Kaleem Kawaja


Sixty years after independence one of the ongoing tragedies of the Muslims of India is that some of their own leaders, activists and intelligentsia are continuing to play games with them.  It is well known that in today’s Indian Muslim community the record of building institutions, spreading education, developing socioeconomic programs to help the impoverished community climb out of its backwardness is very dismal.


Typically quite a few of today’s Muslim clerics are more politicians and less Islamic scholars.  These clerics use the Islamic jargon and knowledge to impress the less educated Muslims and gain following among them; then they negotiate with politicians for positions of economic advantage to benefit their own families. They blame the government for the bad situation of Muslims to gain popularity in the community.  They beseech ministers who can dish out chairmanships of commissions and committees, to garner those positions that should be given to Muslims. But it is hard to find some of them being involved in building educational or socioeconomic projects or NGOs for the community by mobilizing the same community.


 Now turn to those among the Muslim intelligentsia who claim to be activists. Their propensity too is not so much in doing social development work as in building political forums.  Pick up any Muslim community newspaper or magazine or join a Indian Muslim discussion e-mail forum and you see the same motivation behind many of the events organized by the activists and leaders.  Most of them too are seen blaming the government for not doing anything to help the Muslims.


 Now it is true that successive governments have not done enough to help build institutions for the poor Muslims.  But if we look back at the last sixty years what we see is that with their strategies these activists/leaders were at best successful in getting pre-election promises of help for the Muslims from the politicians.  In sixty long years the proportion of promises that were translated into reality is miniscule.  So the success ratio of these Muslim leaders who said the path for relief for the community is to do more and more advocacy with the government, is very dismal. Because the politicians have developed clever strategies to manipulate the Muslim leaders/activists/clerics.  They dish out a few plum positions to these leaders and their relatives, after which the activists start praising the bread crumbs thrown by the government at the Muslims as big help to the community.


Go to Muslim community’s colleges/universities and what you hear many student leaders say is that being politically astute is more helpful in gaining economic success than putting more emphasis on academics.  Watch that some Muslim organizations that claim they are building schools organize glittering public events studied with politicians where they spend a good bit of their revenues on those extravaganzas and media publicity.


Go to the various e-mail discussion forums of Indian Muslims and you will see that barely 10% of the discussion is on building educational or socioeconomic institutions, the remainder time being spent in demonstrating political skills in analyses of current affairs, and splitting hairs on the elements of Islam.  On those forums you will find lofty word smithy (laffazi) producing idealistic visions and grand interpretations of ideal human behaviour. Excuse me!  Are we vying with each other to become keyboard martyrs who are shy of the real world?  Why is it that these Muslim intelligentsia folks are so interested in the political machinations in India, and creating lofty on-paper visions, none of which are ever implemented, but have so little interest in programs or NGOs that can actually uplift the community?  Why this obsession with mastering political

analysis and towards what end?


Of course all three sides of the Muslim equation, the clerics, the activists, the non-Muslim politicians blame each other in public discourses while exaggerating their own contributions and their self-righteousness.


It appears that everyone, the cleric- politicians, the political- activists, the intelligentsia- activists and the ruling politicians have developed a pretty cute game.  All of them gain positions of power and economic benefits while most of the Muslim masses remain trapped in slums, illiteracy and backwardness.  Recently, I was flabbergasted to hear one political activist say that instead of the Muslims putting their resources into building educational institutions they should plough it into building political forums and doing advocacy with the government to build more institutions. He never mentioned the dismal success record of this strategy in the last sixty years.


Already so many Muslim political forums and groups exist in India, each vying to get space in the handful of Muslim community newspapers. The national media gives them scant attention. So how will adding a few more forums that will duplicate the work of the current several dozen forums help?  Why not the newly enthusiastic activists work through the existing forums to pressurize the government?  Because the more political forums Muslims have the easier it is for the ruling politicians to manipulate them, playing the divide and rule policy.  Unless one motivation of the activists trying to form new forums is to fight for a piece of the largesse that the politicians are presently dividing among the current Muslim political forums or attention in the media.  


Now why is it that neither the clerics nor the political activists ever bother to mobilize their own community and some non-Muslim individuals to build some institutions that could uplift the impoverished Muslims?  Why is it that number of decent size Muslim NGOs in India is so small and their accomplishments so dismal?  Why are these activists not helping the NGOs, and instead are helping organize more and more public rallies most of the time?  Recently well known Indian columnist Saba Naqvi wrote an insightful piece describing this coterie of Muslims as India’s new Sarkari Mussalmans (governmental Muslims) who claim to be working for the deprived Muslims, while after sixty years about 55% of Muslims continue to live below poverty line and are the majority residents of slums in most cities in India.


Yes, political activism has am important role in doing advocacy with the government.  But should that occupy 90% of the attention of the clerics, activists and the intelligentsia?  Should we not review 60 years of the Muslim community’s strategies of dealing with the government and decide what works and what does not work?  Why are so many Muslim activists obsessed with being considered smart political leaders or political analysts? 

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