‘Muslims only in India have enjoyed 60 years of democracy’

By Aroonim Bhuyan, IANS

Dubai : Muslims in India are the only Muslims in the world who have enjoyed 60 years of uninterrupted democracy, according to eminent journalist and author M.J. Akbar.

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“Indian Muslims are the only Muslims in the world who have enjoyed six decades of uninterrupted democracy,” Akbar said, delivering a speech on ‘India and the Strength of its Diversity’ at the Indian Consulate General here Sunday.

The speech was part of a series of programmes being organised by the Indian mission here to mark 60 years of India’s independence.

Delving into the issue of Muslims being a minority in India, Akbar said, “In demographic terms, Indian Muslims have always been a minority, whether historically they were in power or not. When the Mughals were in power or when the Nizams ruled Hyderabad, did the Muslims of India think of themselves as a minority?”

According to him, the issue of minority and majority in India is not about numbers but about empowerment.

“That is why, the Indian Muslims’ struggle for empowerment is very justified,” he said before an audience of around 200 Indian diaspora in this Gulf metropolis.

He said the real minorities in India were the Dalits and the untouchables.

“And this is why the rise of Mayawati (to power in Uttar Pradesh) is a triumph of Indian democracy. What has happened to Dalit activism in the last 50 years eventually must happen to the Muslim political consciousness,” he said, adding that Indian Muslims are getting a new assertion today, which was a healthy sign.

According to Akbar, the answer to the problem of minority and majority is equality.

Describing the strength of Indian democracy in this context, he said, “The Brahmin has always been less than one percent (in demographic terms) since the time of Brahma. But have they (the Brahmins) ever thought of themselves as a minority?

“What our constitution has done is to put the Dalits and the Muslims on equal footing with the Brahmins.”

On the flip side of this equality and multiculturalism, Akbar said, India is the only country in the world where every religion, except Buddhism, has produced a terrorist.

“However, the good consequence of that is that despite all the deaths, despite all the violence, we do not use terms like ‘Islamic fascism’ or blame a faith for the killings.”

According to the editor of the Asian Age and the Deccan Chronicle, India changed when it managed to overcome the Sikh violence in Punjab.

“Who thought that the Sikh would try to separate from India? Other such events in Kashmir and the northeast were predictable. But nobody expected what happened in Punjab. Yet, India had this ability to reabsorb the Sikhs and turn those events into a bad memory,” he said, pointing out this inherent strength of India’s multiculturalism.

Coming to economic growth, Akbar said that again it was a symbol of India’s multiculturalism.

“The Rajiv Gandhi government with a strength of around 420 members of parliament was the last strong government India had. After that India always had weak (or coalition) governments. Paradoxically, it was under weak governments that India attained its maximum economic growth.”

One of the main reasons he attributed this to was the voting age being brought down to 18 years.

“After the 18-year-old was given the vote in 1989, no government has been re-elected in India,” he said.

Stating that the new generation voters were not influenced by the dogmatic views of the older generation, he said, “The 18-year-old had no time to be cynical. We got the anger of youth in our political system.”

For Akbar, though, challenges remain for India.

“We in the subcontinent tend to announce victory while still in the quarterfinal stage. The main challenge before us is to transform, take our society to the age of modernity”, he said.

He had four definitions for modernity: equality before law, equity of economic growth, internal & external security, and democracy.

To achieve this, he said, fighting poverty is India’s greatest challenge, giving as an example the Bengal famine of the 1940s.

“Around four million Bengalis died in that famine. We all remember Hitler’s extermination of six million of the human race. But how many of us remember the victims of the Bengal famine under British rule? That is because the victims were all poor.”

After independence, between 1947 and 1967, India couldn’t defeat hunger but did manage to defeat starvation, Akbar said.

“If democracy in India has to succeed, we have to eradicate poverty… India became a democratic nation to give power to the people at the grassroots. The rich have always been in power. It is the poor who need to be empowered.”

Referring to the Naxalite problem that still grips 170 districts in India, he said this was because of the vulnerability of India’s large numbers of the poor.

“But the good thing is that the poor in India are no longer ignorant. They have become aware.”

Rounding off on an optimistic note, the author of works like “Blood Brothers”, “Kashmir: Behind the Vale” and “Riot After Riot” said: “The future (for India) will always be brighter than the past because the future is unpredictable.”

The evening’s session was anchored by India’s Consul General in Dubai Venu Rajamony.