The Failure of Indian Muslim Leadership

By Tanvir Salim,

In any democracy, elections come and go, and so they do in India. But in that country, election results do not seem to amount to much for the economically deprived. It doesn't matter who ends up the ruler. Sooner or later he or she begins to behave similarly as the one who has been replaced. And many among the unfortunate remain as they were -- poor, undernourished, and uneducated.

It is a pity that time and again elections seem to bring renewed hope to the downtrodden. There would be hope perhaps if the elected leaders came, so to say, from some distant world. But in reality they turn out to be cards of the same deck, shuffled manifold to present a different face and an ever attendant utopian vision. The gullible among the masses never catch onto these tricks.

This has happened especially to Muslims, and far too often. The Muslim community takes great pride in participating in electoral politics and patronizing one political party after another, all along with the false impression that it controls its destiny and that its voice counts. Yes, its voice does count. But due to lack of sound leadership, Muslims end up repeating the same mistake time and again.

Good leadership is a rare commodity. It wasn't present among us at the hour of India's birth as a nation. As a result, Muslims in the subcontinent suffered through one of biggest human exoduses ever. We failed ourselves then, and today, after decades of turmoil, we are continuing to do a bad job of it.

A small consolation is the fact that today's Indian Muslim seems to have finally realized where he truly stands. Whenever he has to prove his patriotism he makes a good show of it. Last year, in Boston at the Hatch Shell, on the occasion of India's Independence Day, the members of the Aligarh Alumni Association of New England filled the air with a spirited rendition of Iqbal's "Saare Jahan se Achcha, Hindustan Hamara".

This is then, about us. Now let us take a look at our leadership.

It is not as if there is a shortage of Muslim leaders. They can be found in every nook and cranny of India. Some of them are involved in genuinely useful activity. They are working diligently for the betterment of the downtrodden. But there is not enough of this, and most of it comes too late.

In New Delhi, I was surprised to discover that the people, mostly Muslims, who are settled on the land around Batala House near Jamia University, have to beg for water from the colonies nearby. They do not have clean water to drink. This is in a region where the river Jamuna once flowed. If such is the condition of Muslims in the nation's capital, one can only try to imagine the dire situations in the more remote villages, many of which are inaccessible and therefore lack recourse to outside assistance.

We do have a few Muslims in high places, but to no apparent benefit to the community? Have we seen any good come out from a Muslim being appointed Vice President, or even President of India? I don't believe so. Such political developments provide no more than a false sense of euphoria and become choice pieces of conversation at social gatherings. The harsher realities though are never far away.

Some among the Muslims have played the game of politics very well and got themselves elected to positions of authority. But they have failed to do anything for the weak constituents they claim to represent. A telling fact is that today a few of the Muslim communities trail even the Dalits in certain aspects.

All this did not come about overnight. The Muslim leadership which evolved since partition has always been at the mercy of the ruling elite, i.e., the Congress Party. The Muslims were kept satisfied and happy with a few ministerial posts every now and then. But those portfolios never really amounted to much. When was the last time we were given the education, home, or finance ministries in the central government, or elsewhere? The answer is a distressing eye-opener.

Muslim political leadership in India remains a misnomer. Nor have the Indian Muslims done much to make a success of their platform.

Tanvir Salim


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