By Asad Mirza
In the first year of the new decade, we’ll mark the 75 years of our independence and 72 years of India as a republic, but there are many questions, which assail the common Indian.
75 years after independence and 72 years after India became a republic, instead of feeling ecstatic and consolidating our achievements we are forced to ponder the question, whether our freedom fighters, leaders and constitution framers dreamt of the India in its present form?
At present we are standing at a crossroad, where a vast multitude of Indian citizens are wondering about their legal standing and the future, besides feeling concerned about the continued secular and inclusive character of the Indian society. The largest majority of the country along with millions of illiterate, landless, backwards and a mass of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes have been forced to ponder over the question of their legal identity in the country, whose constitution’s preamble read: We, the people of India……… Secular, Democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens….
The largest minority community in the country has been thrown many challenges in the last two years. Though confused and floundering, it was trying hard to come to terms with the harsh reality of being part of an India, which is being governed by the forces, which have always been considered inimical to it.
A large number of Indians believe this to be the doing of the right-wing government. But the moot question is, how did it happened and who allowed it to happen? Leading us to a more sensitive and ponderous question, whether India ever was a truly secular republic at all?
No one can deny the intricate human and social ties between the Indian citizens. Their sharing and caring for each other in times of need, standing together with each other in times of adversity. Coexisting and surviving for centuries as brethren, before the colonial masters altered and fostered the narrative based on two distinct communities.
Though it was presumed that independent India would provide a level playing field to all its citizens, irrespective of their caste and creed, the reality itself is vastly different. Writing in Young India, Gandhi longed for a Swaraj, which would be the rule of all based on justice, ‘… to me Hind Swaraj is the rule of all people, is the rule of justice.’ –Young India–16.4.1931.
Instead of fostering a spirit of tolerance and coexistence, our leaders trumpeted ‘secular’ identity of India, though in fact, it was pseudo-secular not secular. All communities were not provided a level playing field. Though a lot of crocodile tears were shed on the plight of the largest minority of the country, yet no affirmative action was taken ever, to set things right, by any political party.
Secular forces in India
Broadly, what is happening now shouldn’t worry any one, as it is happening due to the complicity or lackadaisical attitude of a large percentage of educated Indians. When the so-called secular parties were in power, they never tried to reign-in the hard-line Hindutva elements, in reality they mollified and pampered them under the veneer of equal rights to every religion. Or within their hearts they too wanted India to be a Hindu Rashtra.
No one has any issue on the question of India being declared a Hindu Rashtra, but it should be the one, which is tolerant and coexistent of communities. It should not be the one, which pushes one community to the margins and gloat over it. In fact, the Hindu Rashtra could be the true dharma rakshak, it could be a beacon of light to the western world, which has always fumbled to implement the true spirit and principles of coexistence and tolerance amongst different communities, as per the western concepts of democracy and liberalism.
In addition, a large number of highly educated Indians exercised their franchise in favour of the BJP, in the last two general elections. This sympathy and support might have been there to prove oneself as a true Hindu Indian. Though within their heart they knew what they were doing was not due to the love for their country but it was to pamper the soft spot within their heart for the Hindutva.
Though their percentage might be an insignificant part of the 33%, yet they were quite significant in influencing the others. And yes, howsoever they profess to be seen as an educated, secular, forward looking, liberal person, within their hearts most proved to be pro-Hindutva and least concerned about minorities or backward classes of the country, except to have drawing room conversations about their plight.
The secular parties also pampered and kowtowed to the fixated Muslim elements, clerics who claimed to be Muslim leaders or representatives. This attitude helped the Hindutva forces to bemoan the appeasement of the minorities at the cost of the majority, and in turn reaped benefits for themselves at the hustings.
Muslims in India
The Muslim community apart from educational backwardness also faced economic decline from 1947 onwards. However, it got a shot in the arm with middle-east boom of the 70s. Though till 1980s, its economic spine was tried to be broken by frequent riots in cities where the community had proved its mettle as skilful entrepreneurs. And most of these riots happened when the so-called secular parties were in power both at the centre and state level.
From mid-70s onwards, the community consolidated its economic gains and moved forward on the road to educational and social prosperity. From 90s onwards, economic liberalisation further helped the community in a big manner, as now scores of its young technocrats found meaningful jobs at various MNCs, as there unlike the government sector the playing field was set level for all.
This economic independence also helped it to further consolidate its successes and the current generation is proof of this. A generation, which is not burdened by the baggage of partition and is socially and educationally empowered to take on its foes at an equal footing. A generation, which is equally at home wearing jeans and hijab, keeping beard and observing fasts, bringing to reality the adage that education, opens doors to emancipation. A generation, which is proud to be part of the secular framework of the country and its own religious identity, and has become adapt at finding a mid-path between the two.
In the current scenario, to remain steadfast and work towards consolidating our secular democratic republic, the responsibility lies on different political parties to work towards establishing a society and polity which does not rely on petty gains but wants to make the country stronger, based on principles enshrined in its constitution and obligated to by its founding fathers.
In addition, the Muslims also have to introspect and change their outlook on major issues confronting them. They have to focus on getting educated, getting rid of un-Islamic rituals, better utilise the community funds generated through Zakat and inculcate a community psyche, where one should first aim to reform him and his family and then come forward to reform the community in a professional and committed manner without keeping an eye on becoming the community’s leader.
To deliver these goals the clerics can play a crucial role. First, by cleansing the community of its different sects, secondly, by leading the community in all spheres be they religious, economic, social or political. A large percentage of their followers follow them steadfastly, instead of the so-called political leaders. So, if they are able to draw up a feasible roadmap for the progress and empowerment of the community, then the day is not far off when the community might be able to challenge the forces inimical to them professionally and politically.
Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi.
He was also associated with BBC Urdu Service and Khaleej Times of Dubai.
He writes on Muslims, educational, international affairs, interfaith and current affairs.