Muslims’ Tryst With Destiny: Elections 2014

Ahmedabad: As the elections in states and the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 approach, there is some unease in the Muslim community about the prospects of the Congress retaining power post-2014. After the present price hike in diesel and reduction in the number of subsidised gas cylinders, Congress seems to have placed itself in the line of fire of popular resentment.

Though the BJP is salivating at the prospects of getting better of the situation, its confused political ideology and lack of vision regarding the country’s future development makes it a party of agitators who create bedlam instead of deliberation in Parliament and rush to the streets to protest. In fact, nobody would bet on either of the parties.

However, the importance of Lok Sabha elections is not lost on the minorities. Not only the political stability of the country is at stake, but the socio-economic challenges thrown up by a split verdict will certainly agitate the thinking of the Muslim community which happens to be at the centre of the electoral calculus.

The minorities in India are protected by an egalitarian and secular constitution. In the last 65 years, however, the safeguards enshrined in it have largely been flouted. Muslims have suffered huge losses in the communal riots that have rocked their lives at regular intervals and their self-serving leaders have turned the community into pawns in the game of votebank politics. But of late, things have changed slowly but steadily. First, the largescale and politically-driven communal riots are a thing of the past. Two, the Muslim community has started to get out of its isolationist shell and has cast its boat into the national mainstream. This is amply demonstrated by their efforts to acquire higher education. The trend is especially manifest in Gujarat, Maharashtra, and southern states. Institutes of higher learning run by Muslims have come up in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka. Surprisingly, it is the large number of Muslim girls who not only get optimum marks but are at the forefront of the knowledge grab. At present in Gujarat, 700 Muslim students are studying in various branches of medicine. They soon will become surgeons, physicians and dentists. Still others are writing their success stories in other branches of knowledge. In Tamil Nadu, a recent report showed how Muslim boys and girls in large numbers are preparing for civil service examinations. They have already made their presence felt in engineering and management courses. This is not the case only in the south, but in UP, Delhi, Bihar, and West Bengal, one finds the same story replicated.

 In the sphere of business and industry, Muslims have made steady progress, though big industry is still out of their reach. The Muslim middle class has emerged, though miniscule.

The only big league Muslim industrialist whose name is often mentioned is Azim Premji. However, Premji happens to be an Ismaili Khoja from Gujarat, and he is far from a typical Muslim merchant. In fact, he belongs to that elite club of big industrialists who have earned for their products international brand names. Therefore, he cannot be expected to carry his religion on his sleeve. He can be at best a role model for Muslim youth. The enterprising narrative of Muslims need not end with Azim Premji. There are any number of them in mid-level businesses and industry who have gradually become conscious of their social responsibilities and are contributing to the field of education and entrepreneurship. This is particularly true of merchants like Bohras and Memons of Bombay who have set up various educational institutions and healthcare centres including hospitals.

Muslims working in the Gulf countries send remittances which form a significant part of India’s foreign exchange earnings.

Memons of Kutch had left for greener pastures to other cities at the beginning of the 20th century. They have  their businesses in Bombay, Banglore, Hyderabad and Kochi. Kutch was literally drained of the Memon community except a couple of thousand hagglers who found it difficult to make two ends meet. Now with the establishment of Mundra port and coming of  industries, Memons here have sensed opportunity and have become goods carriers and stevedores.

Coming to Gujarat, the 2012 elections are knocking on the door and the Muslim community is in a quandary. Both the BJP and the Congress are making larger than life promises which are at best sops to garner votes. Modi has taken out the Vivekananda Yuva Yatra focussed on the youth. His electoral iconography seems inexhaustible as Swamy Vivekanand’s portraits and big cutouts are everywhere on the yatra route. In 2002 it was Miyan Musharraf, in 2007 Shorabuddin and Kausarbi stared down the hoardings, and now one Narendra [Vivekananda] is ostensibly doing all he could to make his namesake [Namo] emerge as a winner. It is ironic that when a cleric offered a skull cap to Modi, he refused to don it. But Vivekananda’s mentor, Ramkrishna Paramhansa who treated all religions as equal, used to don Muslim cap and even offered prayers in a mosque despite opposition from some of his followers.

As far as Muslims are concerned, they have risen from a slumber and have done what they could to empower themselves economically. Now, a Muslim intellectual class is becoming increasingly vocal and is not prepared to take horrors like Gujarat 2002 quietly. Hence, whether Modi wins or loses, it hardly matters to them. Faiz Ahmed Faiz had written: “Koi unki soi hui dum hilade”. Modi has precisely done that and one should not ask for more.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 October 2012 on page no. 4

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