Is it feasible for Indian Muslims to have a separate political identity?

    By Kaleem Kawaja,

    Recently Asad Owaisi and Majlis Ittihad Muslimeen (MIM) gave a call to Indian Muslims to develop their separate political identity. Let us examine if this is feasible. Indeed Asad Owaisi and MIM seem to be trying the same strategy as the erstwhile Muslim League did in the Pakistan movement in the 1940s.

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    We know that in 1947 when the rulers were British (not Hindus) this policy ran into very rough weather. At that time Muslims were one-third of India and had definite population majorities in the West and East (what became Pakistan) and the British were keen to leave India in the aftermath of World War II. Also Muslims’ strength in the economy and military was very substantial.

    Still, with the threat of sectarian civil war, which if it happened, Muslims could hurt Hindus some, the land that Pakistan received was, “a moth eaten Pakistan”. Both Punjab and Bengal that should have gone entirely to Pakistan, using the British criteria for partition based on population majority, did not. Both states were partitioned and India was given about a quarter of the land from both states. Kashmir that should have gone to Pakistan by the same logic, did not as the king of this princely state was a Hindu king Hari Singh.

    So today with Muslims spread thinly in the country and only a few pockets of concentration, where is the feasibility of Muslims forming a religion based political identity? Such identity is immidiately perceived as separatist. In socioeconomic and educational terms Muslims are at the very bottom of Indian society. Even the erstwhile Dalits are moving ahead of them.

    And remember that today BJP and its influence in Hindu society (including in Congress party and other secular parties) is loud and clear and is there to stay. Scratch the surface and it comes out. If Indian Muslims build a religion based political identity that will give instantaneous prominence to BJP’s Hindu Rashtra claim, with a lot of Congress Hindus embracing it quickly.

    In that environment it will not take much for the constitution of India to be revised to drop the creed of secularism. And the game will be over before half time. BJP had already attempted this during their sojourn as the government at the Center, ten years ago.

    In contrast the two significant Muslim controlled paries ( AIUDF and IUML) have downplayed Muslim political identity per se and have instead embraced all minorities and depressed segments of society including Dalits, and are able to gain some justice and opportunities for Muslims in the name of the hallowed secular constitution of India. IUML despite its name is distinctly non-religious.

    There are a significant number of Muslims in India who support the Owaisi/MIM type unrealistic thinking. In my opinion these are remnants of the etstwhile Muslim League supporters in North India and Razakar supporters in Andhra Pradesh, who could not migrate to Pakistan in 1947. But the Muslim League flame and dream is still there in their consciousness and comes to surface from time to time.

    But today the facts of India are very different. Babri mosque was demolished 20 years ago with much oppression of the Muslims; have we gotten any justice? Gujarat genocide of Muslims occurred 10 years ago; have we gotten any justice? The horrendous Bombay communal riots happened 20 years ago; have we received any justice? Batla House false encounter and oppression of many Muslim youth from Azamgarh occurred five years ago and is continuing; have we received any justice? Sachar Committee report on gross Muslim deprivations was released six years ago; have we received any justice? All we have received in 65 years is a few bread crumbs thrown at us and we have been told to keep quiet.

    Ignoring the facts of the many deep weaknesses of the Muslim community in India in terms of the thinly spread population demographics, economy, education, armed services etc, some Muslims fantacise that Muslim India can show its muscle to Hindu India. Or that Indian Muslims can separate their community’s image from a composite Indian image into a separate Muslim supremacist image. This is a dangerous and damaging fantasy for 150 million Muslims of India who live surrounded by 750 million Hindus.

    That is what we saw in Akbar Owaisi’s inflammatory speech in Nirmal, Andhra Pradesh in 2012. That is what we saw in the manmoth Muslim rally in Azad Maidan, Mumbai laced with vilence for Rohingya Muslims in 2012. That is what we see often in rallies in Kashmir.

    It is time for the Indian Muslims to be realistic about the situation in the country, form alliances with the many secular Hindus and use our vote power in tactical voting, and there is a possibility that we can receive justice and with hard work improve our socioeconomic situatiomn and live in dignity.

    (The writer is a Muslim community activist. He can be reached at: [email protected])