Three Banes of India’s Muslims: Victimhood Syndrome, Power Theology, Obsession with Identity Politics

The author makes a convincing argument –based on a close study of the past century --for doses of rationality and soul-searching in the ongoing battle for minority rights and dignity, urges Indian Muslims to make their own contribution to invest in secularising India, and baldly asserts that minority communalism is no antidote to majoirtarianism
Image for representation only. Photo: Flickr/José Antonio Morcillo Valenciano CC BY 2.0

Browsing through the social media, if one wishes to fathom the minds of educated Muslim youth in India, what does one come across? This is a question that crosses my mind, someone who teaches and lives in a Muslim majority campus. I therefore have an everyday interaction with India’s educated Muslims; and a fair quantum of sample size to analyse the Muslim mind living in this era of majoritarian hegemony.

In a Muslim exclusive WhatsApp group of my extended family, kinship and village neighbourhood, a young man proposed to boycott the Republic Day 2024. The reason he put forward was, the current dispensation has victimised and marginalised the Muslims in various many ways. The young man proposing this boycott has obtained his diploma from a centrally funded Polytechnic affiliated to the Muslim minority university (Jamia Millia Islami, JMI, New Delhi). The JMI, being a centrally funded public university, offers considerably subsidised and economical fee structure. He also got a job in the union government, soon after he obtained the diploma. Subsequently, he quit this job as he found employment in Saudi Arabia.

His “fantastic proposal” of boycotting 2024 Republic Day celebrations is then confronted with an argument that the core support-base of, and organisations affiliated with the current dispensation, anyway subscribe to a kind of ideology that considers Republican Constitutional values an impediment to actualizing their majoritarian goals. Though, they are in ascendance and the forces resisting them appear to be weaker, are not the southern states still beyond them? Meaning that a majority of Hindus are still against Hindu majoritarianism. True, the share of Muslim communities in the structures and processes of power, in education and trade and employment are pathetically dissatisfactory. This has been the situation for decades however, much before this regime acquired its dominance. This also holds true more for northern India. The difference between north and south is due to a variety of factors, external as well as internal, he is told.

With these arguments, he was further reminded of the social composition of the structures and processes of power in the country he works in. He informed also that in that country where Islam was born, only a specific clan can be the ruler, through inheritance, not through any mechanism of popular will, nor through any form of democracy—consociational[1] or consensus democracy–ensuring maximum participation and representation from across the sects, regions, and ethnicities of the country he works in. He is counselled, a consociational democracy differs from consensus democracy (e.g. in Switzerland), in that consociational democracy represents a consensus of representatives with minority veto, while consensus democracy requires consensus across the electorate.

Thereafter this young man, rather cunningly feigns ignorance about such state of affairs of exclusion, discrimination and disenfranchisement in the Islamic country that he now works in. Also, in terms of his sectarian affiliations, he is supposed to be sympathetic to the Salafi ideology. He raises the issue of the egregious act of the demolition (1992) of Babri Masjid with no punishment meted out to those who have been pronounced criminals by the Supreme Court. Some of these criminals are shamelessly being rewarded with votes and are successful elected representatives.

He is then reminded of an episode of the demolition of a historic mosque in Mecca.

… [in 2005], King Fahd, obsessed with building palaces, could look down on the Kaaba from the bedroom of his new residence in Mecca. The palace was located on the eastern side and overshadowed the whole of the Sacred Mosque… [T]he historic Bilal Mosque, dating back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad, adjacent to the palace, was demolished. The development took care to ensure that the king had a full view of the worshippers in the compound of the Haram; hence no minarets were built facing the palace…. [Ziauddin Sardar (2014), Meccah: The Sacred City, p. 338].

This young man was then asked if the ruling aristocracies and civil society (if any exist) of the KSA, UAE and other such countries ever bothered about the kind of discriminations and marginalisation India’s Muslims have been subjected to in India; he was asked if these Arab countries allowed civic protests against Zionist and other persecutions across the globe; did Indian Muslims ever stage a protest demonstration in front of their Embassies in India for their silence on Zionist persecution of Palestinians?

He was also asked to ponder why KSA provides fund only for theological seminaries in India, and not institutes for modern education, whereas under the provisions of the Articles 29, 30 of the Indian Constitution, our Indian state provides fund for our schools and colleges of modern education established and administered by us across the country. These arrangements do feel threatened by the current dispensation but from among the Hindu majority itself, resistance against such threats continue. These forces of resistance need more of solidarity, rather than the opium of alienation and even radicalization of India’s Muslims, from certain “Islamic” countries.

