What choices Muslims have under Modi government

If the community has to come out of the current morass and abyss, this is the opportune time to make a fresh start.

 |  25-minute read |   26-06-2015
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Anybody who has a keen eye for detail and who closely observes the condition of citizens in local communities - in and around villages and towns, doesn't need to look beyond to arrive at a reasonable conclusion today that a very large section of citizens has almost been left out of India's socio-economic development paradigm. Even after 67 years of independence - most amongst this section are still without access to some very basic amenities of life. A dignified human existence has remained a distant dream for this section. Government statistics and various reports of the Planning Commission, parliamentary and ministerial committees have been affirming this - year after year and decade after decade. Today, the Muslim community, at large, belongs to this very section, amongst others. Clearly, the community is suffering and is languishing - arguably at the bottom of social, economic and political ladder in this country. Despite some interventions over the decades, their graph has continued to slide all through the post-independence period. No wonder, a huge majority of Muslims is unfortunately very poor, ignorant, dispossessed, marginalised and is struggling for survival today.

Symptoms of their overall slide can be observed across regions - manifesting in various forms and in varying degrees of poverty, disease, illiteracy, ignorance, lack of livelihood, unemployment, discrimination, marginalisation, violation of civil/economic/political rights, ghettoisation, stigmatisation, loss of political voice, absence in governance apparatus and in legislative bodies. Their near-complete exclusion from mainstream polity is an unfortunate and tragic reality now. Any community which is at that level of socio-economic and political strata is bound to have such manifestations and sufferings to bear upon in an imperfect system. The tragedy is that the nation has taken strides forward since independence but conditions of some of its communities have either remained the same or have worsened in real and absolute terms. One such unfortunate case has been that of the Muslims in this country.

In this evolving tragedy, the reasons towards such decline are many. They are largely well known and are widely discussed across various forums. The community's own inherent contradictions on the ground and some dogmatic approaches (clergy-led) towards modernity and progress have certainly not helped its cause, either. Incoherent and divergent approaches (to modern education, social change, empowerment of women, adoption of vocation) towards the way forward have all proven to be another set of roadblocks. Within the community, unfortunate divisions on caste lines and sects (maslaks), general climate of pessimism, despair, fear and disarray besides lack of any form of socio-political leadership (what to talk of visionary leadership) have all played their own bit in the community's downward slide.

Moreover, the Muslim clergy in general (an influential but a small and unrepresentative group within the community) has fallen short of playing a wider constructive role owing to its limited outlook, role, capabilities and cracks within. Prevalence of a retrogressive approach, irrationality, resistance to change and lack of vision amongst the dominant dogmatic clergy and the unnerving silence of liberal/moderate majority on matters of socio-political-economic import are some obvious realities that have dragged down the community's prospects and which have added to the community's decline and present woes. Under the existing circumstances, what is more troubling is that wisdom and truth, positivity and progressive attitude, optimism and interest, knowledge acquisition and scientific temper, free discourse and openness, coherence and clarity of thought, collaboration and dialogue, self-confidence and social change have all somehow taken a back seat.

The aftermath of partition, in various ways - both express and implied, proved to be a big brake on the community's prospects - that which left the community stuck deep into a morass. The Partition was a big reversal in many ways - especially the way the majority community (in general) and the state, viewed the Muslims who chose to stay back in independent India. Experience of the last 67 years shows that the community's largely unconditional and continuous support to the so-called secular politics in lieu of periodic tokenism and doles from the Congress and from other political models/dispensations of the likes of Lalu-Mulayam-Mayawati-communists-socialists has led the community to nowhere but down into the clutches of more insecurity, poverty, illiteracy, ignorance and vulnerability towards being preyed upon by the same identity-based divisive appeasement politics. The community literally got bumped out of the national mainstream during these 67 years on the back of such misguided culture of vote bank politics and of doles and tokenism (probably driven both by design and by default).

General incompetence, failed policies, neglect, apathy and insensitivity of successive Congress regimes at both Centre and states were big dampeners on the prospects of Muslim citizens in independent India. Notwithstanding Congress's so-called inclusive ideology and agenda, lack of serious political will and incompetence of successive leaderships (both at the centre and states) towards bringing in any real change on the ground resulted in long-term damage and decline. Political opportunism and expediency, culture of appeasement and populism, stereotyping, fanning of fear and inadequacy of substantive and sustained interventions inflicted more harm than proving beneficial. Political doles, tokenism, symbolism and electoral populism took priority over substantive and concrete interventions and that didn't help the cause of community's progress at all.

