Looking back at a public intellectual’s advice to the Muslim community

Consistent with deep respect and academic regard, a student of international politics and security whose very existence revolves around muddled issues of chaos, hard power, securitization, game theory, bargaining, etc., may have for a professor of Constitutional Law, teaching framework of rule-based and norms-oriented behaviour and order who is not just content with teaching legal minds about the finer nuances of law but also takes extra pain to move to the public domain explaining the importance of these principles to the wider audience, the recent write-up of the latter in the form of counsel to the Muslims in the Indian Express on 28 April titled,  ‘Note to the Minority…’ came not just as annoyingly surprising but also as atrociously disturbing to the former.

Prof Faizan Mustafa
Prof Faizan Mustafa

How can a professor of law, who only a few days back exhibited the uncanny prescience of a legal luminary in seeing the importance of the concept of ‘Justice (also) being seen to be done’ and ‘not just being done’, in the recent CJI sexual harassment probe (The Print, 7 May), misses the blatant way in which even that ‘justice being done’ part was flagrantly violated by the executive? And is it not that those blatant violations of the rights of many, sometimes even assuming the proportion of deliberate criminal negligence, if not altogether connivance by the state machinery, was carried out under the solemn pledge of the Constitution to uphold the rights of all citizens and ensure justice to all? Is it not that the carefully calibrated violence and strategically implemented dehumanization of the many purposefully continued with all the finesse despite the personal assurance of the head of the executive in his ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ slogan? How can it be said with certainty that the likes of Pehlu Khan, Mohsin Sheikh, Alwar’s Nirbhaya, Kashmir’s Asifa, the farmers committing suicides and many others like them, didn’t welcome the ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas,  model?

I fail to understand how an ardent supporter of LGBT rights, a fearless advocate of personal laws, a committed enthusiast of minority rights could write “some of the fears of liberals may be real but many are not only unfounded but may be counter productive…’ The ‘may’, ‘may not’, ‘many’, ‘unfounded’ and ‘counter-productive’ coming in this sentence by a Vice-Chancellor of a Law University may seem to be perfectly normal in the currently dominating hegemonic narrative. But I am afraid, it may not simply go as an innocent counsel when the future historian will take stock of these testing times.

Recalling the 2002 riots and balancing them with the comparison of being nothing short of a genocide with expressing satisfaction at the punishment of ‘more than a dozen police officers and a few politicians’ while at the same time showing awareness of the still continuing communal segregation, carefully blurring executive and judiciary domain of separate powers and crediting the former with SC-appointed NIA report on “Love Jihad”, and the most flagrant one terming NDA’s insistence on the ordinance on triple talaq as “Modi government’s compelling Muslims to follow the more rational Quranic procedure of divorce” etc., could only be explained if one invokes the critique of the concept of “free-floating intellectuals” brilliantly theorized by scholars like Schumpeter.

The view that ‘heavens are not going to fall in case India becomes a Hindu rashtra...’ that too coming from a professor of law and more so a professor of Constitutional Law can at best be explained as being extra-liberally optimistic, hovering on the margin of imminent fear and extant hegemonisation if not altogether smugly selfish compliance.

It is not a college/university classroom Professor, that you are trying to instill confidence in the students to go out and face the real world with confidence. You are addressing the citizenry of the nation. Hopes and aspirations have a limitation. Squinting one’s eyes in the spotlight of existing realities is not just a bad idea but a debilitating one.

It is not even a court of law Professor, where you are making points in front of judges. Your acumen of being a teacher of lawyers may have honed your skills to be practical enough to win a case in a court of law for the eyes of justice may get swayed by the immediacy of argument and that’s why we have mechanism of ‘revision’ and review petitions. But here you are talking to the people of the country. You are addressing the genuine concerns of an integral part of the citizenry. At least have some decency Sir, in not adding salt to the still fresh and festering wounds of the citizenry of the republic. It’s not just a matter of Muslims – its about the idea of India, its about the sacrifices of the martyrs of our freedom struggle, its about the quest of justice of all those marginalized, neglected and vanquished.

Electoral mandates must be respected. There should be no doubt about it. But does respecting electoral mandates mean one should change one’s stand on issues or does it mean one must take at face value and accept whatever the government claims? Justified apprehensions and genuine fears of the citizenry are not just expected but rightful to be espoused for the democratic polity to function healthily and the incumbent executive is constitutionally mandated to pay heed. Electoral mandates are not for perpetuity. We all need to struggle for rightful causes. From cozy pulpit of our air-conditioned lecture rooms and the comfort of our personal study places, we need to go out – in the Sun, in the field, and start conversation with the toiling masses. Time demands that our resolve for a plurally inclusive India and constitutionally mandated statecraft, need to be pursued with more vigour, with renewed force. Rule of law, norms of civility, aspiration for a better world with humanity for all, compassion for the weak and prosperity for everyone doesn’t come easy. A Professor of Constitutional Law must be aware of how hard earned the principles of separation of power, checks and balances, rule of law etc., are. Depressing times do come but they need to be tackled wisely and with courage. In Gramscian terms, the struggle must continue with a judicious mix of not letting ‘the pessimism of the intellect’ overpower the ‘optimism of the will’.

As regards counsel to Muslims, they have time and again showed their resilience and firm belief in the inclusivity of the Indian civilization and their faith in the constitutional principles. At a time when the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi, the resolve of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and the advise of Maulana Azad were losing sheen, they stood firmly behind them. As such, the community doesn’t need any counsel particularly from those with wavering principles and shaky beliefs. Needless to remind you Professor, that the country has seen the fate of those arrogantly claiming ‘when a big tree falls, the earth shakes’. We have seen both their thumping majority and their consequent rout. Intellectuals need to speak truth to power and not give counsel to the weak, the deprived and the distressed. Going with the go of the current, our teachers have taught us and rightfully so, should not be the forte of a teacher and public intellectual.

In these times of shifting loyalties and changing priorities of ‘intellectuals’, we may do well to recall what Edward Said counseled not many years back:

“Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you need the approval of a boss or an authority figure; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so remain within the responsible mainstream; someday you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship. For an intellectual, these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence. If anything can denature, neutralize, and finally kill a passionate intellectual life it is the internalization of such habits.”

Dr. Raza teaches at the Department of Strategic and Security Studies, Faculty of International Studies, Aligarh Muslim University, India and is a part of AMU Teachers and Seniors Collective.