23 March, 2010

Nai Subh - Politics of Reform

Having presented a none-too-pleasant fact sheet and elaborated upon the causes that landed the ummah there, the author, in the four concluding issues of this Series, presents what he believes needs to be done to remedy the situation.

For reasons of brevity the author may sound abrupt and instructive. But readers that have been watching this column will be able to connect his corrective strategy with the painful reality, its causes and assumptions underlying these recommendations, seamlessly. Readers who joined mid-way are strongly advised to read the series from the beginning. [MG does supply back issues and also hosts an archive on the web.] The author sincerely craves indulgence for this rather pompous style.

Some material for this issue is borrowed from the author’s Urdu audio presentation, KHITAB, available from SPRAT. Throughout this series the author has maintained the stance of a rationalist, counting upon religious texts only to further enforce his common sense point of view for the believer. The Recognitions – or assumptions – presented in the previous few issues constitute the backdrop for the corrective strategy presented here. Cold reason – not emotions or beliefs – forms the sole basis for this argument.
For ease of explanation we shall discuss corrective strategy at a personal, political and societal level, highlighting needed action in educational, economic and religious domains. We have toiled together for eight months for a Nai Subh. Now is the time for action. Let’s resolve to DO SOMETHING. Since charity begins at home, let’s begin with what you, the reader, can do. As you read place tick marks against actions you can and will take. From today.

Personal Action

First, be proud to be a Muslim of India of today. Erase all sense of apology. Others, as we have seen, have issues, too. Today’s most “civilized” have behaved far less civilized at some time. But beware of the trappings of self-indulgence, self-glorification. Remain connected, rooted even while reforming. For this you need to genuinely love your community.

Even if you are not a religious, practicing Muslim you still are a cultural Muslim. If you trace your ancestry to Shah Jehans and Ghalibs of the yore, you need equally to play your part in improving their progeny. And – thanks to Hindutva – you need the Muslim community more.

Then remember that you are not just a religious person. You have several other identities – and obligations – as well. You hold a voter ID, a ration card, driving license, bank account, a passport. You may have a class roll number, a house number in a society, a position at office or business. You are a citizen of a municipality, state and country. You enjoy benefits of contemporary knowledge, science and technology and are protected by national and international institutions and treaties.

When you enjoy these privileges you carry matching obligations, as well, to nurture and strengthen them. Neither are these privileges given to you because of your Muslimness, nor are the obligations to be met – or skirted – because of this. Hence do your best in these areas in the same way other respected people are doing.

In doing so, however, do not disconnect with your community. Focus similarities, not differences. Evolve your own common minimum programme [CMP] for community service. Without many resources you can still assist the community in many ways. Here is a selection:

* Assisting in polio and other vaccination and inoculation programmes
* Planting trees, greening
* Pursuing municipality for street lighting, cleaning, litter disposal, dog catching
* Organize blood donation and other medical check-up camps, or just donate blood
* Write letters to the newspapers protesting aberrations or hailing heroism.
* Organize rudimentary reading room for poor neighbourhood
* Teach basic vernacular and mathematics to your maid, illiterate neighbours
* Engage your street children in games, drill, laughing club, yoga, telling stories or inspiring biographies


It is bewildering how for every little good deed we do, we seek rewards [sawab]. Can’t the joy of doing good be a reward in itself? Don’t you feel elated, deeply satisfied with the empowerment you bring about around you? Aren't then the socially conscious atheists a better lot that believe in no life hereafter and yet reach out to the deprived? Over time there is much joy to be had in social service.

When you serve, you are becoming a “public figure”. Some criticism, therefore, is inevitable. Learn to live with it and don’t let it defeat you. Realize that if you are criticized – or even condemned – you are making a difference. Don’t react with hostility. When you criticize others try and sift the idea from the person. “Kill the crime, not the criminal” is a pithy saying.

Become politically more conscious. Politics is not for the scoundrels alone. But politics is more than just seeking power. It is essentially about public service.