Later, other opportunists in the "politically secular" dispensation continued to promote this vote bank culture for short-term political dividends but caused long-term damage to the community's interests. Regional parties in power, in states, more or less followed the same pattern as it was politically expedient to do. This short cut modus operandi has continued until recent times and all of which has done nothing but bred the needy community's growing dependence on government supplied crutches, or else, fend for itself or slide further down the socio-economic ladder. Heavy reliance on parochial vote bank politics of various hues by political parties across the spectrum, unjust coalition of politicians and Muslim clerics, policy populism in continuum instead of substantive uplift and empowerment interventions on the ground, poor representation of Muslims in decision making or in legislative bodies, incompetent and unimaginative execution of some thoughtful policies, institutionalised system of discrimination and marginalisation by powerful vested interests in a direct or indirect manner, stigmatisation, security concerns and inadequacy of substantive and sustained interventions were some critical factors that ceaselessly hampered the community's cause and prospects all through.

Another plausible reason that had an indirect impact was that a majority of Muslims resided in the so-called BIMARU states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) which perennially suffered on account of skewed economic growth and lopsided development that the country saw in post-independence period specifically in comparison to other parts of the country like Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. Other factors like repeated communal riots in post-independent India (especially in areas where the Muslims had growing commercial interests) and the resulting loss of life/property/livelihood, large scale displacement, persisting security concerns and fear had a lasting impact on the psyche and morale of the community and that didn't help either. The bottomline is that the chasm and alienation widened over time to such an extent that the community today finds itself deep in despair and at the lowest rungs of socio-economic ladder. Their condition today is probably even worse than that of their scheduled caste/scheduled tribe (SC/ST) brothers and sisters who also have largely languished at the lowest ranks for all these decades. Thus, the moot question now is: where does the Muslim community, in general, go from here. What are their options?

Today, the era of politics driven by doles and tokenism, lip service, populism, unfulfilled promises and little accountability appears to be rapidly giving way to an era of participative, substantive delivery and accountability oriented politics, and very justifiably so. The sooner politicians in this country comprehend this changing reality the better. Those who do will succeed in their endeavours and those who don't are destined to be consigned to the dustbins of history. Distrust and aversion of the Muslims towards Narendra Modi and the BJP - justified or unjustified - has been a reality in the past which continues to be a significant factor even today. The BJP's past (Babri Masjid demolition, Gujarat riots, and so on), perceptions about the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the role and acerbic rants of some radical fringe elements within the party and within the Bajrang Dal/Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), fanning of the community's fear of the Modi-BJP combine by the "politically secular" parties for electoral dividends, minimal Muslim representation in the BJP legislative group have all played the spoilsport in further deepening of such distrust and aversion. This has led to a situation of near stalemate and status quo for many years.

However, with the BJP being comfortable in its own skin now after the decisive mandate in the May, 2014 general election, a serious effort is being made by the party and the government to dispel such perceptions amongst Muslims. Putting controversial issues like Ram Mandir, uniform civil code, Article 370, and so on on the backburner, the party's good track record of delivery and economic development and in providing a riot-free environment in several states where it has been in power for years have all helped its cause towards dispelling such perceptions. Prime Minister Modi's efforts to reach out to the Muslims in Gujarat, Kashmir and Ladakh in the past, the BJP giving Assembly tickets to a sizeable number of Muslim candidates in the Kashmir Valley, Modi government's emphasis on skill development and education of minorities through various new schemes of the ministry of minority affairs like Nai Roshni, MANAS, USTAD and so on and also through programmes of other ministries, significant enhancement of the capital base of the National Minorities Development and Financial Corporation (NMDFC) have all been viewed as positive moves by teh Modi government. General steps taken by the Modi government in the last one year like the Jan Dhan Yojana, Atal Bima Yojana, Swachch Bharat Abhiyan, model villages scheme, initiatives towards controlling inflation and getting the economy back on track, focus on infrastructure development, bringing in austerity measures, removal of archaic laws and improvement in governance apparatus have all been seen as reassuring efforts.

Above all, the prime minister's intent and repeated assurances on putting the overall agenda of development, good governance (minimal government and maximum governance) and "Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas" as his government's topmost priorities have also been seen as reasonably good overtures towards the citizens in general and to the Muslim community in particular. Modi's recent reaching out to a cross section of Muslim leaders and groups and assuring them of equal opportunity and zero tolerance to discrimination have somewhat helped in calming down of nerves and in dispelling some notions about his intent. Recent efforts of the BJP's top leadership to check and control the radical fringe elements making irresponsible statements have also been viewed as a welcome move. It is critical that all these efforts must be reinforced and be continued on a regular basis with a positive intent towards clearing the air of suspicion and erasing the fear of hostility and insecurity within the community and towards building the much needed confidence on the ground in everybody's interest.

