The sharp differences that have arisen, allegedly among Muslim religious leaders as a result of certain remarks made on the position of Muslims in Gujarat by Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastani, Vice Chancellor of Darul Uloom Deoband, raise many questions of relevance. Do the Muslims have a role to play in India? Or don’t they? They have three options: One is to stay sulking and keep away from mainstream activity and blame everybody except themselves. The second is to stay neutral and be part of the larger society only if specifically invited to do so, as if they are doing a great favour to the majority community.
The third is to willingly get out of the social and political ghetto they have ensconced themselves and be part of the nation’s progress, it is easy to sulk and blame Hindus for their backwardness. It will take them nowhere, but it is upto them to understand and realise it. Blaming Hindus may give Muslims some vicarious satisfaction, but where will that take them? If they are unhappy in India, they are free to go to Pakistan. After all, Pakistan was created for Muslims who don’t want to live under so-called Hindu domination. Nobody would blame them if they quit. But if they want to stay on, they must give up the silly concept of being a minority.
How can 150 million people consider themselves a ‘minority’? Is there any country in the world whose government has a Minority Ministry? As early as 1940 during the Ramgarh session of the Congress, its newly-elected president, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad challenged the very definition of ‘minority’ and ‘majority’ in his presidential address. He asked: “Do the Muslims in India constitute enough of a minority to justifiably have apprehensions and fears about their future and nurture misgivings that create agitation in their minds?” His answer was clear. He said: “Nothing in India’s political development has been as blatantly wrong as the assertion that the Muslim constitute a political minority and that they should be wary of their rights and interests in a democratic India.”
“Wrong arguments” he said firmly, “have been built upon false foundations”. And he added: “do the Muslims of India look at the future of independent India with doubts and mistrust, or with courage and confidence? If they follow the path of fear, we must look forward to its continuance”.
Vastanvi merely made the point that in Gujarat, Muslims were doing well. That is a fact. Godhra was an aberration. There would have been no anti-Muslim riots if some fifty odd women and children in a coach carrying them were not burnt to sizzling death by a Muslim mob. Even if there was a Congress government, such was the fury aroused by that inhuman act that the riots could not have possibly been stopped. To keep demonising Narendra Modi is for Muslims to inflict a wound on themselves. It is time for them to look at life more positively.
Vastanvi was not compromising his Islamic roots. He is reputed to be a man of modern outlook who wants to take his community to higher levels of prosperity in the 21st century. If Muslim leadership in India wants to follow the Islamic fundamentalist lead in Pakistan and keep women in purdah, deny them education, even the joy of singing and hearing music and insist on sending Muslim lads only to madrassas, they have only to blame themselves, no matter how much a Muslim-conscious government wants to help. This must be clearly understood.
All that can be said is that the Ministry of Minority Affairs, created five years ago to ensure a focussed approach to the issues related to minorities is best dissolved. Parsis have never wanted a minority status and Christians have largely been taken care of by the Church, and have never expected government largesse. Dalits have their own access to economic protection through reservations etc and the Prime Minister’s revised 15-Point Programme for the welfare of minorities is pretty comprehensive to the point that ninety districts which have concentration of minority communities on the basis of population have been identified for granting them “Multi-sectoral development programmes”.
To speak of minorityism sixty odd years after the attainment of independence is an act of self-delusion, Hindus-to put it bluntly – whatever their attitude towards people of other religions is, have never sought to convert or to drive ‘minorities’ out, as has happened in Kashmir where Hindus were thrown out of their homes, unless they were willing to be proselytised. Hindus have, God knows, their shortcomings but they are a tolerant lot who have largely lived in peace.
What Maulana Vastanvi had done was to give a signal that Muslims, too, could live in peace and prosperity in Gujarat, if they took Hindu majority in their stride without assigning evil motives to them. To constantly identify oneself primarily with religion and claim a separate status, is self-defeating and, in the long run, economically damaging. Muslims in India must give this some deep thought. This is a country which has produced an Azim Premji (Wipro), Yusuf Khwaja Hamied (CIPLA), Habib Khorakiwala (Wockhardt), Khalid Ansari (Sportsweek), Hakeem Hafiz Abdul Majeed (Hamdard Labs) and many more in addition to the Mittals and Birlas and Ambanis. It is up to the Muslims themselves to either raise or break through their self-imposed ceiling and no one can stop them.
It is in this connection that one must question the move by the UPA Government to double the number of Minority Concentrated Districts (MCDs) in Uttar Pradesh, as was announced by Union Minister Salman Khursheed. What constitutes a ‘minority’? According to official definition, MCDs have been identified on the basis not of religion but “on the basis of their relative backwardness in terms of socio-economic and basic amenities parameters”. But can one honestly ascribe this only to Muslims? If Khursheed is correctly reported, the UPA government “is trying to bring down the cut-off percentage of Muslim population in a district from 25 to 15 per cent to give it a status of an MCD.
The UPA government is apparently planning to raise the number of MCDs from present day ninety to one hundred and fifty. Dividing the poor into Muslim and Hindu poor on the questionable thesis that Muslim ‘minorities’ deserve better treatment is to worsen the Hindu-Muslim divide. When will we learn to treat all Indians whatever their caste, creed, religion or ideology as Indians first, last and always? Minoritising citizens on religious grounds is to communalise them till eternity come. This is not secularism, whichever way one looks at it.