The rise of the BJP in the Northeast, the shrinking of the Congress and the emergence of powerful satraps in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, are vital features of this election. Strangely, print and electronic media have ignored its crucial impact on the 180 million Indian Muslims, and therefore on secularism in India. This may be the decisive feature of the 2016 assembly polls.
Muslims across India view Narendra Modi through the lens of the 2002 tragedy in Gujarat. This image has been magnified by the unfortunate role of Hindutva fanatics in the last two years. Ghar wapsi, love jihad, Go to Pakistan, beef eating, Bharat Mata ki Jai, and now the likely release of the Malegaon suspects, have left most Muslims in a state of panic. Note that barely 25 per cent of Muslims belong to the upper and middle classes. The remaining, about 135 million, belong to the Dalit and backward classes. Even in the language of eminent Muslims like Ashraf Ali Thanwi, they were described as Arzal (Dalits or most backward castes).
In this description, the other two classes were Ashraf (noble/upper castes) and Ajlaf (contemptible/backward castes). The classification itself speaks volumes on the inability of Islam to break the caste rigidity of Muslim converts. It is these poor and illiterate Muslims who fear the rise of the BJP. For they have nowhere to go. This is more so in Assam, where Hindutva vigilantes will spread havoc in the name of deporting Muslims, accusing them of being Bangladeshis. Can the new BJP government stop this witch-hunting?
The BJP has evolved from the thoughts of its leading lights, K.B. Hedgewar, M.S. Golwalkar and V.D. Savarkar. Deeply influenced by Mussolini and later Hitler, events of the pre-Partition period had a profound impact on them. They found sustenance in the hatred of Muslims. Today the BJP has become the central force in Indian politics. Can it afford the luxury of hating such a large population?
Many Muslims have joined the BJP in the last two years. The community has resented that shift. Yet there is a ray of hope: That their presence may dilute the hatred towards the community as a whole. But that requires that BJP Muslims must be encouraged to identify with the community. They must be the bridge that is badly needed today. Excessive identification with “Bharat Mata ki Jai” or “gau raksha” may be counterproductive.
Finally, Muslims must learn to stand on their own feet. In a highly competitive environment, no one is going to give them much leeway. Muslim focus must move towards quality education, business and honouring the rights of women as pronounced in the Quran. Zakat and lillah must be used wisely to lift poor Muslims from their current pitiable state. Muslims must refrain from going frequently for Haj and Umrah. The amount so saved can be used to educate bright boys and girls from poor families. By my estimate, every Umrah trip, if avoided, can educate at least one medical or five engineering students. Allah would be more pleased with such a shift.
The plight of the Indian Muslim must be viewed in a global context. With the exception of Indonesia and Malaysia, almost the entire Muslim world is in severe turmoil. Pakistan is close to a state of collapse; Bangladesh and Afghanistan are no better off. The Arab world, though blessed with huge natural resources, has spent them all on a murderous Shia-Sunni conflict that has seen the entire region destabilised. African Muslim countries are equally dangerous: So many young girls kidnapped by Islamist militants are held as sex slaves violating every canon of Muslim law. The authorities have no idea where they are held. Egypt, which could have guided the Muslim world, is itself a nervous wreck.
In this darkness, Indian Muslims are a source of hope and solace. Their links with Islam go back to the Prophet himself, due to trading between the Gulf and the western coast. Some of the greatest Islamic saints had Indian links, such as Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti and Nizamuddin Auliya. In music, poetry, spirituality and architecture, the flowering has been the best in the world. Muslim rulers like Akbar rank with Ashoka and Julius Caesar among the greatest rulers of all time. In short, Indian Muslims have the culture, the religion and the history to guide the Islamic world out of its free fall. It needs just one thing. The Sangh Parivar must move away from Muslim hate. Then and then alone, the Indian renaissance would save the Islamic world. The credit would go to all Indians, including the RSS.
Indian civilisation is a rainbow of languages, castes, creeds and living standards that range from the ultra rich to the very poor, but there is something mystical that holds the 1.3 billion people together. Ashoka and Akbar, Nanak and Kabir, down to Tagore, Gandhi and Nehru tapped this emotional bond for the larger good. Sadly, Muhammad Ali Jinnah failed on this count, leading to a frightening vivisection of the country and a failed Pakistan. Today our Kashmiri brothers and sisters are emotionally alienated from the country, tens of thousands have perished in the hatred in Kashmir. An equal number have become refugees in their own land. Every Kashmiri, whether Muslim or Hindu, suffering seven decades after freedom, is a blot on all of us.
The only way out is to refresh the mystical links that bind. It is not an impossible task. But it requires that both Muslims and the RSS move away from any negative feelings for the other. As a Gujarati Muslim who paid a heavy price in 2002, I forgive those who caused so much harm to me and my community. My only daughter was married to a Gujarati Hindu, with my consent, in the immediate aftermath of 2002. By God’s grace, they are very happy. Today it is impossible for me to hate a Gujarati Hindu. Can the RSS do the same? It would change the face of our beloved India.
(This article first appeared in the print edition under the headline ‘I forgive, I hope’)