The Question is Now About Muslim Leadership, Not Just Representation

We, the Muslim Indians, have been betrayed since long. The betrayals have cost us dearly, to the extent that it has eventually culled out the intense “identity assassination” of the Muslim Indian (Muslim first or Indian first) that we witness at every front today. While the “intimidate, betray, and rule” strategy has always been a hallmark of “secular” parties like the Indian National Congress, our so-called “Muslim leaders” have been hands-in-gloves in profiting enormously from this enigma, which they have learned from none other than Mohammad Ali Jinnah himself. The roots of this identity assassination lie deep in the historic rhetoric of Jinnah and his selfish love for exclusion and ascendency. Had Muslim Indian representation and leadership been any different in an undivided India? As rhetoric and obsolete as the question may seem, it forms the fundamental armament of any discourse on the plight of Muslim Indians today. With all personal aversions to political rhetoric, I would still like to uphold this antique inquisition – because now we cannot afford to let bygones be bygones anymore.

Goa witnessed many such "corner meets" across the state to explain people about CAA-NRC-NPR

To begin with, let me say this loud and clear – Jinnah worked more for the Muslim League than for the Muslims. To the extent that his affinity for the Muslim League manifested into that detested justification for a separate “Islamic” state – culminating in the moment of history that we all so dislike recollecting. However, the blame is not on Jinnah alone. As historian Akbar S. Ahmad recollects –

Jinnah abandoned hope of reconciliation with the Congress as he "rediscovered” his own Islamic roots, his own sense of identity, of culture and history, which would come increasingly to the fore in the final years of his life.”

Apparently, Jinnah’s newfound love for his “Islamic identity” became a pretext and prelude to the rise and rise of his political ascension of becoming the “Qayad-e-Azam”. For one thing, he was astute and quick enough to silence all opposition into pledging that he remained the sole spokesperson of the Muslim community – a political subterfuge that has been practiced and perfected so ardently by most of the present-day local, if not national, Muslim Indian leadership today.

Jinnah’s ascension came primarily at the backdrop of the Government of Indian Act of 1935 – which gave pervasive and persuasive powers to provincial (state-level) governments. Indian National Congress, at the helms of the majority then, did little to console and countermand the growing insecurity of Muslim representation – and that it continues to thrive in doing the same to date is an open secret. It was this very dissention of the Indian National Congress towards the Muslim representation that gave wings to Jinnah and his celebrated slogan of “Pakistan is a matter of life or death for us”. Jinnah was opportunist enough to seize the political scaffold of Congress’ soft Hindutva of pre-independence days to the benefit of his and Muslim League’s liking, a political blitzkrieg that he bequeathed well to the present-day “Muslim leadership” both in India and Pakistan.

The opportunism of today’s existing Muslim leadership is probably most evident in the protests against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019. Going by political coteries, Congress has done little to contain the adverse and detrimental impact of CAA and quell the resultant Muslim Indian insecurity, both before and after the passing of the Act, and its efforts and representations in the protests are exceedingly invisible. Other silent “secular” political clouts are either absent by choice or probably still deliberating the cost/benefit opportunism – I mean analysis – in aligning with the popular protests against CAA. Liberals can be seen relishing at the waterfront – oops! I mean forefront – whenever they see enough opportunity to attract media footages – but they can also be seen infuriated by Muslim Indians exhibiting their Muslim identity. And while I would not like to outline individuals in this frame, semblances to Jinnah are ardently recognizable. Well, he had the credit of graduating from Lincoln's Inn in England, was a barrister by profession, emerged as a savior of Muslims and a rising leader of his age and times, and his incisive love for his political entity (Muslim League) superseded the cause of the Muslim community.

With the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019, the Muslim Indian community of today stands at the backdrop and political milieu more colossal than the Government of Indian Act 1935. At the very least, CAA/NRC has all the elemental prerequisites to pave the way for making Muslims a second-class citizenry in India, similar to Hitler’s Nuremberg Laws. It’s no longer a matter of simple representation of Muslim Indians – representation matters when there is equal distinctiveness. Representation counts only if you are countable, and appropriate leadership is essential to make you count. Now we do not count, or at the least are being pushed towards becoming uncountable. With CAA/NRC perhaps being the last resort of pushing millions of Muslim Indians to the brink of confined distinctiveness, Muslim Indians need to desperately redefine their leadership. While it is promising to see that this much demanded new Muslim Indian leadership may be sort of getting nascently conceived through the CAA/NRC protests, it must adhere to some collegiate and inclusive distinctions.

First, this quest for a new Muslim Indian leadership must forgo the existing Muslim Indian leadership in all its existing forms. More so because we must not allow the political fraternity of today’s India to hijack the slogan of “CAA/NRC/NPR is a matter of life or death for us”. Not that it is not, but we must impudently renounce any new “Qayad-e-Azam” in the making, and this was the crux of my deliberating on Jinnah’s rhetoric political subterfuge in such details. Hedonism and selfishness of any kind must be renounced and quelled at the onset to endorse a more structured, pragmatic, and democratic intonation.

Second, the new Muslim Indian leadership must shun living by the fortified and apologetic justification of the question of Muslim inclusion. Muslims who renounced Jinnah and Pakistan in 1947 approved secular inclusion and stayed in India by choice, which is more than obvious. The Muslim Indian representation is complete with their glorious sacrifices for the cause of making India a power to reckon with, and those who need to be reminded of this historical delight are dumb, deaf, and blind to any inductive reasoning. Those who are blind to this primordial artifact will also be dumb, deaf, and blind to any justification sanctioning Muslim Indian inclusion today – and they may not be appeased any further.

Third, the new Muslim Indian leadership must stay insulated from any kind of “identity dilution”. It must stand independent of opportunist liberals who often thrive on Islamophobic aversions of Muslim identity. Liberal inclusions count, but the substance of our Muslim identity must not be compromised any longer. The new Muslim Indian leadership must also stay away from being consumed by the political Goliaths who have hitherto limited Muslim Indian leadership to mere vote banks.

Fourth, the new Muslim Indian leadership must imbibe the positive essence of Iqbal’s inductive reasoning and reconstruction of religious thought, embodied in his “Khudi” or self-consciousness. It must align with proactiveness and farsightedness, not pandering the Khudi into a shortsighted pandemonium of selfishness as done by Jinnah. The new Muslim Indian leadership must focus on rebuilding the assassinated identity of the Muslim Indians, rather than resurrecting it into a detrimental chronicle like the one crafted by Jinnah.

Fifth, and by far the most important, the new Muslim Indian leadership must emerge wearing its Muslim identity on its sleeves (and on its heads if and when required), but with distinction. It must ensure arrogated and protracted representative space to all Muslim identities, including skullcaps and burqas. It must realign with essential priorities of the Muslim Indian identity as the strong, second-largest political force rather than on the repugnant identity of being a minority and being victimized. It must emerge the way Baba Saheb Ambedkar had emerged for the Dalits – ensuring national inclusion of the Dalits while wearing his own Dalit identity with pride and distinction.

Sharjeel Ahmad is MBA and an Economics graduate. He is an instructional designer by profession and is presently based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He has keen interest in social, economic, and political issues facing Indian populace, with special emphasis on minority issues.