Bear zero tolerance for corruption, dadagiri [goondaism], anti-patriotism, fundamentalism of all kinds. And, above all, show and promote profound respect for the learned – and not just the religiously learned but for all persons of knowledge and skills. Remember, human being is distinguished from other species in this respect more than any other.

Action in Political Domain

In a survey of threat perception for Muslims around the world “insecurity” topped the list followed by “poverty”. In the Indian context this threat is best managed by ensuring harmonious relations with the Hindus. Which is why I maintain that communalism is a luxury Indian Muslims cannot – and usually do not – afford to indulge. In cities and towns where harmonious relations prevailed Muslims have invariably progressed along with the Hindus. As it is, managing Muslim ghettos is very, very costly, besides being extremely dangerous both for Muslims and for the country.

As a rule clearly separate the secular from the religious domains, whatever the clergy may say. More so in the pluralistic society such as ours. Oppose Muslim fundamentalism as fiercely as any other. It is the tolerance for our fundamentalism that also feeds Hindu intolerance. For instance, when you obstruct removing a dilapidated religious structure from a busy road or block the traffic for Friday prayers you prevent the progressive, secular Hindus from challenging temple encroachment and Ganesh pendals organized by Shivsainiks.

The costliest mistake – and injustice to ordinary Muslims – the Congress made was to accommodate smalltime Muslim fundamentalists. By projecting these acts as Muslim appeasement the BJP has effectively isolated the Congress and captured popular Hindu support. Look how dearly this cost Gujarat and will cost MP.

Collective Bargaining

Despite its many shortcomings India offers plenty of secular, democratic tools. For this, of course, there is a method – not necessarily detailed in Islam. You need to organize politically and lobby, you need to consolidate your vote and negotiate. It is the political market place for votes, no doubt. As long as you bargain for collective good it is perfectly legitimate. Every election – municipal, assembly and parliamentary – offers you fabulous opportunities to bargain and secure promises for the development of your areas, if you are vigilant enough to not let your power brokers negotiate for their personal aggrandizement.

Beware also of vote dividers whose sole job is to weaken your vote. Any Muslim contestant that appears certain to lose is a sure vote divider. Don’t waste a single vote on him. Avoid the double whammy: a vote for a wrong candidate is a vote snatched from the right candidate.

Prepare citizens’ charter of demands for your area. Syed Shahabuddin’s 13 questions could be a good framework for political bargaining.

Be proudly aware that you don’t live in India by the mercy of Hindus. You have inherent and inalienable rights and, correspondingly, obligations akin to citizenry. Use the citizen’s weaponry effectively for your empowerment. In doing so you actually empower the nation, for how can the nation be powerful with its citizens impoverished? Besides, today’s India owes no less to Muslim forefathers than to Hindu ancestors.

Beware, also of rabble rousers [“Wah kya zordar bola” type]. True empowerment requires more than yelling. Sound politics is rooted in prolonged selfless public service, not in seasonal frog calls.

Political Prudence

It pays better to invest your votes in secular, clean Hindus than in ordinary Muslim candidates. Remember you are not voting the MP to offer namaz in parliament but to resolve your political problems. So why involve religion here and suffer?

Within a broad community framework of priorities, for every constituency the strategy may vary slightly. Political prudence dictates that we identify commonalities and strike strategic alliances regardless of religious and caste considerations.

MPs and MLAs enjoy discretionary funding under local area development [LAD] plans. And Rajya Sabha MPs can even fund outside their states. Try to get your institutional infrastructure so funded.

How one wishes a national council – comprising retired diplomats, legislators and political scientists – were set up to regularly conduct research and issue constituency-wise advisories and how I wish the Muslim voters respected this advice.

SPRAT wishes to set up a full-fledged division to regularly conduct research and surveys, to build databases and to issue regular reports and representations on minority issues. Advice and help will be appreciated.

Watch this space for other remedial strategies.


? You seem to notice too many virtues in Jews…
£ Well, the state of Israel is our enemy, not Jews per se. And most Jews do not support its policies. There is no denying that Jews are pretty productive citizens of earth. Incidentally their racial IQ is rated higher than others’. Finally, shouldn’t we learn from the enemy?

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