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Published in the 16-31 May 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Muslim cause better understood now
By Saeed Suhrawardy

Throughout half-a-century of my association with journalism, I have never encountered the huge investment of words in Muslims as seen recently. I have with me a pile of cuttings, not very old. Not all of them could be read. For this column, I have selected two among them, which are significant. They are a welcome confirmation of the fact that the cause of Muslims is better appreciated now than at any time earlier. The first is the last paragraph of Sunday Column 0f Vir Sanghvi, Editor, Hindustan Times, Delhi, that appeared on May 2, 2004. The caption of the article is, “The Fundamentals Terror Inc.” Vir Sanghvi observes: ‘Whatever the provocation despite Kashmir and no matter how the Praveen Togadias and Narendra Modis may try and alienate India’s Muslims say this our own Muslim minority, it has not allowed the maniacs and the fundamentalists to hijack its mainstream. That is a triumph of Indian secularism.’

I would like to add that it is the triumph of Indian Muslims as well as of their commitment to the ideal.

I shall quote profusely from an article by J.N. Dixit that appeared on the editorial page of Hindustan Times, dated May 6, 2004. The author is a former senior official of Foreign Ministry of India. The caption is two-part: ‘The BJP is taking the Indian Muslims for a ride’ and ‘DESTINATION NOWHERE’. He has taken up a recent letter written by Prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to his ‘Muslim brothers and sisters” which appeared in the Urdu Edition of Rashtriya Sahara on April 25, 2004.The letter was part of the election campaign of his Party, which appeared in all leading Urdu dailies of the country, so there is hardly the need to reproduce it here. However the analysis done by J.N. Dixit is reproduced here, because he has done full justice to the subject.

“One is compelled to ask a number of questions about the spirit and motivations of Vajpayee’s ‘letter’. Is the PM implying that Muslim citizens do not consider themselves as an integral part of the Indian nation and civil society? Leaving aside the occasional or communal flare-ups, we have a syncretic multi-cultural national identity. Vajpayee’s underlining their separate identity and exhorting them to join the mainstream is a deliberate act of attributing them separateness from the mainstream of Indian life.

Vajpayee’s letter stresses that there were Muslim players in the victorious Indian cricket team in Pakistan. He forgets that this is not the first time that Muslim players have played in Indian Test teams. He forgets Ghulam Mohammed, Mushtaq Ali, Tiger Pataudi and Syed Kirmani- to name only a few. One thought players were selected for their talent- and not because of their religious affiliations.

The reference to Gujarat riots is passé. Vajpayee links his peace initiative with a special gesture to Indian Muslims. Instead of saying that peace with Pakistan is in the fundamental common interest of the peoples of the two countries, he implies that the peace introductory would be specially beneficial to Indian Muslims.

Vajpayee announced that he has decided to appoint 200,000 teachers for promotion of Urdu and is going to allocate Rs. 74 crores for the modernization of madrasas. Leaders of the Muslim community have pointed out to me that this is an irrelevant promise as there are not enough institutions to employ 200,000 teachers to teach only Urdu. They have also asked that modernization of madrasas would be somewhat Murli Manohar Joshi has been trying with education in general.”

“Vajpayee’s promise to promote and modernize madrasas immediately comes before his desire to achieve an India ‘free from communal riots.’ What conclusion should one draw from this? That communal riots happen in India due to madrasa educational system? One acknowledges that there are some madrasas, which may inculcate an extremist view of Islam. But to paint all madrasas with negative brush shows a prejudiced mindset.

Vajpayee mentions his government’s intention of increasing allocation for the National Urdu Council, for linking Urdu to employment, and draws attention to its doubling the Haj subsidy and creating new embarkation points for hajis. These are not achievements. The allocation of resources is essentially related to the growth of the Muslim population, the increase in the number of hajis, the higher cost of air and sea travel for Haj and the related expansion of airport networks over 10-15 years.

Vajpayee tells Indian Muslims that not sending troops to Iraq and supporting the Palestinian people are gestures that the community should take note of. Both these points are incorrect. Former Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani told Israelis that they are very close allies of India. One has no objection to that. But they went on to say that any delay in establishing formal and full relations with Israel was because of the Muslims of India. The government has not any strong statement against Ariel Sharon’s violently aggressive policies against the Palestinian people. And the refusal to send troops was primarily because the Congress, along with all other opposition parties opposed the decision.

Public memory is short. One must remember that it is Vajpayee and other BJP leaders who had once stated that one of the major problems facing Muslims in the country is that they have never been inclined to stay in peace and coexist with other religious communities. It is this very leadership, which also asserted that Muslims of India should 'Indianise' themselves. Narendra Modi, in the post-Gujarat massacre period, had admonished Muslims to accept that their future safety and well-being depends on their acknowledging and reconciling themselves to the fact that they have to live in a Hindu-majority country.

“Whatever claims of change of attitudes the BJP may claim, the fact is that their basic communal agenda is to subvert the pluralistic, multi-dimensional syncretic identity of Indian civil society. Elections will come and go, but the BJP’s agenda has not changed. It is not likely to change.”

The two pieces cited here indicate that the importance of Muslim vote has gradually led to a better understanding of their role and aspirations. I have quoted at length from Dixits’s article, because it is a brilliant analysis of the claims and assertions of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s stand on behalf of his Party about the problems of Indian Muslims.

There was a time when he expected from Syed Shahabuddin to rectify any piece of misinformation about Indian Muslims carried by Indian print media. His contribution individually and as editor of Muslim India, continues to be supplemented by Milli Gazette and its editor, Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan. They have contributed to better awareness among non-Muslims about the issues facing Muslim community. Their efforts have exploded many baseless myths about Muslims. Unfortunately, the present Prime Minister of India continues to harbour them. 

We have to accept the fact ungrudgingly that English continues to be the bridge of understanding between different communities of the country. Muslims should once again take serious note of English not only as an important tool of communication but also as an important qualification for employment. Their love for Urdu is commendable, but if they continue to ignore English, they shall be ignored and bypassed in the competition for employment opportunities created by outsourcing of jobs by USA and Europe.

For their survival and progress, they must realize the constructive role played by their own media, The Milli Gazette and Muslim India. Unless the contribution of Muslims is effectively communicated, they shall not receive the regard and appreciation they richly deserve. I read with great interest an article in support of the two journals carried by Urdu Times, Mumbai. If the readers of the Milli Gazette form small groups mobilize local resources for the survival of the two journals, they shall be serving a great cause. That is the need of the hour. Carry on. «


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