This young man was then reminded that he should be a grateful participant in Indian democracy that grants him and us minority rights; a Constitution and democracy which has equipped him with a diploma to earn his livelihood and to attain socio-economic mobility. He was counselled to work towards strengthening the India’s secular democracy, resisting majoritarianism rather than harbouring only a sense of victimhood above all else. He was also reminded of the fact that in some ways, Muslim conservatism, their own communalism and separatist mind-set, and a disproportionate or exaggerated sense of victimhood are the additional factors contributing to greater ascendance of majoritarianism, particularly since the mid-1980s. He found himself silenced because he was disarmed with this barrage and litany of arguments. In other words, he goes silent not because he is convinced with the counter-arguments. His grudge and reluctance persists. He refuses to be convinced.

One of the greatest failures, and wilful one, has been in letting off the perpetrators and plotters of intermittent communal violence. India’s criminal justice system has been awful on this count. The collective grievance of India’s Muslims has more to do with this aspect than to any other aspect of exclusion, discrimination and victimisation.

There are debates between sections of the liberal-secular population and those who ascribe to majoritarianism. The debate always veers around the agent provocateurs of such communal strife, Who cast the first stone? A concise reply to such a polarised debate is: whosoever may have been the plotters and perpetrators (including the security forces who wilfully fail to prevent and control such violence; often acting as complicit with rioters, and also fail to produce evidence of investigations before the law courts) must be punished. Wilful failure to punish them is explained by only one factor–the majoritarian character of the state, and also of society, which doesn’t have even have post facto remorse for and outrage against such identity-based bloodshed and pogroms.

However, how do most Muslims look at the Great Calcutta Killings of August 1946 and of Noakhali in subsequent months, carried out under the Muslim League administration led by H S Suhrawardy, and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman (1920-1975) was in the forefront?

How do the Muslim elites of the subcontinent look at the politics of the partitions (1947 and 1971)?

Do they look at this aspect of the history and politics of violence?

Do they realize that a large section of the Muslim elites (mostly of western Uttar Pradesh) demanded Partition and they got a separate state of Pakistan, hence, those actors (and subscribers of that ideology) and collaborators of the Raj have to share the greater blame of the violence and brutalities?

This certainly doesn’t mean that one is putting blame on one party and absolving the other. One has invested a lot into reading partition literature, both historical and fictional works. India could have been divided only in the British presence; it was divided because of competitive communalism. This has been a repeated theme in my extensive academic work and writings. Still, certain questions pertaining to a selectivity in the Muslim politics of narrative needs to be raised more urgently than ever before!

Does this Muslim elite realise that the very same ideological forces and classes of Pakistan denied power to Sheikh Mujibur Rehman in 1970, despite the mandate?

Do they feel about the kind of brutalities, violence, plunder, etc., they perpetuated in 1971 against their Bengali citizens on the eastern flank of their Islamic Republic of Pakistan? In May 2014, a film, directed by Mrityunjay Devvrat was released, “The Children of War”, also known as “The Bastard Child”, played by Raima Sen, Farooq Shaikh, Rucha Inamdar, among others, depicting the brutalities of 1971?

How many Muslims of the subcontinent really bother to inform themselves about, and remember this movie, in other words, the human brutality against humans, their own co-religionists? Subsequently, on 15 August 1975, even Sheikh Mujibur Rehman with all the members of his family present in his house were done to death.

So far as the erasure and perpetuation of the narratives of histories are concerned, who decides and determines the politics of narrative-making? Has there been an honest and comprehensive introspection about all such issues, besides seeking justice based on caste (Biradri) and gender? Joya Chatterji, in her latest book, Shadows at Noon identifies amnesia and strategic forgetting as “one crucial aspect of nation-building project”. She adds, with each wave of nation-making the fate of internal minorities have become more precarious, across the subcontinent. Despite this, on April 4, 1979 when “judicial” hanging of Zulfiqar Bhutoo happened, his massacre of Bengali Muslims in 1971 was forgotten by sections of India’s Muslims. A popular Bollywood song of the film Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978) was parodied with emotions, “O Bhutto re …. Terey bina bhi kya jeena”. That summer, this was hummed by the Muslim boys running around India’s mango orchards, more so when our half yearly exams of the primary schools were over, and we had ample time for leisure. In our homes, among the elders, Bhutto’s misdeeds, in 1970-1971, were chosen to be forgotten. Subsequently, General Ziaul Haq resorted to prodding the Islamic extremists, which would kind of cover up his misdeeds against Bhutto.

