Indian Muslims: without a leader!

With issue of leadership crisis afflicting Indian Muslims in “news,” it is relevant to consider it from several angles. First, Muslim community is not the only one facing this problem. It would be erroneous to view any one political party as representative of entire Hindu community. True, several organizations describe themselves as “Hindu” parties but their claim does not make them representative of entire Indian Hindu community nor does it (the claim) elevate their chiefs as leaders of all Indian Hindus. There would probably be a socio-political chaos, if say a political party of some state in north, south, east or west India claimed as the most “suitable” to take over leadership of Hindus spread across the country. Numerous socio-cultural differences prevail to hinder this. Imagine, a Kashmiri Pundit trying to woo Hindus in Tamil Nadu to join his/her political group or vice versa. He/she may succeed in attracting a few, that too with command over a common language (probably English), but this is likely to have a limited reach as well as low impact.

 It may be worthwhile to reflect a little on several aspects that cannot be delinked from Indian political culture. Many parties have emerged in the recent past all over the country, with strong base in their respective regional territories. This has contributed to coalition government at the center and also in several states. Just as political importance of National Conference (NC) & People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is confined to Jammu & Kashmir, that of Trinamool Congress to West Bengal, Telegu Desam to Andhra Pradesh. Just as the Muslim-dominated NC & PDP cannot stake claim to leadership of the entire Indian Muslim community, the same is true of Hindu-dominated parties confined to specific areas. Of course, the fact that coalition-drama has accorded numerous small parties and also independent legislators greater say than before on the political stage cannot be ignored. But there also prevails the tendency to exercise this strategy for self-oriented reasons and not for any religious group and/or social class.

Against this backdrop, should Indian Muslims be blamed for being devoid of any political party, social/religious organization and/or leader with claims of representing them all and being concerned about the entire community’s interest? Frankly speaking, no. Why should they be blamed for a socio-political situation over which they have no command and also which seems to be too unrealistic to be even assumed as possible?

It is equally important to take note that majority of Indian Muslims are strongly conscious of their religious identity. So are Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and other socio-religious groups. Divisions and differences prevailing within each religious group cannot be sidelined. Thus a typical Indian Muslim is known not simply as a Muslim but also whether he/she is a Shia, Sunni, Syed, Sheikh, Pathan, Julaha or any of the numerous groups. Besides, which state does he/she belong to, educational/professional status, socio-economic standing and so forth? The same is true of other religious communities. There is practically no count of number of groups within Indian Muslims as well as Hindus.  

Equally imperative is the fact that despite there being no leader or political party, which can be regarded as representative of the entire Muslim community, Indian Muslims cannot be viewed as silent spectators towards issues concerning them. In fact, there is no dearth of organizations, means of communication- including newspapers, clerics and also the elite, intellectual class to raise their voice through demonstrations, articles, gatherings and even fatwas. If there was some dictate by which Muslims were represented by only a particular group and/or leader, what would happen to numerous others who chose to differ with this group/leader? Give a thought, if there really was a group and/or person viewed as the only representative of Indian Muslims. It would have probably laid ground for considerable strife, chaos, conflict and more divisions within the community as a whole. After all, there already prevail substantial differences which surface now and then. But except for occasional conflicts, so far, these differences have been voiced in a fairly eloquent manner, by issuing press statements, organizing demonstrations, protest marches and so forth. The fact that Muslims across the country have not refrained from displaying their support for such moves as, and when needed, out of their own choice, cannot be ignored. Those who have held different views have also expressed them using their own channels of communication. This aspect is also reflected by Muslims joining or supporting political parties as perceived important by them, irrespective of whether they are led by Muslim leaders or not.

Without holding their religious identity at stake, Muslims form a significant segment of Indian mainstream. There is no denying that Muslims, particularly Muslim women are not represented adequately in Parliament and state assemblies. Concerned citizens, without waiting for one leader/group, are certainly not keeping silent on this issue. Greater attention needs to be paid to issues concerning Muslims’ welfare than deliberating on whether they have leaders or not!