Opinion » Comment

Updated: May 7, 2012 19:37 IST

Do India's Muslims need to be represented by Muslims?

Hilal Ahmed
Comment (30)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
NOT SO QUIET: The Shahi Imam of Delhi Jama Masjid, Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari believes he represents the aspirations of Muslim communities, but not everyone thinks so. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt
The Hindu
NOT SO QUIET: The Shahi Imam of Delhi Jama Masjid, Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari believes he represents the aspirations of Muslim communities, but not everyone thinks so. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

In articulating its social or political demands, the community does not appear to be addressing its own elites.

The serious (and not so-serious) claims and counter-claims made by Azam Khan, a senior Samajwadi Party (SP) leader and the so-called Shahi Imam of Delhi's historic Jama Masjid, Ahmad Bukhari, on “Muslim representation” in post-election Uttar Pradesh can be interpreted in two possible ways. One may argue, in fact quite justifiably, that these polemical comments simply reflect the post-poll tussle between two rival Muslim elites to secure a wider acceptability in the SP dominated U.P. politics.

However, there could be another plausible approach to interpret this debate. We may problematise these statements to raise a few very significant issues such as: do Muslims actually vote for a particular party because they are “instructed” by religious elites such as the Imam to do so? Or, do Muslims vote for a party because they follow the “advice” given to them by elected Muslim representatives? If we go beyond these first level questions, we might also ask two larger conceptual questions: do Muslims need to be represented by Muslims? If yes, what could be the appropriate relationship between the acts of Muslim representatives and aspirations of Muslim communities? The Bukhari-Khan controversy, in my view, can help us in unpacking these complicated questions. In the first week of April 2012, Bukhari, who had already campaigned for the SP in the U.P. Assembly elections, quite unexpectedly withdrew his son-in-law's candidature for the U.P. Vidhan Parishad. In a much publicised open letter, he accused the SP leadership of not providing “adequate Muslim political representation” at various levels. He said: “The rights of Muslims cannot be satisfied by giving a seat to my son-in-law. If you do not give a fair share to Muslims in administration and power, I turn down the offer made for my son-in-law.”

Two sets of claims

According to Azam Khan, Bukhari actually wanted a Rajya Sabha seat for his younger brother and cabinet slot for his son-in-law. Questioning the political reputation of Bukhari, Khan said: “His son-in-law, Umar Ali Khan, who contested on a SP ticket from the Behat seat of Saharanpur… lost his deposit. This clearly indicates the credibility of Bukhari. He should now realise the status he “enjoys” amongst the Muslims…these peshwas have done little for the betterment of the community. Instead of seeking political favours, clerics should stick to their job.”

One can identify an interesting interplay between two sets of claims here: (a) Muslims of U.P. constitute a political community because they are fully aware of and adhere to a set of issues that could be called “Muslim issues,” and (b) religious/social leaders and representatives of this political community are entitled to take short-term and long-term decisions in favour of Muslims. Azam Khan, it seems, shares the first assumption with Bukhari. He does not make any comment on the Muslim political homogeneity that Bukhari evokes. In fact, his assertions also originate from the premise that the Muslim community is a political entity of a specific kind. However, Khan's criticism of Bukhari's leadership claim is quite significant. Khan, in this sense, makes a clear distinction between the domain of actual politics and the domain of religiosity — a distinction that has dominated modern south Asian Muslim politics for a long time.

Let us look at some concrete evidence to evaluate the first set of arguments that revolves around the notion of Muslim political homogeneity. The recent U.P. election is quite relevant in this regard. According to official figures, 29.15 per cent votes went to the SP. If we deconstruct this official data by comparing it with the CSDS-Lokniti post-poll data based on sample survey, a few very interesting findings come up.

