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Leadership crisis among Indian Muslims?
By Saeed Suhrawardy

Scanning Urdu newspapers catering for Muslim readers, one finds few opinions adversely reflecting on the quality of leadership of Indian Muslims. The question should not be brushed aside. But is it ‘real’ or ‘imaginary’? If rooted in reality, its dimensions should be traced out. The malady should be diagnosed for finding an efficacious remedy. Even if the impression lacks ‘substance’ and seems product of imagination, it should not be dismissed lightly. 

A few, who desire Muslim leadership at national level, carry the hangover of pre-independence era. In that period Muslims League claimed that it was the sole representative of Indian Muslims and no other party was competent to do so. Their slogan was ‘one party’ and ‘only one leader’. That position cannot be sustained in a democratic society. Democracy thrives on discussion, debate, freedom of expression and decisions based on consensus or majority opinion. The politics of Muslim League, on the basis of the exclusive support of a section of Muslims led to the politics of confrontation between Hindus and Muslims. Even after independence, the distrust between the two major communities is reflected in Indo-Pak relations also. It may be traced to that period.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Hussein Ahmad Madani and other eminent nationalist Muslim leaders challenged the claim of Muslim League as the sole representative of Muslims.

The disappointment with performance of the current crop of leaders has its grounds. It arises, because the expectations, particularly of the rising generation have not been fulfilled. They feel that they have not received their legitimate share in the present scheme of things. A few find the causes of their deprivation in the political decisions of the past. Partition of the country remains the main grouse of such disgruntled elements.

Muslim leadership of pre-independence era was based on separate electorate introduced by British rulers. Naturally, their existence and aspirations were dependent on the exclusive support of their own community.

The leaders were drawn from two divergent educational mainstreams accepted and supported by the community. One among them was the product of pro-West approach of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who founded Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College. In life and letters it has been designated as the ‘Aligarh Movement’. It emphasized collaboration with British rulers. 

Darul Uloom, Deoband, sponsored a diametrically opposed movement. The movement was committed to freedom from British rule. 

The divergence in the approach of the two classes of leaders was evident in the pre-independence politics of Muslims. A major section of Aligarh Muslim University products contributed to the rise of Muslim League. They lent their support to the demand for a separate ‘homeland’ in the regions where Muslims were in majority. On the contrary, influential leaders drawn from Deoband movement vehemently opposed that demand.

It has become customary to blame Muslims for partition of the country. The British Government arrived at a tripartite agreement with Indian National Congress and Muslim League for future of the country. That led to the partition of the country. It is unfair to blame only Indian Muslims for the partition. 

For a correct picture of the sequence of events that led to the partition of the country, it has become necessary to underline the role of Non-Muslims-groups and individuals also, who directly or indirectly worked or contributed to partition of the country. 

The situation of Muslims changed substantially after independence, significantly after adoption of the Constitution providing for secular democracy based on joint electorate. In the changed circumstances, Muslim leadership has to function in a composite environment. The adjustment has not been a problem for them.

By and large, Muslims are represented in all political parties including Bhartiya Janata Party. There are groups claiming to represent only Muslims, but they are confined to certain pockets or they represent a fringe of the community. Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimin (MIM) has a strong presence in the old city of Hyderabad. Post-independence Muslim League remains active in Kerala and certain pockets of Tamilnadu.

Although, a minority, two Muslims have occupied the highest chair in the country. Dr. Zakir Hussain and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad were elected President or Rashtrapati of the Republic. Muslims have occupied the highest position in the Judiciary. Some time back, Dr. Abdul Kalam held the highest advisory position in planning the defence of the country. He is considered as the ‘architect’ of missile development of the country. Bihar and Assam are two states, where Muslims occupied the posts of Chief Minister also. 

In spite of that, if Muslims suffer from a feeling of deprivation, the causes have to be identified. Their major grievance against their leaders is that they have not been able to do anything to improve their lot. They continue lagging behind other communities in the progress and development of the country. Their representation in services, legislatures and both houses of the Parliament has been persistently going down from one session to another. Nothing substantial has been done to improve their situation in the economic and educational sphere. The gradual building up of a hostile atmosphere about them is a source of major concern for them. Misrepresentation of facts about their religious educational institutions is perceived as a threat to their religious and cultural identity. Recurring communal riots have caused a sense of insecurity among them. 

To a large extent their disillusionment is with the performance of Muslim leaders, who function within the orbit of secular political parties. They have their limitations. If they are outspoken and enthusiastic about problems of their community, they are branded ‘communal’. The names of Syed Shahabuddin and M. Afzal are among the few, who paid the price for their commitment to their community. They remained isolated in their secular political environment and left their political parties in disgust. The eminent nationalist Muslim leader, Maulana Hifzur Rehman was the most sincere and impassioned voice of the community in the Parliament in post-independence era. But he felt suffocated in the prevailing atmosphere of Indian National Congress. However, he was effective, to a great extent, because he enjoyed the confidence of Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. However, the oldest and largest body of nationalist Muslims, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind has gradually become estranged from secular political mainstream of the country.

In times of distress, only the organizations working exclusively for Muslims come out for relief and redress. Unfortunately they do not have the political clout to get major package of relief or development for them. 

For that reason Muslim middle class, although not very large, but quite vocal remains aloof and withdrawn from them. Occasionally, they condescend to share stage with such organizations. They regard it as a great service to the community.

For survival in the secular political mainstream, Muslim political leaders need the trust and support of the majority and high command of their political party. If they are eager to win that, they get isolated from the mainstream of their own community.

It has to be conceded that we do not have Muslim leaders, having the stature of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad. They enjoyed the support and confidence of all sections of the country. But they derived their status due to their participation in the struggle for freedom of the country.

The crisis of leadership is not confined to the Muslim community. There has been a general decline in the quality of leadership at every level in the different spheres of the country. Muslims are no exception. If Muslims do not have a leader of the stature of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the nation does not have a successor to Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. 

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