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By Gurmukh Singh in Times of India November 5, 1994

   Blaming their self-appointed leaders for failing to protect the Babri
Masjid, some progressive Muslims had suggested after the demolition that the
community keep aloof from political activities for at least ten years and that
the period should be devoted to uplifting the community and promoting a new
leadership with a progressive agenda. Fearing marginalisation, traditional
leaders opposed the idea, cautioning their co-religionists that the lack of a
political leadership would leave no channels for articulating their grievances.

   Certainly, a national Muslim leadership with an agenda which integrates them
with the mainstream is the need of the hour, not Urdu telecasts and reservation
of a few jobs for this 13-crore community. The biggest obstacle to Muslim
emanicipation is the burden of the past. A nostalgia for the glorious era when
they were the rulers of this country, the appeal of the notion of ummah or
international Muslim brotherhood and what Muslim intelligentsia term as an out
of context interpretation of the Koran and Hadith have turned the community
into a backward-looking people.

   Sadly, after the end of the Mughal rule in 1857, Muslim leaders who set out
to reform the community ended up stoking separatism and revivalism. Take the
case of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. When the British targeted the Muslims - Persian
was replaced by English, the Indian civil code was imposed and trusts and rent-
free tenures were confiscated - for their role in the Mutiny, Sir Syed built
bridges with the colonalists, pioneered the "Aligarh Movement" to promote
education and advocated Hindu Muslim unity. But when the Indian National Cong-
ress was born in 1885, he asked Muslims to shun it, fearing Hindu domination
in the new representative institutions introduced by Lord Rippon. This sowed
the seeds of the Muslim League which came into being in 1906.

   Mohammed Ali Jinnah is another example. A disciple of Gokhale, lawyer of
Tilak and "an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity", he joined the Muslim League
in 1913 (He was still in the Congress) and brought disaster on his co-religion-
ists by propounding the two-nation theory. Not surprisingly, a Muslim youth
conference some time ago in Delhi described the creation of Pakistan as "the
single major factor behind all their troubles."

   After independence, Muslims have singularly failed to produce leaders with
a nation-wide following for two reasons. First, it is historical truth that
leaders have invariably emerged from the middle classes, and Indian Muslims
lost this class to Paksitan during partition. Secondly, whereas in united
India Muslim-majority areas like Punjab and Bengal ensured a strong basis for
a party (Muslim League or for Fazlul Haq's pasant-based party), the scattering
of the community in independent India made this impossible. Apart from Kashmir,
there are only nine districts in the country where the Muslims are in a majori-
ty. The Indian Union Muslim League and the National Conference are not national
parties restricted as they are to Kerala and J & K.

   A leaderless community has thus been exploited by politicians for electoral
gains. Muslims are given positions of power to woo Muslim voters. No opportuni-
ty is lost to make a show of concern for the community. From the ramports of
the Red Fort, Mr VP Singh declared the Prophet's birthday to be a holiday, Mr
PV Narsimha Rao followed suit by announcing the formation of a Rs 500-crore
minority development corporation. Mr Sitaram Kesri's recent statement on reser-
vations in central government jobs and the aborted Urdu telecast are in line
with this policy.

   With an eye on elections, Assam has announced 24% reservations for Muslims,
Andhra Pradesh 12 % and Karnataka 10%. These concessions will bring Muslims
nothing but increased animosity of the Sangh Parivar towards them. The Parivar,
ever looking for emotive issues, sees any welfare measure for the Muslims as

   Considering that the Muslim share in government jobs is about 4% and in
civil services less than 2% - down from 24 % in 1947 - there is certainly a
case for reservation. But government jobs do not constitute more than 1 or 2%
of the total employment. With privatisation and liberalisation, government
jobs will further decrease. Today, more than 75% jobs are in the unorganised
sector and almost all Muslims are languishing in traditional menial jobs. With
about 55% of the Muslims being below the poverty line and the community growing
by 3.3%, their economic plight will become worse. The literacy rate is less
than 40%, with the bulk of those educated coming from madrassas whose unscienti
fic education makes them unsuitable for all but menial jobs. Ever since Persian
was replaced by English, madrassas have been the centers of religious training
and breeding grounds for fundamentalists. Only modern scientific education can
promote Muslim employment in the post-GATT period.

   Because of their hold over the community, mullahs have played a crucial role
in influencing the Muslim policy of successive governments - the reversal of
the Shah Bano case judgement being one such capitulation. These divines are the
route to the Muslim voter for politicians. Hence their appeasement. In order
to maintain their sway over the masses, mullahs always opposed reforms.

   Significantly, in the Indian context, there are reasons other than religious
for the dominance of the mullahs. Since about 90% of the Indian Muslims were
converts from Hinuism, they continue to observe old traditions. Taking a cue
from purohits, mullahs started their exploitation through making forecasts,
warding off evil spirits and accepting offerings. They monopolised knowledge as
the Koran is written in Arabic which the masses could not read. Just as the
Brahmins opposed Tulsidas for writing the Ramacharitmanas in Awadhi to enable
the common man to understand it, ulemas opposed Shah Walliullah for attempting
to translate the Koran into Persian and called Sir Syed an apostate for
promoting modern education. The solution to the Muslim problems lies in weaning
them away from orthodoxy and only a new progressive leadership can do that.

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