Whither Indian Muslims?

[Inaugural address at the national convention titled ‘Whither Indian Muslims?’ organised by Inquilabi Muslim Conference. From Liberation, December 1993.]

Members of the Presidium and Friends,

History is replete with events, great and small. Yet some of these leave a lasting impact on society, as they unfold a whole series of processes at work. Demolition of Babri Masjid nearly one year back was one such incident. It is said that the BJP, through this act, defied the judiciary, the parliament and the law and order machinery — in short all the institutions of the state. Yes, this is true. Yet, the truth which is more glaring, rather more important is that the collective might of all the institutions of the state was rendered impotent in the face of aggressive Hindutva. The inaction and the hesitation displayed by the Prime Minister was not just an individual’s characteristic, as it is often made out to be; rather it was symbolic of, a reflection of, the impotence of the state itself.

Recovering from the trauma of partition, Indian Muslims were gradually adjusting themselves with the Indian socio-political system. Despite the recurrent eruption of communal riots, sometimes on larger scales, they had begun to repose faith in the secular character of Indian state. But the Babri Masjid demolition has shaken them to roots, while confronting them with the million-dollar question — how secular really is the Indian state? And along with this all those questions, which were supposed to have been resolved, have once again started haunting the Muslim mind.

It must be kept in mind that Jinnah’s Muslim nationalism arose not as an anti-thesis to Savarkar’s or Golwalkar’s Hindu nationalism, as the latter was too weak those days; rather it was in reaction to the Gandhi’s vision of Indian nationalism. The liberal Hinduism of Gandhi’s era gradually converted itself into an ultra-Hindu trend. In fact, Nehru’s charismatic personality only acted as a shield to the essentially liberal Hindu precepts of Indian nationalism and only perpetuated the myth of a secular state. Later, the rabid Indian nationalism espoused by Indira Gandhi convincingly proved that the borderline between Indian and Hindu nationalism was really very thin. And this was precisely the stepping stone to open advocacy of Hindu nationalism in the days to come. BJP flourishing on this fertile ground was thus the logical culmination of a long-drawn process.

The Congress government, by unlocking the gate of Ram Janmbhoomi virtually let out the communal genie and so far all efforts to put it back in the bottle have proved futile. India in its tryst with destiny stands at crossroads where one road leads straight to a fascist Hindu Rashtra, and the other, of course in a zig-zag course, to a modern secular state. We must advance towards a modem secular state and I hold that participation of Indian Muslims in this struggle is most important and necessary too.

In this context I want to mention one point. Jinnah’s nationalism laid the foundations of a Muslim state in Pakistan, but in consequence the Indian state too could not escape serious distortions, and depending on circumstances it oscillated between a liberal or a rabid Hindu variety. This is precisely the reason why the sundry institutions of state laid down their arms when Hinduism launched a full-throttle offensive. Hence, the struggle today is for building a genuinely secular state in India, a truly secular society, and for that it is crucial to get rid of distortions in the Indian state, which have crept in due to the anti-Pakistan axis of the Indian "nationalist" politics. That is why our Party believes in a confederation based on equality among India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Thus the struggle to build a secular state is also a struggle to form this confederation, because most possibly it is this confederation which alone can check the creeping in of distortions in the Indian state. Looking at the question at macro-level, therefore, this is an important task in the struggle for a secular society and state.

At micro-level the question of preservation of Muslim identity is an important component of the struggle for secularism. BJP’s concept of Hindu Rashtra demands submission of Muslim identity and intends to transform Muslims into a sect of Hinduism. It is only natural, therefore, for Indian Muslims to react as a community for preservation of their identity. Experience has also taught them that only the forces of the Left have stood firmly and honestly for secularism. In particular the forces of the revolutionary Left have given a strong rebuff to the Hindutva brigade. Therefore it is necessary to strengthen the ties between Indian Muslims and the left forces, and to institutionalise this growing relationship. You have certain apprehensions about the Left and I shall deal with some of them to clarify our position as regards Muslims.

If you regard Aligarh Muslim University as a symbol of your identity and oppose all attempts to change its minority status; if you demand a rightful place for Urdu in India; if you resent intervention by any external agency in matters of Muslim Personal Law our Party appreciates your feelings and supports them. Yet I must add that a large section of Muslim youth is sharing its academic life with Hindu students in several educational institutions and centres of higher learning outside the AMU. In large numbers they are learning Hindi and English. I have seen several young Muslim correspondents working for Hindi papers. Several publishing houses who were so far confined to publication of Urdu magazines are now also bringing out Hindi or English versions. There could hardly be a person who will object to this interaction of Muslim youth with the mainstream. As for the Muslim Personal Law, as far as my information goes, debates are going on within the community itself, especially on the question of women’s rights. I hope that this debate will be resolved in a progressive direction, in keeping with the changing times. It is an interesting paradox of our society that whereas among Hindus, with the rise of rabid Hinduism, the condition of women has only deteriorated — incidents of bride burning are on the increase and there have even been demands to revive sati --, in contrast, in Muslim society, however, the question of expanding women’s rights is under serious discussion.

Leaving aside Indonesia — which is not considered a mainstream Muslim country — Indian Muslims constitute the largest population of Muslims in any country of the world. Going by the historical situations in which you have lived within and the social conditions you are passing through, it is absolutely possible for Indian Muslims to emerge as the most progressive and dynamic contingent of Muslims in the world.

Though Indian Muslims constitute only 12 to 15 per cent of the country’s population, the way India has evolved over centuries, the way its civilisation, its culture has taken shape, you make half of Hindustan. It is my firm belief that you will shoulder half of the responsibility, of building a modern secular India in the days to come.