The landslide victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the recent Indian parliamentary elections screams blatant majoritarianism that is the reality of a new India. The Muslims of India, the country’s largest minority and most beleaguered community, needs to find ways to deal with this reality.
Many believe that the election results would further relegate Muslims to the margins of Indian society. But, I don’t agree. I see this as an opportunity for Muslims to both collectively and individually seek a greater role in nation-building.
Muslims of India, irrespective of their social status, have been contributing significantly towards the progress of the nation. What is now required is for them to see themselves as doers and as enforcers of change with greater vigour.
Pushed against the wall, they can only push back, not in a manner that will hurt them further, but in a way that could trigger a change in their attitudes as well as of those around them. For that to happen, Muslims need to learn to work the system to their advantage and become more useful in ways only they can.
Like the Indian population, the Muslim community in the country is not a homogeneous mass. It is vibrant and heterogeneous in terms of customs, culture and practices. Hence, their needs are also varied. In many cases, they have more in common with the non-Muslims of their region than the Muslims in other parts of the country. This needs to be emphasised and used to bridge the differences with people of other faiths.
Ulema or Islamic scholars, who still hold a huge sway over a vast majority of the Muslim masses, have a major role to play in giving the community a new direction. Leaders at the grass-roots level need to work towards making the community socially active, getting them involved in activities that will help create stronger bonds. They need to find ways to allay the fears of the community.
They can build on the fact that, despite the atmosphere of fear and hate, resilience has become the hallmark of Indian Muslims. Over the last five years, amid widespread Islamophobia, the community has remained steadfast and unperturbed by the unsavoury events. Going forward, the community needs to channelise this resilience into something positive, something proactive.
Muslims from other parts of India can learn a lesson or two from Muslims in Kerala who have made great progress without compromising on their ethnic, religious or national identity. And playing a vital role in maintaining communal harmony. Being among the most progressive and literate states in the country, Kerala shows it can be done.
Replicating the Kerala formula will not be easy, but it can be done and needs to be done. The onus is on Muslims to take the step forward.
There is no doubt that the BJP retaining power with an even bigger mandate than the one in 2104 will further embolden its supporters. Notwithstanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for reconciliation in his victory speech, hate-mongering will rise.
Irrespective of the political climate, Muslims have to develop policies and practices without being stifled by fear-mongering. Muslim sub-communities and social groups need to find at the grass-roots level what suits them best and develop programmes accordingly. Programmes and projects harnessing local talent and resources need to be adopted and executed right from the levels of villages and small towns.
Role in nation-building
Affluent Muslims should adopt individuals, families and villages rather than doling out small charities. The amount of zakat, if given away honestly and collected systematically at various levels, would be enough to turn a community’s fortunes around, without having to rely on others.
Irrespective of what we are being made to believe, our role in nation-building is not confined to voting in the national and assembly elections once every five years. Our vote matters, but what matters more is our active participation in daily political and social activities. We can no longer afford to confine our activities to minding our own business. Dedicating less time to the needs of the society, while expecting more doesn’t work.
Politics is not a once in five-year exercise, it’s a daily activity that affects every member of the society. By not participating we can’t say that it won’t affect us.
The political climate will become tough, there will be greater provocations, there will be marginalisation. But, we can’t continue to play victims anymore. As a community, we can’t let fear drive our actions, we can’t let hostile policies sway our decisions. By doing that we will only be playing into the hands of the forces of hatred.
We have to find ways to help ourselves and shape our destiny, without getting entangled in the web of political deceit. No doubt, the path towards political and social redemption of Indian Muslims is arduous and steep, but the path needs to be chosen in earnest. As a first step in this direction, we need to get out of the ghetto mentality.
Greater participation, not isolation, is the way forward.