We find that although the SP enjoyed sizeable Muslim support (39 per cent), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) also performed well among Muslims. It received around 20 per cent votes. Even the Congress manages to get 18 per cent Muslim votes. These figures demonstrate the fact that the “Muslim vote” was highly diversified. The Muslim caste configuration is also relevant here. Our data shows that around 41 per cent upper-caste Muslim (Ashraf) votes went to the SP. Also significant recipients of Ashraf support were the Congress (26 per cent) and the BSP (12 per cent). Although the SP also got 38 per cent non-Ashraf votes, the performance of the BSP is quite noticeable among non-Ashrafs. It secured 26 per cent non-Ashraf Muslim votes, while the Congress managed to get only 11 per cent non-Ashraf votes. This shows that the inclination of upper-caste Muslims towards the SP and the Congress is higher when compared to lower-caste Muslims. This Muslim political diversity, I suggest, exposes the emptiness of the Muslim homogeneity argument that Bukhari and Azam Khan propose.

The 2006 State of the Nation survey by CSDS-Lokniti on India's Muslims can help us in assessing the second set of issues that the Bukhari-Khan controversy raises. For the sake of clarity, let us look at three kinds of questions: what are the Muslim issues? Who is responsible for the present crisis of Muslims? And, what could be the way out?

We find that poverty and unemployment are identified as the most important Muslim issues (69 per cent). Instead of Hindu communalism or lack of religious freedom, a majority of the respondents (60 per cent) feel that the government is responsible for the present situation of Muslims in India. In fact, 16 per cent Muslims say that Muslims themselves are responsible for the present predicaments of the community. Affirmative action policies are considered as the possible way out to get rid of socio-economic backwardness. A majority of Muslims strongly support the view that Muslims must have some kind of reservation in educational institutions (72 per cent) as well as in Parliament and State Assemblies (82 per cent).

Interestingly, these overtly socio-political demands are not addressed to Muslim elites. In fact, the question of Muslim leadership was not at all given any considerable importance. Only four per cent of respondents find that the “lack of the right kind of Muslim leadership” has been a problem for Muslims in this country. On the basis of these findings, it would suffice to suggest that the question of Muslim leadership is not a fundamental issue for Muslims at all. On the contrary, Muslims, like other deprived and marginalised sections of society, seem to recognise the State as a reference point for making political claims.

Can we, therefore, say that Muslims in India do not want to be represented by Muslim political and/or religious elites? I do not think that this complicated question can be answered merely on the basis of evidence/data we have discussed here. It requires a systematic exploration of a different kind by which we can make sense of the contextual placing of Muslim elites in the socio-cultural universe of Muslim communities. Yet, we can certainly argue that Muslim participation in different forms of politics should be taken seriously to understand the multiplicity of the political representation debates. If we continue to pose the question of Muslim political representation in the present form, it would be very difficult for us to move away from the kind of arguments people like Azam Khan and Bukhari make.

(The writer is an Associate Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.)

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Well the conditions of Muslim through out the globe is getting worse,
and we can't just blame others, we are ourselves responsible for
whatever is happening. we have become too materialistic that we care for
ourselves only, despite the fact that we are very much knowledgeable and
knows our rights. How can a leader exploit us with out our consent,
voting for a muslim or non muslim leadr is not going to help.

from:  Rayees
Posted on: May 19, 2012 at 09:20 IST

Of course Muslims, or for that matter, most other communities, do not vote en bloc. But nobody here cares for the statistics. It is up to the individual muslims to think for themselves and decide on whom to vote. There are the Bukharis and the Khans who would want the members in their community to follow them. Why do they do do that? for their own selfish interests and may be because they think they are the only ones who can think clearly and knows what is good for the entire community. In effect, they are denigrating the intelligence of the common man.

from:  Anees
Posted on: May 8, 2012 at 23:54 IST

What Muslims need is good political sense and good leadership, Muslim or non -Muslim does not matter. In today's world no community can solve it's problems by itself, and needs to go beyond religious affiliation to address issues that affect it.