Muslim clergy and community leaders will also have to raise their bar and play a far more constructive role - without compromising on the basic tenets. They not only have a duty towards the community but towards the nation as well. They will have to redefine their roles towards ushering in the required openness and social change within the community. The clergy will have to open up and broaden its horizons enabling a progressive vision for the community - aligned with the larger vision of mainstream developing India. In many ways, it is a great opportunity for the clergy to expand its contribution by enhancing and broadening its understanding of the ground realities and community's present socio-economic priorities (which are directly linked with the developmental needs of the nation), and then to come up with forward-looking solutions to the issues and ills at hand. What better service the clergy can provide to the community and to the nation than to appreciate the critical needs of the times, to shed its own inherent shortcomings, to rise above the internal differences and dogmas, and to find common ground in order to reorient, prepare, aid, enable and facilitate the community's overall socio-economic progress in the larger interest of the community and the nation.

More importantly, Muslim citizens have to look within, do some soul-searching and overcome their inner fears and contradictions. They need to shed the baggage of past and keep their eyes and ears open. They need to closely observe, analyse and soak in - what else is happening around, what are the trends and needs of the present times, how those needs can be fulfilled by their efforts and hard work, what are the things to be learnt and adopted from others, what are the available resources that can help them realise their own full potential, how help can be sought from the government (wherever required) in order to overcome the roadblocks, how value could be derived from the government schemes and programmes and how they can make themselves more self-aware and more self-dependent in order to go out there and do whatever it takes to achieve what they aspire to do.

Being fearful, isolating oneself, sitting idle, getting cynical, cribbing, blaming others, doing nothing or little, and in the bargain, moving further away from the mainstream would prove to be counterproductive and disastrous over a period of time. Moreover, waiting for some elusive magic to happen wouldn't be a wise option either. Being pragmatic and realistic, it is better to join in and wholeheartedly participate and contribute in the existing development process in whatever way one can and try to make the best out of it. The idea is to shed the inhibitions, allay the fears, build self-confidence, make one's voice heard, get the required help in any way possible, have one's individuality and hard work count, have partnerships with others in whatever way possible, and endeavour hard towards sharing the burden with fellow citizens to take the nation forward. No one will be able to hear the voice or will be able to help the individual who is himself not ready to come out of one's self-constructed cocoon. The way out is simple - go out there, make the best out of available resources, make one's voice heard, solicit required help and seek to join in and contribute to the nation building process. As mentioned before, self-help is the key here. No one can help a person if the person is not ready to help himself. Self-help is the first step. It automatically opens up the ways and the avenues for the rest to take care of itself.

Some of the self-help areas for the Muslims are obvious. Education, as they say, always holds the key to removal of such malaise from deep within. The relevance of education can't be overemphasised here. Education is the only factor that allows one to do what one wants to do with one's life. Spreading awareness in the community on the significance of modern education would never have been as important as it is today. And no social service would be as critical as promoting and spreading the importance of modern education within the community. A school or a college can be built by the government but ultimately, students have to go out there in order to avail the services on offer there. One can only go to school or college on a sustained basis if one understands its importance and is ready to devote oneself to learning. Besides the awareness deficit, severe economic constraints of Muslim families largely force the parents and kids to drop out of school/college on account of subsistence issues. That's why the role of elders, social activists, community leaders and non-governmental organisations (besides, of course, the role of governmental agencies) in spreading social awareness and more importantly, in facilitating the removal of economic constraints, becomes a critical factor in this process.

Acquisition of employment-oriented skills is another. A number of training institutions imparting skills - technology, technical, and vocational are already available in some measure in this country and such avenues shall rapidly increase manifold in times to come given the present government's focus on this need. Given the fact that a separate skills development ministry has been set up at the centre, the ministry of minority affairs has also started a new initiative on skill development and with the prime minister's renewed focus on this area, learning and training in job-oriented skills in large numbers should be a great option and a godsend opportunity for Muslim citizens today. This would not only open doors to livelihoods but would also push the Muslims, currently away from the margins of the society into the national mainstream and help them participate in the process of economic growth and development. Entrepreneurship is another key area. Many of the current livelihoods and employment generation amongst Muslims are in the self-employment domain. The idea is to grab any such opportunity available that helps in enhancing one's entrepreneurial ability, in expanding one's enterprise and in leveraging one's ingenuity and hard work. Provisions of credit availability, entrepreneurial skill training, expert guidance, infrastructural support for small and medium enterprises are going to be increasingly available under the current dispensation both at the centre and states with the Modi government's enhanced focus in this space. There is an enormous opportunity and it must be utilised and harnessed in full measure by the community.

