence not because of any system of political reservations or political favours but they rose to distinguished heights because of their personal merit, breaking the traditional binds that shackle India’s Muslims and also because the Indian state provides equal opportunities to all its citizens.

It can be fairly said that a vast majority of Indian Muslims do wish to move forward and share India’s emerging economic prosperity but are being held back by traditional forces and the leadership which lacks vision.

India’s Muslims, therefore, can be said to be at the cross-roads as the crucial choice facing them today is to either reject modernity espoused by their political and religious (distinct from spiritual) leadership or move forward to progress shoulder to shoulder with the ‘other 900 million Indians’.

To Be or Not to be India’s Part: The Crucial Decision? India’s Muslims face the strongest challenge in deciding whether to be or not to be Indians in its most essential integrate form.  The question is whether they would prefer and be happy to be known as India’s Muslims or would they like to be termed as Indian Muslims or go more backward as one Muslim leader insists on labeling them Muslim Indians, probably because it suits his politics.

In India there are no Indian Hindus, Indian Sikhs or Indian Buddhists.  They are known as Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. Even the term ‘Indian Christian’ was devised, for want of a better word, to differentiate them from Anglo-Indians. At a future date, someone could divide India’s Muslims by referring Muslims who came as conquerors to India and settled down as 'Muslim Indians' and vast majority of those who were forcibly converted to Islam by the conquerors as ‘Indian Muslims’

‘India's Muslims' is not a pejorative term nor a patronising one. It is reflective of pride in being "India’s" Muslims, a part, parcel and equal participant of the Indian Republic.  The Indian Republic too would like to have pride in asserting that they are "India’s Muslims."

India’s Muslims: Need for ‘Glasnost’ and ‘Perestroika’: That India’s Muslims are at cross-roads is not debatable.  It is just because the existing traditional and religious bindings suppress dissent.  The younger generation of India’s Muslims are yearning for change and demands for the same, however muted at present, are stirring.  It is the younger generation of India’s Muslims who should spearhead the renaissance in their midst by demanding ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’, i.e., ‘Openness’ of minds and transformation of attitudinal changes and ‘restructuring’ of the existing configuration of their elites' political and religious leadership and more important, ‘restructuring’ of India’s Muslims approaches to modernity.

All of the above can be done without loss of the spiritual richness of the faith. Turkey’s Muslims’ approach and embracing of modernity under the generation of Kamal Attaturk is a shining example for all Muslims.  India’s Muslims can see a similar vision.

Political Leadership of India’s Muslims is retrogressive: The political leadership of India’s Muslims presents a curious mix of traditional conservatives and religious leaders.  It also has a sprinkling of some professionals and ex-bureaucrats who despite a conditioning in ‘liberalism’ have adopted the thinking and vocabulary of the religious extreme.

India’s Muslims have scores of highly educated, modernity oriented professionals who should have emerged as the natural leaders of India’s Muslims.  That they cannot emerge as such presently is indicative of the vice-like grip of the present retrogressive leadership.  Every time a challenge seems likely to emerge to the established leadership, the name of religion is invoked to neutralise them.

A profile of the political leadership of India’s Muslims provide very poor reading.  Their utterances, approaches and statements have medieval overtones, sounding more akin to the ‘fundamentalist fringe’ of Pakistani politics, whom the Pakistani President has since publicly denounced.

India’s Muslims themselves have to find the answers to find visionary and bold leaders who have more integrative approaches to the nation and who can impel them towards modernity. The Mosque needs to be divorced from politics. It should remain only as a shining symbol of the religion and its spiritual solace, not a political pulpit.

Ideally, the political leadership of India’s Muslims should not be an exclusive one. It should be participatory and reflected in the entire spectrum of Indian politics. Till that stage is reached, as an interim step, India’s Muslims must find visionaries to lead them.

India’s Muslims must shed the crutches of ‘ Secularist’ and ‘Pseudo-Secularist Political Parties: India’s ‘secularism’ was an artificial construct coined by Nehru to capture the vote bank of the Muslims.  Thereafter, its political usage in Indian electoral politics has been most shameful and politically disadvantageous for India’s Muslims.

Nehru, if he was the great 'Secularist’ as proclaimed to be, would then have not exploited the ‘concept of secularism’ for political gains vis-a-vis India’s Muslims.  He reduced ‘India’s Muslims’, as a narrow community good enough only to provide a vote bank for the Congress. So are the claims of the latter day secularists, more ‘pseudo-secularists’ (minus the intellectual content) who proclaim and politically patronise India’s Muslims for political advantage. What have they done to retrieve India’s Muslims from their backwardness and lead them to modernity?

India’s Muslims should consciously cease to be a ‘vote bank’ good enough for electoral arithmetic.  It should spread out itself evenly to the entire Indian political spectrum, including those opposed by secularists.  There is no such thing as a ‘Secularist Indian’, a ‘Secularist Hindu’ or a ‘Secularist Muslim’.  All these are artificial constructs used for political expediency.  Religions do not teach such classifications.

Commitment to the cause of betterment of India’s Muslims should be the only political determination, irrespective of political labels.

Conclusion: Muslim Integration Not Muslim Exclusivity is the Answer:

India was partitioned in 1947 on the principle of exclusivity, with the creation of Pakistan as the so-called ‘Homeland for Indian Muslims’.  Out of the then 40 million Muslims, only 8 million or so opted for Pakistan.  The creation of Pakistan stood thus negated at its very creation.

India’s Muslims should open their eyes to this harsh reality. Their present political leadership would be content to keep them confined in Muslim ghettos for their own political game. India’s so called secularist politicians and their appendages, the present secularists have also not done anything to free them from these ghettos.  There is a curious convergence of interests of the existing Muslim political leadership and India’ s so called secularists’ parties to keep India’s Muslims in their present strait jacket  i.e. lack of modernity and medieval suppression of education and women’s rights.

India’s Muslims need to reject all their existing political forms, attitudes and approaches.  Muslim women and the younger generations need to break out of the bindings imposed on them by their existing leadership and aided by India’s secularist parties.  They should demand modernity of thought, action and deed.  They should break out of their ghettos.

India’s Muslims should demand of their leadership integration with the "other 900 million Indians" and not the notion of ‘Muslim exclusivity’ which condemns them to the shackles of medievalism.

(Dr. Subhash Kapila is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst.  He can be reached on e-mail for discussion at