from:  salman kureishy
Posted on: May 8, 2012 at 15:41 IST

The plight of the Muslim community is not 'Muslim-specific'. Poverty and unemployment are issues which the entire country is grappling with. But, it is true, that Muslims do need a leader, however, not necessarily a 'Muslim-leader'. Someone, Muslim or non-muslim needs to stand up for the minority community. Though I am against them being given special privileges over other Indian citizens, I feel that currently they do not enjoy even the basic amenities and freedom and status which a Hindu may enjoy. Even today, Muslims are always asked to step aside and are checked twice at airports. Is this fair?

from:  Ankita Aggarwal
Posted on: May 8, 2012 at 15:19 IST

The so called leaders of muslim community are themselves to be blamed for the present state of muslims. If they worked for the betterment of social conditions of this community and took it forward and modern as has been the case of other communities, the story would have been totally different.Instead of following age old archiac traditions, this community should become dynamic progressive society and contribute towords building up modern India.

from:  Vipin Bhatnagar
Posted on: May 8, 2012 at 13:57 IST

The author is correct in stating that it is NOT the 'Hindu communalism or lack of religious freedom', but the Government and the Pseudo-secular leaders of our country who are responsible for the current situation of majority of muslims in India. The governments and leaders should concentrate on educating muslims and help them fight out of poverty instead of filling their minds with a false sense of fear and hatred towards hindus or any other community for that matter. The muslim community should understand that they are being exploited in the vote bank politics, and also understand that the so called reservations and special status that the leaders are promising them will do them no good in the longrun. Indian muslims should put their foot down and concentrate on educating themselves rather than depending on these false promises.

from:  Krishna
Posted on: May 8, 2012 at 12:13 IST

India is secular democratic nation so lets stop playing religious card
and start thinking we all are Indians first. In every part of the
world whereever muslims are in minority never get along with Majority
community and like to live in a ghetto completely disconnected from
rest of the society. Finally they blame eveything on Majority
community and the Government. Please try to understand why there is no
such complaints from Christains from any part of the word where they
are in Minority. If you observe properly wherver Chiristians are in
minority in demoratic societies they are always better off than rest
of the people and I believe the main reason for this is Christains and
christian leaders gave importance to modern education and are always
in the mainstream of the society. Muslims think twice and look inwards
before blaming government or majority community for their misery.

from:  Kabootar Khan
Posted on: May 8, 2012 at 07:30 IST

Very interesting read. Most appealing aspect of this article is that
it is free from Holier Than Thou attitude adopted by so called liberal
and modern Muslims.
As author himself has conceded, the issue is too complicated to be
solved here. Principal reason behind pathetic conditions of Muslims is
lack of visionary leadership. After Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, no one has
provided the thought leadership in the community. Even likes of
Maulana Abula Kalam Azad are merely considered to be puppets of

Today, Muslim thought leadership is crushed between politicians like
Salman Khurshid at one side and self proclaimed liberals like Javed
Akhtar. Both these parties have exploited Muslim psyche to their own
benefit. Political gains in case of Mr.Khurshid and semblance of
intellectualism in case of Mr Akhtar. next comment..

from:  Tofik Shaikh
Posted on: May 8, 2012 at 01:07 IST

Its ironic that by having a bunch followers and some political patronage, people tend to think that they are represeting the whole soceity. Be it Azam Khan or Imam Bokhari,they are not even representative of 5% of muslims of India. I want to ask Mr.Khan, how many people of Kerala , Karnataka or Bengal take him to be a leader of the community and as for Mr. Bokhari, he has even smaller number of follwers than Azam Khan. Apart from that, theres nothing hidden about the political ambition of power that Imam Bokhari has.
In neither of them Muslims of India see their leader. Mr. Bokhari has tried to further alienate the community from mainstream by making unwarranted statement. I doubt, whether he understands the problem of the community at all.
The basic problems of muslim is their economic plight, which only a mainstream leader could look at and try to solve.Instead of political gimmics, it would be worth advising to them to create social groups and do some developmental work.