That most of us loved Pakistani cricket more than Indian cricket, and we loved the football of the Calcutta’s Mohammedan Sporting Club more than we loved the Mohan Bagan and East Bengal, is yet another open secret. Such “secrets” or narratives within the community do tell something about the community’s socio-political attitudes and worldviews.

Each election, a lot of India’s Muslim youth raise issues of Muslim representation in legislature. Wherever, Muslims have 20% or more share of population they claim it almost as a matter of entitlement that the seat must get Muslim representation. There is nothing wrong with such aspirations. But why do they choose to forget that in an era of more rabid majoritarianism and majoritarian electoral consolidation menacingly aided by capital and media, even a 45% of the demographic share of a religious minority will be insufficient to ensure their victory? Why do they fail to understand that communalism cannot be fought with communalism? And that, if the battle is on communal lines, majority will always be a winner; more so when majoritarianism is a frenzy! This has been put more aptly in a novel, Guerrillas (1975), by V S Naipaul (1932-2018): “When everybody wants to fight there is nothing to fight for. Everybody wants to fight his own little war. Everybody is Guerrillas. …Those who have won will win every war”.

This helplessness of the minorities becomes greater in a first-past-the-post system. A greater section of the Muslim elites, during the popular phase of the national movement, fought more for separate electorates, and less for minority rights in a consociational democracy.  Even during the Constituent Assembly Debates (CAD, 1946-1949), this issue was hardly brought about. We need to remind ourselves that during the course of the CAD, the bargaining capacity of the Muslims and Liberal Hindus didn’t remain as strong after July 1947 as it was before that. It got considerably diminished after that, which is yet another major factor why minority rights are on shaky grounds in India (Pratinav Anil’s recent book, Another India: The Making of the World’s Largest Muslim Minority, 1947–77, demonstrates this more clearly). One of my insightful mentors reminds me, “If there could be an arrangement where, polling of at least 51% of votes cast (through first or second choice), this would be more conducive to social justice and an attenuation of vote banks. This is something even much admired B. R. Ambedkar lost sight of. He, having secured reserved seats, took the path of least resistance and forgot to put up demands such as this, in the CAD/Constitution”. The Justice M. N. Venkatachaliah Commission (set up in 2000 AD), to review the working of the Constitution, had made the following recommendation:

“The [Review] Commission while recognising the beneficial potential of the system of runoff contest electing the representative winning on the basis of 50% plus one vote polled, as against the first-past-the-post system, for a more representative democracy, recommends that the Government and the Election Commission of India should examine this issue of prescribing a minimum of 50% plus one vote for election in all its aspects … The review commission also said this did not need a major Constitutional amendment but ‘necessary correctives’ could be achieved by ordinary legislation, by modifying existing laws or rules or by executive action”.

After 1986, the Muslim conservatives and bigots made Indian Secularism even more shaky to the extent that this is one of the reasons (major or minor) why we have reached a situation now when, as put by Joya Chatterji’s book, Shadows at Noon (p. 203), “Hindutva’s moral code may not yet have become part of the constitution, but it is a part of India’s everyday life”.

 The moot question still remains un-addressed, as to how have the common Muslims been fed with (or upon) the opium of victimhood? For an answer to this, we need to look into Gopal Krishna’s review (IESHR, Sage, 1973) of Peter Hardy’s two books (1971-1972), The Muslims of British India, and the other booklet, Partners in Freedom and the True Muslims: The Political thought of Some Muslim Scholars in British India 1912-1947). The reviewer, Gopal Krishna, deserves to be quoted at length as he asks us to re-examine and,

