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Published in the 1-15 Apr 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

The Leadership syndrome
By Saeed Suhrawardy

It is better late than never. The second largest community has attracted media attention in recent years. According to my knowledge, JAIN TV started the process, with a series entitled ‘MUSALMAN AAJ AUR KAL’. The subject has been taken up presently by ETV-URDU, with the title, ‘HAMARAY MASAEL’. The latest was a discussion on the subject “Is there crisis of leadership among Muslims.” It was telecast by NDTV in their series “We, the People”, hosted by Barkha Dutt on Sunday, March 14, 2004. The title attracted my attention. It raised great expectations, but ended with a whimper. The conclusion was that media was creating an issue out of a non-issue. I have a feeling that such programmes are produced in a casual and routine manner. The ignorance of media men about the realities of the situation of Indian communities has always shocked me. They pick up representatives of the community from the ranks of political parties. That leads to misinformation and misrepresentation. If you invite Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi to the show, you will never know the real feelings of Muslim community. He represents Bhartiya Janata Party, and the section associated with the Party, but not Muslims as a class. One, who has never identified himself with the aspirations of the community, cannot be expected to express their feelings. 

On my part, I am not willing to dismiss the issue of leadership as a non-issue. It may not be a real issue but that is a widespread feeling among Muslims. They lack a well-informed, responsible and effective leadership, which is a handicap for them. The issue crops up again and again in the letters to the editor and articles published in Urdu newspapers. Leadership is among the syndromes of the community. The other equally important is their lament about unity in their ranks.

If Muslims are disappointed with their leaders, let us go deep into the issue. What are their expectations from their leaders? Why are their expectations not fulfilled? If so, who is to be blamed for that? Is the community expecting too much from their leaders? In other words are the leaders in a position to deliver the goods needed or demanded by the community? 

Nobody can deny that Muslims suffer from frustration and a sense of deprivation. Their situation has been rightly assessed in the editorial of Statesman, Delhi, and dated March 9, 2004. “Muslims are left with images of Gujarat when forced to assess the BJP’s performance vis-ŕ-vis the community. The bloodiness of the pogrom, the speeches of Narendra Modi and Praveen Togadia, the tearful, pleading face of Kutubuddin Ansari summarize the BJP for the community. While the Congress may not have done much better especially when Muslims recall the riots of Meerut, Maliana and Bhagalpur, at least the party did not attempt the ethnic cleansing that BJP embarked in Gujarat. Muslims will ask themselves if the BJP dispensation gave them better opportunities and jobs. They will discover that under the BJP, their share of Government job became minuscule and that recruitment to the police and armed forces was largely denied to them.

“They will find that the few Muslim bureaucrats in the country have been sidelined, as if they were not to be trusted with positions of responsibility. They will see themselves at the fringes of the job market, at the bottom of a merciless heap. To Muslims, as they do to other Indians, these are the issues that matter, and not tokenism. Vajpayee’s new found compassion for the minorities might look good to those building him up as a statesman. While the Prime Minister has various things to be proud of, his government’s conduct towards Indian Muslims is not one of them.” 

That is a fairly accurate assessment of the situation of the community. But it is difficult to identify the failure of Muslim leadership in the matter. The system devised for providing equality to all, including Muslims, has not fulfilled expectations. It is futile to single out Muslim leaders for the failure. They are not invested with sufficient political prowess to correct the system according to their requirements. The secular democracy as implemented in India, has not been able to exercise sufficient civilizing influence on certain sections of the people. Muslim leadership cannot be held responsible for that.

There is a section among them that holds their leaders responsible for not securing what is due to them. But a blanket rejection of their leaders and their organizations shall not be fair. Whenever, there is a communal riot or they are victims of calamity. Muslims come forward individually and collectively to provide relief and redress. They fight for their cause legally and in any way that is constitutionally possible. 

The post-independence period has seen the struggles of Muslim organizations and their leaders. Starting with the bloody riots of 1947 and right from the day in 1949,when idols were planted in Babari Mosque, Muslims have been fighting for their rights in a peaceful and non-violent manner. They have frequently articulated their demands about fair share in governance and job opportunities.
Perhaps it shall be proper to divide the issue in two areas. Firstly, their conduct should be judged with regard to dealing with the governments. How far they they have been successful in getting their grievances redressed. It is that area where the masses get disappointed with their leaders. The faults and failures lie with the government. The leaders get the blame. Even in that area Muslim leaders may claim a few successes. Restoration of the autonomy of Aligarh Muslim University and the establishment of the National Minorities Commission may be cited as two among them. They have been successful in the appointment of commissions of inquiry for identifying the causes and culprits of all major communal riots in the country. They have managed to get the meetings of National Integration Council convened. The Council has taken the position that the local administration and intelligence should be held responsible for the outbreak of communal disturbance at any particular place. Unfortunately, National Minorities Commission is effete because the persons, who hold positions there, have personal interests above their constitutional obligations. National Integration Council is in a limbo. Reports of inquiries of riots gather dust in government offices. Muslim leadership cannot be held responsible for that. Once again, it is the flaw in the system against which Muslim leaders should agitate. Muslim leadership alone cannot amend the situation. They must build bridges with other sections for any progress in the matter. It should be conceded that they have not succeeded in creating a lobby for safeguarding of their interests. It is that area where Non-Muslim well-wishers of the community come into picture. Four Non-Muslim leaders have tried to win the trust of the community. Indian National Congress had late Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna, who understood the needs of the community. He wanted adequate representation of the community in services, he was keen to grant Urdu the place it deserves and demands. Of course with all good intentions he could not do much for Muslims, due to lack of support from the party. The Second is Dr. Jagannath Mishra, who as Chief Minister of Bihar granted Urdu the status of Second State Language. Mulayam Singh took the initiative for the appointment of Urdu teachers and translators in Uttar Pradesh. Sheila Dickshit as Chief Minister of Delhi has fallen in the line. All these steps may be branded as ‘tokenism’, but are sufficient to indicate that there are persons who are convinced about the role of Muslims for progress of the country.

Muslim leaders may not be equal to expectations in getting suitable relief from the government, but voluntary work for the community speaks highly about them. It is there that they are found sincere and competent. In that domain facts speak for themselves. ¤

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