Politics is the art of meeting great expectations by creating and protecting institutions. The Constitution was drawn up to meet the expectations of newborn India. Politics also betrays institutions; the Preamble, which defined the country as a ‘sovereign democratic republic’, was amended during the Emergency to “sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic”.
‘Sovereign’ and ‘democratic’ are running on all cylinders. ‘Socialist’ is out of oxygen. The contentious part is ‘Secular’, first disapproved by Nehru and added by his daughter later. Nationalists insist that India belongs to Hindus and secularism is execrable Leftist twaddle, meant to entrench ideological supremacy. India is 80 percent Hindu and 13.4 per cent Muslim. Since Hindus are the big brothers, liberals plead it’s woke to be secular. Why don’t they expect Muslims to be secular, too?
The liberal argument that the majority ghettoised Muslims is taradiddle because Hindutva, with its Senas and trolls, is a recent phenomenon. The 19th century Islamic reformer Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had accused the British of maligning Muslims as the real force behind the 1857 Mutiny. For decades, the Congress party had positioned itself as the Muhammad Ali of Indian Muslims. It had distinguished leaders like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Badruddin Tyabji, Dr Zakir Husain, Jinnah et al. Suraiya Tyabji, who designed the Indian national flag, was Muslim.
With such eminent figures in their pantheon, why do Indian Muslims lack a universally acceptable contemporary face to intellect-shame wrestlers and filmy barnacles riding the saffron gravy train? Indian secularists are predominantly Hindu. The current Indian Muslim leadership is identified with the Owaisis, Deobandis and Tablighis instead of Azad or Tyabji. The Jamaat’s contagious conduct has painted Islam an unkind shade of green. Paradoxically, the Muslim voices against Hindutva come from the pro-Modi Arab world, which provides jobs to millions of Hindus.
The reason of Indian Muslim leadership’s credibility gap is intellectual poverty, excessive scriptural dependence, poor education and Hinduphobia. Theologists dictate personal laws. Deeply paranoid about science, the mullahs drive away doctors and inoculation staff with stones and curses. Muslims rue that the vicious chorus of Hindutva drowns their voices; yet there is no Muslim Ramachandra Guha, Arundhati Roy or Rajmohan Gandhi to make their case. It’s not enough to take refuge in the “We are all Indians” argument and expect the minority politics genie to get back into the bottle—the conversation was Constitutionally polarised decades ago.
Perhaps, the Mohammedan needs a 21st century Sir Syed, whose reformist emphasis was on Mu tazila—a rationalist and liberal interpretation of the Quran, making it relatable to science and modernism. The Indian Muslim can take the place he deserves only by being a secular Indian willing to engage the nationalist conversation by taking a cosmopolitan position. This means looking outwards when someone else is looking in.