“to question and subject to careful investigation several ill-established assertions  of a rather general character originating mostly with the work of  W. W. Hunter [Indian Musalmans, 1871], such as, “Muslims were oppressed by the British after the Mutiny [of 1857]”; “Muslims were educationally comparatively  backward”; “Muslims lost lands to Hindus in Bengal as a result  of British policy”; “Muslims did not get a fair share in the administration”; along with other similar ones, for it is as much on these  as on the notion of the divinely-assigned mission of Muslims in India, and the fear of a threat to Islam from revived Hinduism,  that the separatist movement was nurtured by the Muslim elite. A mythology of relative deprivation and communal excellence provided the foundation of this movement, which by stages came to claim Muslims to be a separate nationality and to demand a homeland for them. In his study, The Muslims of British India, Dr. Hardy has performed an important service by examining the available evidence on several of these propositions. He writes, “For the Muslim elite in northern India, British conquest meant the destruction of a way of life more than the destruction of a livelihood and education” (p. 34). “In judicial employ, except in the highest posts, i.e. judgeships and collectorships, Muslims held their own, in Bengal until the middle of the  nineteenth century, in the region of modern Uttar Pradesh for a  generation thereafter” (p. 36). With regard to the effect of the resumption proceedings on Muslims in Bengal, Dr. Hardy writes, “Muslims did suffer, but whether they suffered disproportionately  to Hindus remains a matter of opinion, not knowledge” (p. 40), and he quotes the Education Commission Report of 1882 to say  that ‘the result of even the harshest resumption case, was, not the dispossession of the holder but the assessment of revenue on his  holding, and even that in no case at more than half the prevailing rate’ (p. 41).”.

With these revelations or exposes, we need to ask, who, quite misleadingly, popularised the narratives of Muslim victimhood? And another question one needs to ask is, in post-independence period, has there been any big mass movement of India’s Muslims for education, employment, trading facilities (loans, and other administrative enabling)? The biggest of pan India mass movements of Muslims have been for subjugation of Muslim women by opposing reforms in Muslim Personal Laws, the reforms which Pakistan, Bangladesh and most Arab countries have undertaken much earlier. This was in 1972-1973, and in 1985-1986 (India Today, January 31, 1986). The first wave of Muslim protests resulted into the formation of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) in 1973, even though the amendment in the relevant laws had to do more with the Hindus. The second one resulted into self-confessedly trading off of the Babri Masjid to be given away to the Saffronites, and in its exchange, legislating a law [Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986] against the Supreme Court verdict of April 23, 1985 in favour of Shah Bano (1916-1992). The confession is made in the Urdu memoir (Kaarwaan-e-Zindagi, 1988, vol. 3, chapter 4) of the then chief of AIMPLB, Abul Hasan Ali Miyan Nadvi (1914-1999), yet, the confession continues to be ignored. The self-confession doesn’t shock or surprise most of the Muslims of India.

For the sake of clarity, in this context, let a few things be said here:

In the 1980s, the AIMPLB brand of forces among Indian Muslims made their own contribution to, were fodder to in a sense, rising majoritarianism. On January 15, 1986, in a session of the Momin Conference at the Siri Fort Auditorium in Delhi, the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi announced his intention to amend the law to nullify the Supreme Court’s April 1985 verdict in favour of Shah Bano. A legislative bill was introduced in March and it became the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act in May 1986. In January 1986, as said, there were strident Muslim protests against the progressive verdict, which had granted Shah Bano (1916-1992), a Muslim woman, alimony after her divorce. [For the separatist politics of Jinnah in the 1930s, around the theologically non sustainable provisions of the Shariat, and the afterlife of that politics, see these three books: Saumya Saxena, Divorce and Democracy, 2022; Julia Stephens, Governing Islam, 2019; Rina Verma Williams, Postcolonial Politics and Personal Laws, 2006].

The approach of the conservative Muslims became pretty clear from the Urdu memoir, Karwan-e-Zindagi, published in 1988 by Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Miyan Nadvi (1914-1999). In volume 3, chapter 4, page 134, Nadvi clearly narrates that it is he who had persuaded Gandhi not to accept the proposition that many Islamic countries have already reformed their personal laws. Nadvi’s narration is triumphant; he rejoices in the successful accomplishment of his effort to stymie a similar reform in India. He says his persuasion had a particular psychological impact on Rajiv Gandhi and that his “arrow precisely hit the target— woh teer apney nishaaney par baitha”. On page 157 comes Nadvi’s candid “confession”: “Our mobilisation for protecting the Shariat in 1986 resulted into complicating the issue of Babri Masjid and vitiated the atmosphere in a big way— is ne fiza mein ishte’aal wa izteraab paida karney mein bahut bara hissa liya,” he writes.

