Guest Column By Gautam Sen
A small section of Muslims is routinely accused of being anti-national for two inter-connected but distinct reasons. The first is, alleged empathy for Pakistan and the second, loyalty towards their own Islamic brethren, the wider Ummah, rather than the Indian nation. On the first count, the case must remain unproven though some Indian Muslims do wave the Pakistani flag on occasion and perhaps, a larger number relish Pakistani cricket victories over India. On the latter score, sanity counsels the desirability of Hindu indifference, though Indian cricketers could clearly put a stop to it if they paid as much attention to the game as their business affairs (the Sharjah syndrome implanted in the game by the artful manipulator).
What sentiments tens of millions of individual Indian Muslims harbour in private towards their Pakistani co-religionists is impossible to apprehend. The mere suspicion that treasonous thoughts might be harboured, in private, is not a crime per se and should not become so. The idea that most Indian Muslims might prefer to be ruled by their co-religionists across the borders is understandably unnerving for other Indian communities, but other cannot really be helped. However, it is likely, that based on the historical record, that South Asian Muslims prefer self-governance within parochial local communities, rather than domination by the hopelessly crass West Punjabi elite.
The issue of Muslim loyalties towards the wider Ummah is more complex than nationalists in India and elsewhere evidently allow. The sovereign nation-state has remained a sacrosanct basis for modern society, but it is no more than a convenient historical construct. It has provided more positive benefits for organised human society than fashionable post-modern intellectual nostrums have the wherewithal to recognise. However, it was not decreed in the heavens, nor is it guaranteed everlasting durability, though, once again, its pragmatic usefulness, in the foreseeable future, is not inconsiderable and therefore merits pragmatic support.
Thus, the Islamic rejection of the nation-state in favour of the wider Ummah is not quite as diabolical as often depicted, though non-Muslims may find that unwelcome, given the subordinate place reserved for them within a righteous Islamic community. And that is especially true of polytheists, who are not a people of the book and consequently vulnerable to especially severe treatment, though that too was not unfailingly their fate in Islamic societies. But nor were they always spared the rigours of Dhimmitude under Islamic rule. Islam necessarily privileges its own and a genuinely pluralist secular order poses a far greater challenge to it than to Hindus, whose worship is pretty much an apolitical, personal affair.
The issue of Muslim loyalties towards the wider Ummah is more complex than nationalists in India and elsewhere evidently allow.
It is worth digressing to reiterate that modern Hindus, espousing a territorial India, do so on implicitly pragmatic grounds. This is a defensible position, but the idea of a territorial political community is inconsistent with the fundamentally universalistic impulse of a Hindu conceptualisation of human identity. Modern Hindu politics is quite plainly a product of the dynamics of the nation-state, about remedying long-standing past humiliations as well as threats from proselytisers.
The Islamic aspiration to belong to a wider community is therefore not a consummate evil that cannot be countenanced on acute ethical grounds. However, India'spoliticised secularism feels compelled to assert that Islamic rule in India was truly parochial, ?Indian? in some meaningful modern sense (a distinct oddity for the historical period in question) and wilfully ignores evidence to the contrary of loyalties towards the wider Islamic world. The deep-seated Islamic impulse of reaching out to the wider Ummah never ceased in India and a final denouement has clearly begun. Admiration is appropriate for the staying power displayed by its adherents in retaining their identity as a distinct community and the unity of purpose that has sustained it.
Crudely, there are three groups playing a role in this extraordinary historical drama. The most important is the Islamic clergy, which has retained a powerful hold on the ordinary faithful, which is, the second group. The third is the political actors active in the formal institutions of Indian political society, not always observant of religious injunctions or only sporadically so (that is true for the guardians of the faith in Riyadh as well). But the latter is only able to function effectively because the faithful and the clergy exist in the first place, creating the political space for them. If the political impact of the clergy and the faithful were to dissipate, the third group would cease to be an essential actor in the political process of India. Hence, their reluctance to seriously criticise regressive aspects of Islamic life that include rejection of vaccination for polio and the birth control it is alleged to promote.
In the first decade of the 21st century, a remarkable political convergence in outcomes is now occurring in the forward march of the three groups of Muslims of India. It is not a product of conspiracies hatched in darkened rooms, mosques and madrasas, but owing to a remarkable unity of purpose that has always been the greatest strength of Islam throughout its long and triumphant history. Islam in India is rapidly transforming its status from the faith of a minority, viewed with scepticism, to one that is achieving a proud place appropriate to its global presence and a thousand-year historical primacy in the region itself. Unity of purpose of the faithful has been the key, but accompanied by some effective strategic planning and tactics, led by the derided clergy, though also helped by some financial, intellectual and political clout of the wider international Ummah.
(The writer is Director, Gandhi-Einstein Foundation, London, New Delhi and was teaching at London School of Economics.)