S Ubaidur Rahman is the editor of the book “Understanding the Muslim leadership in India” which is a collection of interviews with social, political and religious Muslims leaders of India. Global Media Publications publishes books of interest to South Asian Muslims.
In this interview IndianMuslims.info asks him about the Muslim leadership of India.
Q-1. Do you see a Muslim leadership in India?
A.There is certainly a Muslim leadership in India. But it is grossly ineffective, is to say the least. Muslim leaders over the years have done little to enjoy the respect and trust of the community. They come on the scene only when election comes and disappear as soon as it is over. Mostly the Muslim leadership does not represent the Muslim community, but the political parties on whose symbol they fight elections.
Mostly the leadership has exploited the Muslim masses to bring them on the streets on emotive issues, but has rarely taken any interest in issues that may benefit the community in the long run. You would never come across a Muslim leader who talks of issues like education, economic development, employment for unemployed Muslim youth and establishment of institutions of higher learning and professional institutions for the youth of the community.
Another major problem for the Muslim community in India is the overwhelming influence of the clergy on the Muslim society here. It is not to degrade the clergy, but with utter lack of comprehension of social, political and economic issues, they fail to understand the demands of the time. It is because the clergy comes from institutions that do not teach their students the modern issues that confront them in their daily lives. They are the ones who are least capable of guiding the community in this modern age.
Had their been an effective Muslim leadership, it would have certainly taken up issue of police harassment of Muslims in states like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh besides, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh where police and anti-terrorist squads have been given a free hand to pick any Muslim youth or activist on whimsical charges. It is a very tough time for Muslims in those states, especially for young Muslims.
But rarely you see Muslim politicians coming out openly against such victimization of the community at the hands of law enforcement agencies.
Q-2. In recent years Communists have tried to come closer to the Muslims. Considering the condition of Muslims in West Bengal is not any better than other states, how should Muslims see this move?
A. Communist parties are wooing Muslims like never before. With their share in national politics shrinking fast, they are almost confined to three, four states like West Bengal, Kerala, Tripura. In this age of vote bank politics they are in desperate need of support from the Muslim community on the plank of their ‘known’ secular credentials. This time in Kerala, they cornered most of Muslim votes with the help of Muslim parties like Jamat-e-Islami Hind, and Naser Madani’s PDP.
There is no doubt that communists are the ones who have never really cared for the upliftment of Muslims in states where they have ruled. The pitiable condition of the community in West Bengal where communists are in power for three decades speaks volumes of their apathy towards Muslims. But Muslims will continue supporting them because they are the ones who are known opponent of the ideology of hate being propagated by the RSS and the BJP.
Q-3. There are efforts being made in UP to bring all Muslim parties under one umbrella, what are your opinion about it and how it should be done so that coalition can survive even after the elections?
A. The recent experiment in Assam by Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) led by Badruddin Ajmal was a good example. It also gave a new hope to Muslims who had given up the thought of having successful regional Muslim pressure groups. With coalition politics taking roots in India, even small parties with two, three MLAs and MPs are able to negotiate better deals for their supporters. In this respect the idea is no doubt a hope for millions of Muslims across the country including for the Muslims in UP.
But the community must see as to whether the people who have initiated the move have any influence in the community. Have they done anything on grassroots level? Do they have sound financial backing to manage their expenses? Or they aim to merely cut into the votes of Muslims to enable a particular party win more seats. Ahmad Bukhari, the imam of Jama Masjid, Delhi who is in the forefront of such move in UP has made unprecedented compromises in the past.
Q-4. Why do we see conditions of Muslims in South India is much better than North Indian Muslims?
A. There are quite a few historical reasons as well as good work done by Muslims in South Indian states. Historically the South Indian Muslims have not faced the sort of upheavals faced by their fellow community members in the north. The partition affected almost the whole of north India severely.
But other than this reason, the South Indian Muslims invested heavily in education. This is the reason that they are almost equal in socio-economic terms with their Hindu and Christian neighbors. Muslims in north India due to some historical factors and partly due to the lack of initiative failed to do much in the field of education. This is the reason that when you find dozens of Muslim managed engineering colleges, dental colleges and IT institutes in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, Aurangabad and even in small cities like Mysore you would hardly find similar institutions of higher learning in major north Indian cities. If we leave Jamia Hamdard aside, even Delhi does not have a single professional college managed by Muslims.
The other important factor was the lack of government bias against Muslims in most South Indian states. Muslims have reservation in jobs in Karnataka and Kerala, whereas despite their known backward status they do not have reservation in any north Indian state.
Q-5. Can you identify people or organizations that you think are capable of giving a constructive leadership to Muslims of India?
A. This is a rather tough question. There are certain Muslim leaders who despite being in mainstream political parties have gathered courage to speak up their minds, like Abdur Rahman Antulay. But people like him are not known as community leaders. Rather they are taken as leaders of their respective parties.
Muslims still have some hope from religious parties like Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, Jamiat Ulama, but only if they reorient themselves and do something meaningful on a regular basis. Then there are organizations like Anjuman Islam, Khaire Ummat trusts and similar organizations in south Indian states that are spearheading the movement for education among Muslims.