Surely, the citizens are now aiming at development-driven fulfilment of aspirations and are eagerly looking up to the government to deliver on its promises of jobs, infrastructure, governance, zero corruption and better day-to-day lives for its people. The nation is willing to go that extra mile (rightly so) with any leader who has the ability, who carries credibility, who has a good report card of delivery and who is ready to rise above parochial politics towards the fulfilment of such promises. The last few Assembly elections, the May, 2014 general election and recent Delhi election results are a vivid proof of the same.

India is today a nation of youthful aspirations - sustainable livelihoods and jobs, certain standard of living and comforts of life, good education and healthcare and other material acquisitions and rightly so. Given the demographical composition (where over 50 per cent of the citizens are less than 35 years of age), coupled with the advent of technology revolution - internet, mobile and social media and the fact that barriers of geographical boundaries stand blurred, such youthful aspirations are bound to further manifest in various forms. The decisive mandate in the last general elections and successive wins of performing governments in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chattisgarh, Bihar, Orissa and Tripura have showed how this nation and especially its youth have decisively lapped up the powerful agenda of development, economic growth and good governance. There is an air of renewed vigour and hope amongst the youth in the country today. And the aspirational Muslim youth of today is no different. A regular Muslim household today needs uninterrupted supply of electricity, safe drinking water, good roads and connectivity, good housing and sanitation, good schools and colleges, good hospitals and healthcare, rapid industrial activity-driven jobs and livelihoods, corruption free ecosystem and sustainable environment in equal measure as any other household in this country. Why shouldn't these be the basic needs (besides security to life and property) and their fulfilment and outcome the prime agenda of Muslim citizens too? Why should Muslims keep depriving themselves of fulfilment of their basic needs and continue to be simply consumed by fear and security concerns continuously fanned by the "politically secular" formations. Life has to move on to better things and better times. That is the inherent nature and trajectory of human life and spirit.

The pursuit of happiness and aspirations is the inherent right of any human being, as they say. Muslims in general and Muslim youth in particular are therefore no different from others. He is as aspirational and is ready to work as hard as others towards achieving his aspirational goals. There is no reason why he shouldn't also seek and aspire for better education, job/livelihood, infrastructure, governance, security, stability and quality of life. This is the time for the community in general to stop supporting the agenda of doles and fear-driven vote bank identity politics of the so called "politically secular" formations and move on to the agenda of development, growth, security, education, jobs, livelihood, infrastructure and a better life and whosever credibly proposes the same. This is the only way Muslims along with the other disadvantaged and dispossessed communities can shrug off their morass and allow positive change to happen in their lives.

This (new paradigm involving skills, education, growth and development) is perhaps the only positive way to progress together with the developing nation and help make oneself and this nation reach where they deserve to. The time is right for the Muslims of India - as both individuals and groups within the community, to really comprehend this new opportunity of a generation, to adopt the "development agenda for all" to its fullest with both arms and to give this proposed journey of betterment and real progress a wholesome chance. Else, the choice is to keep falling prey to one or the other contractor of so-called "political secularism", keep depending on them for the "utopian" security, doles and crutches and continue to struggle endlessly for a fear-free dignified existence. After all, doles and tokenism can only do that much. The past is there before the community to learn from. It must serve as an eye-opener for the present and future.

Over the last 67 years, Muslims in general have tried everything: provided unconditional support to various "politically secular" combinations/models for decades, but couldn't get anything in return except repeatedly becoming hostage to vote bank politics and fear and finally getting dragged to the bottom most rung of nation's social and economic strata. For the Muslims at large, the outcomes at best remained more of the same with their lives turning out to be worse than before as months and years passed by. Left out to fend for themselves with scant resources and opportunities at hand in a not so conducive environment, the Muslims could only do that much and the result is there for all to see.

The Muslims of India have nothing much to lose beyond where they are today as nothing can be worse than where they find themselves right now. The graph can only go up from here if the Modi government gets the support of all and delivers what it is promising - "Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas". If the community has to come out of the current morass and abyss, this is the opportune time to make a fresh start. This is the time for the community to give this idea - which bodes equity and well-being for all and which is not based on identity or appeasement or tokenism or doles, a time bound but solid chance. The time has come to shun all failed models and give a full chance to the intent and idea of skills and job-driven development, good governance, zero discrimination, rule of law, security to life and property, corruption free system, sustainable environment, equal opportunity for all and appeasement of none. It doesn't matter who comes up with this proposition. Surely, it makes good sense to give the new model a try with the heart and mind towards a new beginning that promises substantive well-being and a decent fear-free living for every citizen without any dependence on doles, tokenism and falsehood. Heavens will not fall even if this trial fails. As they say, an extraordinary situation demands an extraordinary response. And this is the time to back one's instincts and give it a good shot.