For further substantiation, one must read Ali Miyan Nadvi’s memoir, Nicholas Nugent’s book, Rajiv Gandhi: Son of a Dynasty (BBC Books, 1990, p.187), reveals:

“…a decision had been taken by the Congress High Command in the early 1986 to ‘play the Hindu card’ in the same way that the Muslim Women’s bill had been an attempt to ‘play the Muslim card’… Ayodhya was supposed to be a package deal… a tit for tat for the Muslim women’s bill… Rajiv played a key role in carrying out the Hindu side of the package deal by such actions as arranging that pictures of Hindus worshipping at the newly unlocked shrine be shown on television.”

The lock (Babri Mosque) was opened within an hour of the judgment being delivered by the district court of Faizabad on February 1, 1986. As said earlier, the deal between the Prime Minister, the Muslim clergy and the Momin Conference’s Ziaur Rahman Ansari (Union Minister of State for Environment in the Rajiv Gandhi led government, who died in 1992) had already been struck in January 1986. There is a reference to this in his biography, Wings of Destiny, 2018, written by his son Fasihur Rahman.

A nagging question yet remains: who wanted to open the locks, and why?  Was it because, in some the bye-elections, the Congress had experienced Muslim opposition? The above revealing accounts of Ali Miyan and Ziaur Rehman Ansari and substantiated by Nicholas Nugent should have created some resentment in a majority of Muslims. They have now. There is, instead, a hypocritical silence, rather than an outrage against the deal struck by the Muslim leaders with the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.  [There is a need to bring out a comprehensive biographical account on the life and times of Shah Bano].

This reveals to us that India’s Muslims didn’t launch any mass movement of minority rights, neither in the colonial period nor after Independence. In the colonial period, in the name of and beginning with securing minority rights, the Muslim League, eventually claimed the Muslims to be nation which eventually required a state too (Jinnah himself didn’t recognise Pakistan’s minorities to be a nation and therefore  they deserving state). Gyan Prakash, the author of Emergency Chronicles, in his interview with Manik Sharma, Firstpost, December 4, 2018), said:

[Muslim] Minorities received equal rights in the Indian Constitution as a result of the nationalist struggle against the British, not due to a specific struggle for minority civil rights. Perhaps only the Dalit movement can claim a history as a civil rights movement. The Muslims never quite developed a civil rights movement, and became torn between the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan and the Congress Party’s nationalist politics. When the BJP seized the mantle of nationalism and gave it a Hindu majoritarian twist, the Muslims were left with no historical struggles and memories of a civil rights movement to summon. Today, unless a movement develops to combine minority rights with a civil rights struggle, the Muslims will remain vulnerable to the swings of electoral politics.

As someone like me who has been teaching postgraduate courses in modern and contemporary Indian history close to the last two and a half decades, it is a matter of deep concern and question, that, my students (majority of them Muslims) do know that the majoritarian forces are appropriating the likes of Sardar Patel (1875-1950). Neither do any of my students know the fact that the anti-Muslim image of Sardar Patel has been rebutted by Rafiq Zakaria (1920-2005) way back in 1996, Sardar Patel and Indian Muslims. This kind of ignorance among the Muslim literati persists despite the fact that its Urdu rendering is also available. Let’s not forget the fact that Zakaria was also someone who has left behind a legacy of a chain of educational institutions. Yet, his academic interventions are so inadequately known to the Muslim literati.

Some of my intellectually accomplished friends in academia are able to find instances of anti-Muslim thoughts and practices even of a leader like Jawaharlal Nehru. Fair enough. But the question is, do they take time out to find instances of Muslim aspirations to establish Islamic State/Hukumat-e-Ilahiya/Nizam-e-Mustafa? Also, the Indian Secularism, as against the western secularism, as well as against the Pakistani experiences, even the Islamist forces such as the Jamaat-e-Islami-e-Hind, have got enough space in India to publish their periodicals, books, to run their madrasas and even their politics. In fact, Muslims speaking against Muslim conservatism and Muslim communalism, are often quite unpopular within their own community.