from:  Azaz Mani
Posted on: May 8, 2012 at 00:42 IST

Muslims or any community shold be represented by the likes of Javed
AKHTAR OR APJ ABDUL KALAM.I will definitely vote for them if they contest
from BHOPAL.

from:  BK Shrivastava
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 22:25 IST

Political and religious leaders in all communities in India behave
similarly and with one motive befool the public and amass wealth for
themselves.THE construction of MANDIR, MASJID GURUDWARA and CHURCHES BY
PUBLIC DONATION should be stopped by law. Such donation shouled be used
for opening educational institutions only.

from:  BK Shrivastava
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 21:58 IST

Wrong in principle. India must maintain and indeed nurture its secular democracy. However, the representation of the political spectrum must reflect the diversity of the country.

from:  Sohail Zahid
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 21:57 IST

Demanding Muslim representation is similar to demanding a separate electorate for Muslims. And that idea was the one that lead to, for good or for bad, partition of India. Any educated and sensible muslim, or a person from any other faith, knows that to do the good of a people you don’t really need to belong to the same community. It is this religion based politics that have created the problem for India for so long. Demanding Muslims representation or Party will not solve the problem but will further alienate people.

from:  Arushi
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 21:48 IST

Is it not contradictory that Muslims seek political representations in
Parliament through reservations but do not consider the absence of
muslim leadership to be the reason behind their marginalisation?

from:  Hina
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 21:38 IST

We should not lose ourselves

There are issues which are common to every one irrespective of caste, creed or religion and elections are a means to address these common issues. People across religions are well aware of these facts. we need to think beyond the narrow confines of religion, caste and race and open the doors of humanity to take shape.

from:  Imthias Ismail
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 21:11 IST

Azam Khan's advice to Imam Bukhari to stick to his religious duties and leave politics to politicians can be interpreted in two ways. If he is following the western idea of separation of church and state, he is on very shaky grounds, as in Islam, there is no such demarcation between religion and politics. In fact, every facet of a Muslim's life consolidates into a holistic whole. Second, if Azam Khan was commenting merely on the practicality of Imam's tentative foray into electoral politics, he should not forget that India's freedom struggle right from 1800 on wards was spearheaded by religious leaders. So Imam Bukhari is on solid ground on that count too. It would be interesting to bring in the views of the political parties in the matter. If Mulayam is ready to play ball with Imam Bukhari, he is not as naive as Azam Khan would like to make him out to be, granted he erred on Kalyan Singh, on the advice of Amar Singh. If political parties have courted Imam Bukhari, why Muslims deny him

from:  Ghulam Muhammed
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 19:44 IST

Nurturing national identity in Indians is the only way to move
ahead.Fostering religious identity is a retrograde step.Unfortunately,
there is no statesman in India who can achieve this. We may have to wait
for an avatar to lead the peoples of this country to harmony and

from:  ram
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 18:55 IST

None of so called muslim leaders are sincere to this discriminated community. They firstly care for their personal gain and secondarily for the community in a cosmetic way. When 18% reservation for muslim was promised by SP, why Ahmed Bukhari did not highlight this as a main issue and in turn engaged in arguments for his relatives during post election era. Is he a true representative of muslim community??

Muslims in general did not considered Mr.Bukhari's call to vote for SP. But it was failure of BSP and Congress to address muslim issues and finally muslims voted to SP on assurance by Mulayam Singh for reservation

from:  Mohammad Abbas
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 18:46 IST

the data you provided regarding the voting pattern of ashrafs and non-ashrafs fails to recognize the fact that when people voted, they voted for the candidate which in most cases was a muslim candidate( mostly irrespective of the party he belongs to). Believe it or not, people in India vote for the "candidate", keeping in mind 'their' short term demands and not for the community's demands as a whole and not even in tune with the party's policies. What i mean to say is that when a person casts its vote, he/she does not say i'll vote for such and such party,rather they look for the candidate which best satisfies 'their' demands which in most cases can only be met by the candidate belonging to their community.

