Do Muslims need a National Leader?

Ironically, though there is no dearth of leaders in India, there continues a crisis about leadership. It prevails in practically all political parties and also religious communities at various levels. The issue of leadership-crisis amongst Indian Muslims has its own complexities which cannot be ignored. On one hand, there is no dearth of “leaders” readily making comments, issuing statements and also holding press conferences on issues that are considered to have some “news-value.” In the process, over long run, genuine issues that demand attention for the community and the country’s development get almost sidelined.

True, given regional and ethnic divisions being responsible for rise of numerous state-based parties, it is not possible for leaders having national importance to take stage politically as well as representative of the Indian Muslim community as a whole. But why not, particularly from the religious angle? In fact, some Muslims are making the effort to bring together all Indian Muslim organizations under one umbrella. Though the idea being well-motivated is welcome, it has its limitations. At the most, an organization of this nature can collectively reflect on problems afflicting the Indian Muslims, exchange their views and offer suggestions as well as issue statements on what should be done. From one angle, this is reflective of Indian Muslims having become strongly conscious about raising voice on issues that concern them. This is also reflected by a recent increase in websites as well as blogs focussing on “news” regarding Muslims. Repeated assertions made by Muslims themselves on issues concerning them may at one point or other compel political as well as administrative authorities to start paying greater attention to the same.

 Against this backdrop, credit must be given to the concerned Muslims, their respected organizations as well as avenues for conveying their messages, including the media, for having reached this stage. Here lies the complex question: is it possible for these people to move further? Equally relevant is the need to deliberate on whether their concerns and deliberations can be viewed as reflective of those affecting the entire Indian Muslim community? The answer to both questions is one: not really. Naturally, one is prompted to counter this answer and ask why?

 Well, how far have the respected Muslim leaders and organizations really moved from making their voices heard on issues that concern them? While their efforts for having reached this stage must be duly appreciated, it is equally relevant to deliberate on whether they can move further. If not, why? On one hand, there is no denying that concerned Muslims have done their best to accomplish what they desire. But, they are still quite a distance from achieving their goals. They have not refrained from approaching courts, turning to media and also holding demonstrations, etc, when need be. On their part, the political authorities have not been totally oblivious of their demands. In fact, they cannot afford to ignore the Muslim voice, given the increasing importance of Muslim votes. But this is it. Years and even decades have passed with there still being only dim hope of Ayodhya-issue being resolved, of the Muslims who have been targeted in fake encounters and communal violence, particularly Gujarat carnage, having received justice and fair compensation. Issues such as these may be viewed as just a minor illustration of limited reach of voices raised by Indian Muslims and their organizations. To a considerable degree, the weakness lies in the Indian system which is responsible for not letting the Muslim voice move further than a point. In addition to voicing concern on what afflicts them, it is time for the Muslims to start paying more attention to lacuna in the system that appears to restrict solution to their problems. Do the Indian Muslims need a strong leader to ensure that their grievances are duly addressed?

India is home to too many Muslim leaders and Muslim parties to probably allow any one or even a few to emerge as important national leaders and as representatives of the entire Indian Muslim community. Also, the Indian Muslims have not yet reached the stage of solving discords among themselves, be it Shia-Sunni, Deobandi-Barelvi, conservative-modern, different political affiliations and so forth. Against this backdrop, even if some importance is given to the issue of resolving the leadership crisis, it is likely to be preceded by discord among numerous sects and sub-sects of Muslims and also their organizations.

While Indian Muslims have definitely come a long way in becoming assertive about making their voice heard, now they need to reassess their priorities and move towards ensuring action. Rather than remain convinced by political rhetoric and assurances given through formation of commissions and committees, greater importance needs to be given to results achieved. As for example, is development of minority-dominated areas given the same importance as that of majority-dominated? If not, why? Even this stage can be reached through collective action taken by several Muslim leaders and organizations, without being blocked by the issue of leadership-crisis!