I am often also intrigued by the Muslim politics of narrative-building, in which victimhood of Muslims is their staple food. It intrigues me, why someone like, Hamid Dalwai (1932-1977), the “Angry Young Secularist” [called so by Dilip Chitre (1938-2009), as well as by, Mehrunnisa (1930-2017), Dalwai’s wife; see Hamid Dalwai, Muslim Politics in India, ed &tr. Dilip Chitre 2023 reprint] an intellectual-activist and novelist must remain much maligned and much derided by most of the Muslims? Compare such instances with those who keep articulating victimhood narratives. Such publicists are so very popular among the Muslims. These state of affairs need to be re-assessed, called into question.

I have followed certain Facebook posts and columns: someone questioning the authenticity of Hadis and doing much radical re-interpretation of certain Quranic verses is not chastised as much as he is condemned if he writes something which exposes Muslim communalism and bigotry and writes more towards de-opiating the Qaum for their obsession with victimhood narratives and questioning their power theology and those who critique their disproportionate obsession with identity politics. They would either deny Muslims being reactionaries, or would argue that minority communalism is of no consequence or if they are eventually persuaded to concede, they would suggest this is not the right time to raise such issues.  Unfortunately many Liberal-Left also endorse such a cunning argument. This s where the Liberal-Left lose their credibility and their fight for secular progressivism becomes weak and the Hindutva forces get fodder to grow. The Hindutva constituency and support-base has been consistently increasing as they say that the India’s Muslim minority are not as weak as they are made out to be by the Liberal-Left. They argue that:

The Muslims rose against the British only after they lost the Mughal power in 1857; most of them joined the national movement in 1920, only to save the institution of Khilafat (Caliphate) in Turkey, through their Pan Islamism; they got Pakistan in 1947; they subverted the Supreme Court and forced the Parliament to legislate against its verdict in 1986. They have got around five dozens of Muslim states and their Pan Islamic solidarity renders India’s Hindus a vulnerable minority, despite being a majority in their own homeland, India, etc. Lala Lajpat Rai had expressed his apprehensions around this with C R Das and Madan Mohan Malaviya (Intezar Husain, Ajmal-e-Azam, 1999). More and more Hindus look upon Indian Secularism as a favour to the Muslims and their regressivism and less as a modernising project of rationalist-progressive foundations of nationalism. This is what Mushirul Haq (1933-1990) said in his essay, “Secularism? No, Secular State? Well-Yes”, included in Haq’s 1972 book, Islam in Secular India. Haq asserted that most Muslims and their Ulema “seem to believe that the state must remain secular but the Muslims must be saved from secularism”.

Haq further argues that the tiny sections among India’s Muslims who have conviction in secularism are referred to by the Muslims with contempt. The book is rendered into Urdu.  I keep adding in this essay about the availability of the Urdu renderings of certain writings. It is to indicate that one must not plead ignorance on the part of the Urdu speaking Muslims as a factor. Rather, one must admit that it is not about ignorance, it is rather about the fact that this is the way narratives of Muslim politics are made and circulated within the community.

Consider another example. Allama Iqbal, the poet, is almost like an “unofficial prophet” for the Muslims of the Indo-Pak subcontinent. Iqbal’s views on politics of nationalism are something which makes India’s Muslims’ cohabitation with the fellow Hindu countrymen quite difficult. His debate with Nehru in the 1930s, resulted into expose’ of Iqbal’s “civility-deficit”.

This civility-deficit persisted in Iqbal’s rebuttal against Husain Ahmad Madani’s “Muttahidah Qaumiyat” (1938) as well, when he called Husain Madani to be “mischievous” (and even almost a kafir?). Iqbal wrote [Ehsan, Urdu daily, Lahore, March 9, 1938], “in the mind of Maulana Husain Ahmad and others who think like him, the conception of nationalism in a way has the same place which the rejection of the Finality of the Holy Prophet has in the minds of Qadianis” (Shamloo, ed, 1944, p. 219; rendered into Urdu as well; available on Rekhta. Shamloo, the pseudonym was of Lateef Ahmad Sharvani). This was just weeks before Iqbal passed away [on April 21, 1938]. Iqbal [replying to Nehru’s essay, “Orthodox of all Religions, Unite!” (Modern Review, vol. 58, Issue 5, 1935)] Confessed to his exclusionary-separatist nationalism:

“It becomes a problem for Muslims only in countries where they happen to be in a minority, and nationalism demands their complete self-effacement. In majority countries Islam accommodates nationalism; for their Islam and nationalism are practically identical; in minority countries it is justified in seeking self-determination as a cultural unit”. (Shamloo, ed., Speeches and Statements of Iqbal, 1944, p. 130).

