There is little doubt that Muslims, especially the Sunnis, are fearful of what would happen next. Until 2014, give or take, the Nehruvian ethos prevailed. Most political parties chased the Muslim vote because the community patronized the polling booth more seriously than the others.
The decade of 2004 and 2014 especially favoured the community because Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went on repeating ‘Muslims First’ and 15 per cent of the country’s resources would be allocated to them first. In any case, they or their clergy held the veto over Indian policy. Notwithstanding what the Constitution has recommended, there was no attempt to move towards a common civil code.
The Rajiv Gandhi government overturned the Supreme Court judgment granting alimony to a poor widow named Shah Bano in 1986. As a wag once remarked, “We are the sons-in-law of India and not ordinary sons.” In 2014, Mr. Narendra Modi was elected with a clear majority in the Lok Sabha. He declared ‘justice for all and appeasement of none’ ~ a pledge that came as a surprise. The secular media and the entire Lutyens-type elite in every city was unitedly against Modi.
Nevertheless, screen personalities like Amir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan expressed a feeling of insecurity. The former even talked of emigrating. Life, however, was as usual except for the isolated cow incidents. There was hardly a riot in the course of five years. When the 2019 elections neared, even the TV channels, sympathetic to the BJP, predicted a hung Lok Sabha with 200 to 220 seats to this party.
Some journalists commented that with 200 seats , the BJP itself might throw up alternative candidates for the post of Prime Minister. Such predictions were a balm to the Muslims as well as the secularists. It was followed by manna to this segment as the campaign began. All the Opposition parties declared that their central objective was to defeat Modi. Hopes crashed as the election results were announced on 23 May. The shock must have been felt was by nearly all; to some it was also shattering.
Muslims were confused by the circumstances when Partition took place. On the one hand, the Muslim League leaders kept repeating through 1946 and 1947 that they insisted on emigration of Muslims from Hindustan and of Hindus and Sikhs from what would be Pakistan. In other words, they favoured an exchange of population. Dr BR Ambedkar had supported the idea as early as 1941 whereas Dr. Rajendra Prasad, later President of India, proposed another alternative in his book titled India Divided, published in 1946.
In his reckoning, those Muslims who did not emigrate should be allowed to stay in India as aliens with the help of visas. Justice Gopal Das Khosla (ICS) was commissioned soon after Partition to conduct a survey of Punjab and report on what was happening there. In a book containing his survey, called Stern Reckoning, he stated that an exchange of populations was integral to the Partition. MA Jinnah, in his 22 Mach 1940 speech recommending the passing of the Pakistan Resolution by the League, had lucidly explained how and why.
Hindus and Muslims could not coexist in one country. Khosla then asked: otherwise why Partition the country? All these were high level exchanges of ideas and proposals. The common folk were unaware of them. Once the western wing of Pakistan had been cleared of most Hindus and Sikhs and the process had also begun in the eastern wing, the Pak leaders became cold towards their own earlier proposals.
The Hindus in Hindustan did not resort to the scale of violence witnessed in Punjab. And not many Muslims chose to migrate and remained in Hindustan. Although he had become Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru had no base in his Congress party. In 1946, the vote of 16 Pradesh Congress Committees was taken to ascertain whom they would prefer as the next party president? Fifteen supported Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and one preferred Acharya J.B. Kripalani.
None mentioned Nehru. Yet, because of Gandhi’s partiality, Nehru was forced on the party through an irregular appointment by the 21-member Working Committee. Thus Nehru needed a mass base. After Partition became a reality, many a Muslim would have felt apprehensive, if not actually traumatized. Jawaharlal had once boasted that he was a Muslim by culture, English by upbringing and Hindu by accident. The post-Partition Muslims proved a sitting duck for Nehru to become their leader.
In return, he obliged them with Articles 25 to 30 in the Constitution, especially 29 and 30, which gave the minorities rights superior to the majority. The Christians had no difficulty in setting up schools, nor did they need subsidies from the government. In this context therefore, the word ‘minority’ was treated as a polite euphemism for Muslims. This is how the foundations were laid for the Muslim clergy to acquire a veto on Indian policy, as for example, demonstrated by the Muslim Women’s Bill of 1986.
The clergy in turn, returned the favour by inducing its followers to vote solidly, up to 90 per cent. This vote was invaluable, especially in the years when the Hindus were indifferent and only about 35 to 40 per cent of them visited the polling booths. Finally, Dr Manmohan Singh and his “Muslim First” policy awakened the Hindus, an awakening that helped bring Narendra Modi to power in 2014. The Muslim community also has its own compulsions. For example, no emphasis was placed on education, especially for women.
Debate was not encouraged, although at the level of the clergy, ijtehad (reinterpretation) was permitted in the initial centuries of Islam. But for a thousand years now, it has been discouraged and emphasis has been laid on taqlid (orthodoxy). For many centuries, the women have been looked upon as a source of service, pleasure and procreation. All these factors are today out of step with modernity, but in a man’s world, they were the secret of Islam’s growth.
The late Syed Shahbuddin (IFS, retd) and also a Member of Parliament used to repeatedly say that for Muslims, identity was more important than development. Business and industry have not been encouraged by the Islamic ethos. For example, charging interest was considered haram. Yet, those sections of Muslims who were converted in the last few centuries like the Bohras, Memons and Khojas are successful in business.
Overall, the Muslims in Gujarat are prosperous. Due to the challenge of identity, the Muslim community has made no noticeable attempt to identify itself with the Indian ethos. Many an Islamic country has reformed its personal laws. Even in Pakistan, polygamy is not permitted; a man cannot take a second wife without satisfying the district magistrate that doing so is essential for him. The Sharia is a product of the holy Quran, but then why only the personal law? Why not also its criminal law? Why is the Indian Penal Code welcome when it comes to punishing crime?
The obstinacy of the community’s leadership drove Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi to say that a uniform civil code was the only salvation for the Muslim woman. The religion does not consider it right for a Muslim to be a citizen of a country dominated by kafirs or non-believers. British rule was permissible because they were Ahl-e-kitab (People of the Book). Hindus are nonbelievers and therefore in a democratic polity it becomes a Darul-Harb (land of conflict).
The British period was described by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan as Darul-Amn (land of peace). No doubt, Darul-Islam, as India was recognized until the Mughuls ruled. In this context, the conscious Muslim may be feeling entrapped by having to live in India, even more so when the BJP is in power. The fact that not a single person in Gujarat has been killed since 2002 makes little difference. Why and how did Partition happen has never been explained to the common folk.
Dr. Rafiq Zakaria, the eminent Muslim scholar-cum-politician of Maharashtra, has squarely blamed Mohammed Ali Jinnah for the division of the country. In the name of ‘Islam in danger’ the Qaid-e-Azam sold the dream of a new Medina. There is delusion around Ayodhya. Most Hindus believe that Ramachandra was born where Mir Baqi built a masjid without a minaret, or a maqbara for himself. Poet Allama Iqbal had called Sri Rama Imam-e-Hind.
Surely some leaders could have risen to pay a tribute to the Hindu sentiment and letting go of the area rather than fighting over it for years on end in the Supreme Court. The Shias have shown this grace. It would have been a tribute also to Hindus for not having raised the issue of 3,000-odd temples that have been converted into mosques. This underlines the challenge of inclusiveness before the country.
(The writer is an author, thinker and a former Member of Parliament)