After all, the community always has the option to later review its decision depending on how things turn out for its benefit or otherwise, in the coming few years, in terms of what it gets and where it reaches vis-à-vis the promises of the Modi government. The worst case scenario can only be more of the same and hence, it will effectively be a no win/loss choice. But then, one would at least have tried something different to come out of the mess one is in today. The community's destiny is directly linked to the destiny of the nation as it is the citizens who make a nation and not otherwise. In the history of India, never would a community's calling be as critical as it is today: that is right now.

Choices made today by the government of the day and by the citizens carry far reaching consequences and implications. The choices made by citizens would ultimately shape and chart out the course of the nation's destiny. For optimal performance of a machine and for deriving maximum output, all parts of the machine must be in optimal performing condition and in unison. A sizeable number of stakeholders of a nation just cannot remain excluded from the economic growth paradigm and from the national mainstream any more. This sizeable section of populace just cannot continue to be unproductive, non-contributing and stagnating on the fringes of subsistence living. If the situation is allowed to persist further, the nation's body polity can't remain healthy enough to drive the rapid development and economic growth that this nation aspires for. Hence, in order to achieve the progress that this nation desires and deserves, it is incumbent upon the leadership, the government of the day and the party in power to do what it takes to dispel all right or wrong notions about its image, bearings, intent and programmes and to carry everybody along on the path to economic progress without any bias, reservation, mistrust or appeasement.

Leadership is also about inspiring others and opening up of the heart. Leadership must engage and connect with all citizens at a human level and in a well-meaning manner. Citizens, somewhat, have the knack to read through the leadership's intent and purposes. Therefore, leadership must endeavour, by its words and by its actions, to allay fears, to instil confidence in citizens and to take everybody along towards achieving the agenda of participative and inclusive growth/development. Without a doubt, it must be seen in that way in order to be believed. As they say, poverty knows no religion. The same is the case with economic growth and development. It is simply agnostic. Governments do not create development. It is the human spirit, private enterprise and human initiative which results in development and economic growth. Governments do not create jobs. It is private enterprise and human effort that create new jobs and livelihoods in large numbers. The government's role is essentially limited to enabling (through policy formulation), facilitating (through removal of impediments), and regulating (in reasonable measure) for course correction. Moreover, the government's role is to ensure equity in the sharing of fruits of such development towards balanced welfare, growth and prosperity for all. Moreover, the government of the day doesn't represent just one party or a coalition of parties but is really the representative of all citizens and of the whole nation. A prime minister, once installed as the head of government, leads and represents the nation as a whole and not one or two sections of its citizens. He and his government must take reasonable care to be seen and believed in that avatar by all citizens.

On the other side, the citizens who carry their own fears, doubts, cynicism, misgivings and mistrust stand to do a lot of good to themselves by dismissing such thoughts, opening up channels of communication, having a meaningful dialogue, finding common grounds, exercising constitutional rights, going out there and doing their best in their own chosen volition and providing their full backing to the well-meaning steps taken by the government. In the nation's interest, it is so critical that all citizens must come together, find common ground and give wholehearted support to the government's well-meaning and progressive policies and programmes. At the same time, they must critique strongly and make their voices heard wherever it appears to them that the government is on a wrong path and a course correction is required in national interest. It's their fundamental duty. By all means, citizens must hold the government accountable for each and every promised result.

This is the time to be pragmatic enough to shed the baggage of the past and to move on to strive for a better tomorrow. This is really the moment of truth: the calling of all citizens, including the Muslims of India which all must answer together for a fair trial of the new idea towards a better future. This is where the beauty of democracy lies and this is what would make it deeper, healthier and stronger. The choices made by the people today shall ultimately determine the nation's destiny and of the citizens too. No one wants more images of stagnation and ghettoisation, more lost opportunities and divisiveness to be coming back to haunt one and all later. In the life of a nation, such citizen-mandated political capital and people's hope and change-driven opportunities to defeat poverty, insecurity and divisiveness and to achieve growth and development for all generally don't come often. And such political capital and opportunities expire soon anyway. Hence, both the Muslims of India and Modi government must do what it takes to embark together on this new journey as any delay is a serious lost opportunity.


Munawwar Haque Munawwar Haque

The writer is a former senior business executive and now a political commentator.

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