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

Periscope
The year in retrospect
By Saeed Suhrawardy

In the review of 2003, help has been taken from the events covered in this column during past 23 issues. The dawn of 2003 was received with skepticism and anxiety. The dark shadows of Godhara and Gujarat were inherited from the previous year. The departure of Muslim India from the media scene also was a tragic blow. When the year 2002 drew to a close, the Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee added insult to injury by alleging that Muslims did not feel sorry for the Godhara incident. If there was some hope and enthusiasm for the New Year, his statement was enough to finish that. 

The first column of 2003, greeted the year, with the remarks, “Disaster, crisis and distress are not alien experiences for the community. Without a degree in business management, they have developed the natural ability for disaster management. 

When face to face with a calamity, the community speaks a common language. But as soon as there is normalcy, their voices are discordant. They should remain firm and united, when things are normal or abnormal. That should be the New Year resolve for them.”

The inability of the community to stand united for their cause has been exploited by political parties that profess to be secular and is pseudo-secular and those also who have no such pretensions. Communal polarization secured for BJP a rich electoral harvest in Gujarat. It was expected that the task of governing the state would bring impartiality and moderation in their conduct. Unfortunately such expectations remained unfulfilled. Their extremism and partiality was restrained to some extent by judicial review.

A bright spot of the first half of 2003 was the release of Kashmiri journalist, Syed Iftekhar Gilani, released after being under detention for seven months. Luckily, his friends in media stood by him; the pressure built by them, led to withdrawal of the case fabricated against him. Syed Iftekhar Gilani was both Kashmiri and Muslim, two major disqualifications that may lead someone to prison for as long as seven months.

Two distinct colours were observed in the cultural scenario of the country. There are those engaged in saffronizing the country, but leading to further increase in the ‘area of darkness’. 

Fortunately there are others who see the threat looming ahead and face the challenge with courage, commitment and assurance. Among activities of such variety was Basant Utsav’03 organized by Communications was a combination of traditional Basant Panchami festivities with Sufi Basant, which have been organized at the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya for more than 700 years. The celebration focused on three poets- Amir Khusro, disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, Abdur Rahim Khankhana and Mirza Ghalib.

At a massive rally held at Lucknow, the former Chief Minister, Kumari Mayawati threw a bombshell. She advised Dalits to embrace Buddhism, if they could no longer tolerate exploitation under Hinduism. That was nothing new. The process started with one of the founding fathers of Indian Constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. In his last speech delivered in Bombay, on May 24, 1956, he delivered his resolve to embrace Buddhism. So far Udit Raj, a former Income-Tax Officer has been spearheading the mass conversion movement of Dalits and other faiths as a form of political protest and mass mobilization. At present Mayawati is in political wilderness and nothing has been heard about her intention to embrace Buddhism.

Among welcome signs of constructive efforts of Muslims was the report of a survey conducted by Coaching Institute Generation Next, under Dr Sanjay Bansal, Director of the Institute. The Repot revealed that Muslim students are taking up competitions for engineering and medical course in larger number than in the past. Muslim girls also figure prominently in that scenario.

From mid-year the focus shifted to the elections to the five state assemblies of Chattisgarh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Rajasthan. The elections have been held. Bhartiya Janata Party has under its wrap three states: Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Only Delhi has stopped the onward march of their chariot. BJP is counting on the recent success for translating into success in the next elections to Lok Sabha. Muslims did not have a decisive presence in any of the five states that went to poll recently. The next elections to Lok Sabha are important for them. For that they should have a strategy. In the early part of the second half of the year, provocation issued from the views of the well-known scholar, Dr Rafiq Zakaria. In an inerview with Enadu Urdu Channel telecast on July 4, 2003, he seemed inclined to the view that if Muslims surrender their claim to Babari Mosque that shall be the permanent solution of Hindu-Muslim conflict. His views are very close to the views of Hindu fundamentalists on the issue. They desire that Muslims should withdraw all legal cases to facilitate the construction of Ram Janmabhoomi Temple.

It was pointed out that in a democratic society if a section surrenders to the whim of another section, that causes erosion of democracy that paves the ground for suppression of the constitutional rights of citizens. That is foretaste of dictatorship.

Another major concern of the community has been the ineffective functioning of National Minorities Commission. It was observed that with the ‘constitutional restraints inherent in the structure of the Commissin, it shall be futile to expect miracles from the Commission. Instead of getting any help from NMC in getting the redress of their grievances, the minorities are disillusioned with its style of functioning. The general feeing is that the major concern of the Commission is to be on the right side of the government. Their problems instead of getting highlighted through NMB are normally sidelined or sidetracked. Muslims were disappointed with NCM’s handling of Gujarat riots. National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) fared much better. 

Another bright spot of the second half of 2003 was the revival of Muslim India by the dedicated and committed team of The Milli Gazette.

Muslims are blamed for their backwardness, both economic and educational. The subjects are not divorced from each other. They are interrelated and complementary. There is a vicious circle. They are economically backward because they are educationally backward. They are educationally backward so they cannot afford higher professional education, which is growing more and more costly. Unless economic progress is accorded the priority it deserves good and beneficial education shall remain out of their reach. In these circumstances the death of Prof. A.M. Khusro has caused a void which is not likely to be filled soon. His distinguished career spanned several fields: economist, academician, administrator, and a perfect gentleman. He shall be remembered also for a keen interest in the economic welfare of the community. His loss is felt with heightened sadness because Muslims have not been able to participate in the development of the country to a desirable extent.

The speech of Mahathir Mohammad as the Prime Minister of Malaysia, at the 10th Islamic Summit was held on October 16-17,at Putrjaya in Malaysia, caused worldwide stir among Muslims. Heads of 57 Muslim countries as well as observers like Russia’s Vladimir Putin had gathered there to take stock of 1.3 billion Muslims of the world. His words, “We are all oppressed. We are all being humiliated. We are all being humiliated.” His words echoed universally in the hearts and minds of all Muslims, including the Muslims of India. His plea for being economically strong, and technologically advanced should be a serious ideal and option for Indian Muslims.

As we approach the end of 2003, we have mixed feelings of hope and anxiety. Anxiety is due to the success of BJP in the elections to the state assemblies of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The thaw in Indo-Pak relations gives us a reason to welcome the New Year.
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