Indian Muslims’ National Identity

What an irony! The national identity of Indian Muslims tends to be easily suspected on anti-national and terroristic lines. The irony lies in the fact that this perception still prevails despite several factors leaving little doubt about the national identity maintained by Muslims of this country. In fact, compared to several other religious as well as caste- and class- oriented social as well as political groups, Indian Muslim groups appear to have given substantial importance to their national identity. In other words, they have not confined their social or political identity to primarily their own religious, regional, class, caste and/or any such group. This fact stands out when the identity of other social and political groups is considered.

There remains little doubt about the regional identity of the majority of Indian political parties. If their name does not indicate this, history of their political background and that of their leaders asserts this strongly.  The same can be said about the religious as well as caste-orientation of quite a few political parties. In fact, there prevails little doubt about the extent to which their social orientation is accorded importance by various Indian politicians and their respective parties. Thus, the regional importance of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (AIADMK) and its key rival, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK), is primarily confined to Tamil Nadu. Similarly, that of the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) is to West Bengal. '

Names of several political parties leave little doubt about their social and/or regional identities. These include parties such as All Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU), Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), Haryana Janhit Congress -BL (HJC-BL), Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP), Kerala Congress-M (KC-M), Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP), Mizo National Front (MNF), Mizoram People’s Conference (MPC), Naga People’s Front (NPF), People’s Party of Arunachal (PPA), Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Shiv Sena (SS), Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM), Telengana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS), Telegu Desam Party (TDP) and many other parties.

There are also several political parties, strongly linked either with certain leaders or groups, whose identities leave little doubt about particular sections whose causes they strongly support. These include the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), viewed as the political wing of saffron brigade, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) with only one person, Mayawati, in the forefront - known as an icon of Dalits, Samajwadi Party (SP) led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, Janata Dal - United (JD-U) by Sharad Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) by Lalu Prasad Yadav and so forth. Regionally, SP is primarily confined to Uttar Pradesh, while JD-U and RJD are to Bihar. These three parties’ socio-political importance primarily extends to the castes represented by their respective leaders, that are distinct Yadav groups in UP and Bihar.  

Against this background, what can be said about the regional and religious identity of Muslim politicians and parties? Jammu and Kashmir is the only state in India where Muslims are not in a minority. However, the religious identities of parties dominated by Muslims in this state are not reflected by names of prominent parties from this state. The names of these parties are Jammu & Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (JKPDP) and Jammu & Kashmir National Conference (JKNC). While All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) led by Badriuddin Ajmal is Assam-based but the party’s name does not reflect its regional or religious linkage. It may be noted that the names of most political parties linked primarily with Muslims give great importance to their respective national identities.  These include the Telangana-based All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM),  led by Asaduddin Owaisi, and Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), Kerala-based, headed by E. Ahamed.

The importance given to their national, that is Indian identity, by parties linked primarily with Indian Muslims carries a significant message. This is simply not equivalent to these Muslims asserting their Indian identity. It also symbolizes their linking themselves and their religious identity with their Indian nationality. In other words, their being Muslims does not from any angle throw doubt on their Indian nationality. Rather, they give great importance to their Indian political identity as Indian Muslims. This point is strongly supported by the names of their respective political parties, mentioned above.

A greater population of Indian Muslims is associated with national as well as regional parties. This point is supported by the nature of Muslims’ representation in the present Lok Sabha. Out of 23 Muslim legislators, four are from the Indian National Congress, four from Trinamool Congress, three from JKPDP, two from Indian National Congress, two from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), two from the AIUDF, two from the IUML and one each from AIMIM, RJD, Lok Jan Shakti Party as well as AIADMK. It may be noted that more than 50 percent of these 23 legislators are from parties that do not specifically represent their religious identity. The other legislators are linked with parties bearing religious as well as national identity. This only asserts the Indian Muslims’ national identity and questions the ease with which they are labelled as terrorists!    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 February 2016 on page no. 11

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