Iqbal even went to the extent of accusing Nehru to having “no acquaintance with Islam or its religious history during the nineteenth century”. Nehru, however, didn’t counter-accuse Iqbal of “no great acquaintance of Hinduism”. Iqbal keeps addressing Nehru as “the Pandit”. I am still looking for Iqbal’s essay (or poetry) in sympathy with the pre-Islamic Spain. No luck, as yet!

While presiding over the Muslim League’s annual session in Allahabad (December 29, 1930), he said, “Ï lead no party. I follow no leader”. In other words while delivering a political address of and for a political party he claimed for himself no to be a politician. And prior to arguing with Nehru (1935), Iqbal had written as many as nine letters to E J Thompson (Oxford University) in 1933-34. These were exchanges on political questions. A comprehensive analysis of Iqbal’s political writings and many self-contradictions therein, reveals him more as a separatist and less as someone who advocated inter-faith cooperation and mutual co-existence in economy, administration and mutual co-existence (S. Hasan Ahmad, The Idea of Pakistan and Iqbal: A Disclaimer. KBL, Patna, 2003/1979).

In other words, Muslim thinkers of the Indian subcontinent have all along been on the path of avoidance, unconcerned with understanding Hindu culture the way they should. The Sangh Parivar in our era has been approaching “power through culture” and the new, educationally and economically “arrived” Hindu articulates majoritarian victimhood accordingly, argues Sugata Srinivasa Raju, in his recent book, Strange Burdens: The Politics and Predicaments of Rahul Gandhi. Sugata Raju adds, “In India after Gandhi, Nehruvian Secularists appear to have mistaken cultural memory for religious memory” (p. 139). The same can be said about the Muslim thinkers of India. Most of them have failed to make sense of the Hindu culture and therefore they have failed to negotiate with them for more creatively meaningful living in harmony. They have looked upon the Hindu cultures more as victors and rulers and less as someone with a shared heritage and ancestry of the era prior to the Muslim rulers.

Such a corrective (of Muslims reclaiming their past prior to Muslim rulers) has begun to come out only recently, now.

For instance, a young Pakistani historian of the Columbia University, Manan Ahmed Asif, in his book, The Loss of Hindustan: The Invention of India (2020) and in his previous volume, A Book of Conquest: The Chachnama and Muslim Origins in South Asia (2017) has approached the historical past from this perspective. For harmonious and dignified living, such exercises of reclaiming this shared ancestry need to be made into a popular narrative across the subcontinent. India’s Muslims as much as the majoritarian Hindus of India need to be told that it is religious frenzy that has ruined Pakistan. This has been demonstrated in a recent book, Pakistan: Origins, Identity and Future by the nuclear Physicist and public intellectual, Pervez Hoodbhoy. This book examines longstanding complex themes and issues – such as religious fundamentalism, identity formation, democracy, and military rule – as well as their impact on the future of the state of Pakistan. We, Indians, need to learn from the self-destructive mistakes of our neighbours and others.

By way of conclusion, what comes out of the foregoing discussion that the India’s Muslims need to take themselves out of the three banes, viz, Victimhood Syndrome, Power Theology, and obsession with Identity Politics?

Conversely put, more and more Muslims have to make their own contribution to invest in secularising India. They must realise –and work to actualize-that communalism is no antidote to communalism, and in competitive communalism, majoritarianism would always be victorious; minority communalism will be an eternal loser.

Are Muslims prepared to realize and introspect about this in order to take up the challenge of the rising majoritarianism?

Are the Liberal-Left forces prepared to tell the Muslims that their conservatism and communalism can no longer be tolerated with silence and by hiding behind an oft-repeated weak argument that “this is not the right time to ask the beleaguered religious minorities to ask for internal reforms”? There has always been less favourable time to ask the minorities for internal reforms and all the time this has consistently been contributing to further strengthening majoritarianism.

India’s Muslims must join the ongoing battles of reclaiming rationality and pluralist co-existence to fight out bigotry and fanaticism.

It is already too late. Yet, it is never too late.

(The author is a professor of History at Aligarh Muslim University)

[1] relating to or denoting a political system formed by the cooperation of different social groups on the basis of shared power, “consociational democracy”


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