A loss of a liberal leadership

The day-long fast by Baba Ramdev earlier this month made news, as some would put it, for all the wrong reasons. The spat between the yoga guru and team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal ensured that the event hogged some limelight on the television screens and made headlines in the newspapers next morning. In times when the editors get titillated by trivialities, mirages like Ramdev and Anna Hazare are foisted as messiahs of the masses.

Today’s notebook, however, doesn’t seek to undermine the cause being raised by Anna and Ramdev. Corruption in our daily lives certainly affects each one of us. Anybody who raises his or her voice against corruption does inspire some support which may be vocal or silent. The support swells or peters off depending on the ability of the leadership to inspire confidence in the masses that it was capable of practicing what it was preaching. Hazare and Ramdev movements are on the ebb. They have lost the fervour and the fizz of 2011. Both the movements have been found wanting on several counts.

One of the early criticisms of both the movements was that it drew heavily from Hindu mythology and also motifs used by the Hinduvta forces. The reaction of the movement organisers to this criticism was immediate and cosmetic – it declared from the stage to the whole world that the two children who offered juice to Hazare to break his fast were Dalits and it got a few bearded Maulanas wearing the Arabic scarf with the Iranian headgear or the Turkish skull cap to sit on the stage as part of the anti-corruption pantheon.

Such gimmicks have never been of any consequence. No important Muslim face has emerged from this movement so far. The only name which comes to mind is that of a former television anchor Shazia Ilmi. She was last heard fighting with her brother for a berth on prime minister’s entourage.

The big question looming before us is not just the rise of the communal leadership among the Hindus but also the complete absence of secular Muslim leaders. In the past three decades, the nation has not had a Muslim chief minister in the states. The only exception is Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir, which has never had a Hindu chief minister.

The scene was not so dismal till about three decades back ago. We had A R Antulay in Maharashtra, Abdul Gaffoor in Bihar, MOH Farooq in Puducherry and Anwara Taimur in Assam. All the three were very powerful and effective leaders in their time. So was C H Mohammed Koya in Kerala. Other than these chief ministers, the Congress till some years back, boasted of several charismatic leaders from the Muslim community, who were not part of the leadership necessarily for the reason of belonging to the minority community.

There was Mohsina Kidwai, who almost became chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Khurshid Mohammed Khan, union minister Salman Khurshid’s father, Humayun Kabir and Syed Mahmud to name a few who held prominent positions in the Indian cabinets of the yore. Not to forget contribution of the Muslim leaders in the freedom struggle, whose roll of honour is replete with names of luminaries like Badaruddin Tyabji, Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari,  Maulana Azad, Saifuddin Kitchlew, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Abbas Tyabji, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, Maulana Mehmud Hasan and of course the Frontier Gandhi – Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan.

They all were leaders in secular and liberal mould. As men with vision and leadership qualities, they were easily acceptable to the masses, which consisted of the Hindu majority. We don’t find leaders coming from the Muslim community with the same appeal, stature and acceptance any more.

This has been the fall out of the increased ghetto mentality gripping Muslim politics. The best illustration of this trend is visible in the metamorphosis of union minister Salman Khurshid from an urbane and genteel aspiring statesman to a parochial politician. This trend within the Congress party started in the 1980s when an insecure Rajiv Gandhi gave in to the pressure of orthodox elements and used brute majority in parliament to overturn the supreme court ruling in the Shah Bano case.

This decision of the government, which resulted in liberal Muslim leaders like Arif Mohammed Khan being turfed out, changed the outlook of the Congress party towards the minorities. The Congress, since the early years had prided itself as a progressive and liberal force with the responsibility to give a push to social reforms. Not that in the years after Independence it did not pander to the orthodox elements, but it was very subtle. However, after the Shah Bano episode, the Congress attitude towards Muslims came to replicate, if not in words, definitely in spirit, that of the Muslim league. This increased the social divide in the political class with the Muslim leaders not looking beyond their community for sustenance. This got further accentuated with the emphasis on the Muslim vote bank. Any initiative at liberal reforms in the community from within or outside has come to be resisted. The dislodging of Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi as vice-chancellor of Dar-ul-Uloom is a case in point. Muslims have suffered from politics of patronage, which has led to the community recede from being front-ranking leaders to the position of political alms seekers. If the leadership within the community rises to introduce liberal reforms, their acceptance within the wider masses would be a natural corollary.

Sidharth Mishra is President, Centre for Reforms, Development and Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post
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