from:  siddharth jain
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 13:57 IST

Indian politics is more driven by religious sentiments rather than secular. In present
India the condition of Muslims has gone from bad to worst, having a muslim leader
will at least tell the rest of the India the problems that muslims are facing... I have
seen the places where muslims are forced to live with no government body to look
after them.

from:  Suhail
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 13:52 IST

every one in the society is equal and i dont categorize any person based on religion. If some one doing that, its his/her unmatured personality. I dont think some one need to represent Muslims community. Individual can fight for their rights and duties..

from:  saida
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 13:18 IST

An analytical and thought provoking piece from a Muslim. A deeper
and broader study is required to understand the evolving
leadership dynamics of the community, but it is clear that
Muslims are struggling to re-emerge on the political scene. It is
only a matter of time. Now, political parties and governments
should stop the game they have been playing with the community as
Muslim Vote Bank. The 'exclusivist' mindset of our political
elite should change. If
India is to become the future world power and world leader it
should first keep its house in order by including Muslims and by
respecting their rights including in Kashmir.They should >consider the community as an integral part of Indian civilization and give them their due in all walks of life.They should stop the witchunt of Muslim youth.The days of accountability are not far away!

from:  Saleem Ahmed
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 11:25 IST

Dear sir.

Money and muscle power dominate the society. Religion is not for empty bellies.

from:  Ramakrishna Ogirala
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 11:16 IST

Empirical Fact - Exclusivist Abrahamic religions will never accept outside leadership (without exception when in Majority)! Period!

from:  harish
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 10:56 IST

I agree with hilal ahmed thoughts.Usually muslims have a common thinking which is nurtured by their Islamic Ideas within them in all matters whether in home or foreign affairs.They decide according to that in elections ,so they do not decide by their religious or political leaders advice,but at the same time some leaders simply claim that muslims are voting according to their advice and they are harvesting personal gains by that.Muslims should be aware about these leaders.Now a days Muslims realise there is need for a Good Leader for them and a Muslim National party for them because they were deceived by all the National and regional political parties

from:  shameel
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 10:15 IST

A fantastic, careful analysis that everybody should read!

from:  prem
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 09:29 IST

In our elections, it is a secret ballet and it is impossible find out the percentage votes based on cast or religion. So how to trust the Hilal Ahmed's statistics!!

from:  C S Sundaresha
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 09:13 IST

Like other counterparts,majority of young generation of Indian Muslims are educated and are exposed to reality.It is for sure such so called Muslim netas have lost relevence in present day India.

from:  Yasin Ishaque
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 09:09 IST

Poverty and unemployment are the issues which are not Muslim-specific and pertain to the state of Uttar Pradesh as a whole. The principle of Muslim representation to resolve issues pertaining to Muslims is very difficult to accept. No one can forget that the separate electorate system introduced by the British in 1909 was the root cause of partition of India. We cannot afford a repeat of the historical error. No one can forget that initially, the Muslims of UP were at the forefront to popularise the concept of Pakistan, when it did not receive adequate support in states like undivided Punjab, Bengal, Sindh and NWFP. Notwithstanding this, Muslims have every political right to contest elections, vote strategically to put pressure on the political parties for satisfactory resolution of the issues pertaining to their community. Granting anything more than the normal rights available to every other Indian citizen is strictly not advisable.

from:  Pramod Patil
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 06:19 IST

First of all, government should make equal rule for all to control rate of population.All fellow citizens should use their own brain to vote in election.If candidates are not eligibal,show it on to make discard him all.Do not listen to that all mulla's,bhukhary's,anna's or baba's.GOD BLESS ALL INDIANS.JAY HIND

from:  Suryakant
Posted on: May 7, 2012 at 02:55 IST
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