A brief evaluation of religious and political leadership crisis
By Manzar Imam
Results of the 16th General Elections in India had scripted a new history. A massive response to would-be Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s call to vote for development and against corruption had pushed the Indian National Congress a few decades back. The outcome of the 17th General Elections served even a bigger blow.
It will take long for the Congress Party to overcome this shock and humiliating defeat. Its shattered leadership will have to seriously introspect and analyse where and how it went wrong and, search for a new ground to stand on. Seven years down the line, not much has changed though, and the Congress is still licking its wounds.
PM Modi’s post-election speeches and, particularly, his virgin speech at the Central Hall of the Parliament showed that he was very clear about what type of a government he wanted to run. So far there appears to be no problem in his planning for an ‘India of the Future’ that he had spoken about and his right-wing planners and supporters had envisaged.
The fears then shown by some concerned citizens about Mr Modi adopting a divisive and exclusive policy have not been ruled out. Although Modi had assured that he wanted to work with all and for the development of all, ground realities tell a different story. The doubts and the concerns raised by some well-known individuals and so-called secular parties who have been in policy-making bodies and ruled at the Centre and States for several decades are turning out to be true.
The Modi-led NDA government through these years has shown what it wanted to do. If it works in the direction, as so far done by Modi in a hushed-up gesture, the so-called anti-NDA coalition, especially, the anti-BJP front will have to find some other staple and excuse to justify their claims and corner the BJP.
Apart from destabilizing the Congress, the other thing ubiquitous in both the previous general elections was the election of Muslim members to the Parliament. With just 23, the 16th Lok Sabha had the lowest number of Muslim MPs since General Elections of the first Lok Sabha in 1952. Prior to these, the 15th Lok Sabha had 33 Muslim MPs.
For the first time since Independence, Uttar Pradesh had failed to send a single Muslim MP to Lok Sabha during the 16th General Elections. Maharashtra, another large state with substantial Muslim population, had no Muslim MP. The results of the 17th Lok Sabha were not much better either. There was only a slight improvement. It sent 27 candidates, with Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal electing six legislators each from the community. According to a PTI report, the highest number of Muslim MPs was during 1980 when 49 legislators from the community were elected.
I don’t understand why the Muslim community has to be represented by a Muslim MP or MLA or why a non-Muslim constituency cannot send a Muslim representative to a State Assembly or to the Parliament? Democracies generally should not have that kind of a problem. However, there are some genuine discourses based on rational arguments. For example, there are certain issues related to specific religious or cultural minorities which cannot be understood in their right perspective by someone who has not partaken in those religious and cultural practices. That’s also precisely the logic behind appointment of some Members belonging to particular communities and interest groups to the Upper House in order to give some representation to those particular sections of the people.
In that context, a good number of Muslim MPs and MLAs need to be elected to the State Assemblies and the Parliament to raise those specific issues of Muslims. Keeping that in mind, Muslims need to send at least more than fifty MPs to the Parliament for an appropriate representation. But the moot question is, “How can that be made possible?”
It must be understood that leaders do not come from or created in vacuum. They emerge from the space provided to them by the society which they belong to. Fortunately or unfortunately, for Muslims, this space has been limited and, ulama and semi-literate clerics have usually occupied this, among other reasons also because of the community’s often blind faith and irrational belief in whatever they say.
In the past, ulama used to be deeply learned men with a great sense of social responsibility. They provided leadership and guidance in different spheres of life. Sadly, this is not the case with them today. Rather than providing guidance to Muslims and to humanity at large, they have been misguiding the people, wittingly or unwittingly. They have miserably failed on many accounts. Old and invalid ulama, who should retire or take up advisory roles, are holding key positions of authority and refusing space to the next generation of religious leaders. As a result, their appeals find no followers. The results of the 16th Lok Sabha elections had unmistakably proved that. No Muslim sect took its maulanas’ call seriously. So also was the case with Urdu press-release appeals of Muslim organisations. While Muslims on their own have been unable to devise any meaningful strategy and chalk out plans to elect eligible candidates, their leaders have terribly failed to show political maturity and leadership acumen. So, does there exist any leadership among Muslims has itself become critically questionable.
The fear instilled by ulama in the minds of Muslims of losing faith if they did not stick to their myopically defined ideas of sects, instead of a vibrant universal Islam, has made Muslims largely complacent and limited in their approach and scope to new ways of life and innovative means of livelihood. This has also paralyzed their thought and eclipsed their reason about creating leaders who would guide them through crises – religious, political or economic.
Divided among themselves for decades strictly on sectarian lines, these retrogressive ulama, suffering from intellectual senility, are the real culprits for pushing Muslims towards backwardness, lethargy and social immobility. They are hesitant to accept progress, opposing even what is logical, reasonable and workable, because they don’t wish to remove the old lenses and look into the future with new specs of opportunities.
In madrasas, where a sizable number from four to five percent of Muslim children go for education, are still teach a century-old syllabus. As a result, after spending 8-9 years of their crucial formative years of lives, their graduates are left with a confused-mind which prevents them from thinking for a world beyond deeniyat (theology). With their restricted knowledge of dunya (world) and an equally inadequate knowledge of deen (religion), their products are confined to madrasas, take private tuitions or work as muezzins and imams. Rampant corruption, nepotism, absence of transparency and lack of accountability are reported in social media from time to time. The institutions, meant for the general community welfare are populated, from top to bottom, with members of particular families, their extended relatives or those serving their interests.
Despite repeated calls by the concerned madrasa alumni themselves to adequately upgrade their syllabi, introduce relevant changes, the heads of theses seminaries stick to their old and oft-repeated rhetoric and regressive rattling that introducing change would amount to destroying their very objectives. As a result, a large number of students graduating from these madrasas are left to fend for themselves. A few who dare to study further in universities do not have many choices and the required basic knowledge to study but Islamiyat, Arabic, Urdu, Persian and other branches of Humanities and some indigenous medicines. There too, they face serious problems as they do not have any board certificate to be considered valid and equal to the country’s education system for appointments and placements. The few who succeed with their own rigorous efforts, cross the age limit to qualify for jobs whose demand is already met from a large pool of a younger and more competent and qualified candidates.
While this is the prevalent case on the one hand, on the other hand, there is a serious lack of willingness, training and political leadership among Muslims. However, efforts are on, no matter whatever less, to meet the demand.
If ulama and heads of madrasas and those in charge of the community institutions and NGOs fail to gauge the urgency, need and challenge of the time, the day is not far when they will have no respect in the society and will be further looked down upon and remain beneficiaries of some large-hearted Muslim donors. By dividing education into worldly and other-worldly and failing to grasp the essence and philosophy of education and the pressing demand of the changed times, the ulama of today are happy to live in the opposite category of those for whom Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) once said that the giver is better than the receiver.
So far, for the hearing-proof clerics running self-serving Boards, Foundations, Jamaats and Jamiats, it seems difficult to understand that sermonizing and feeding religion to a food-hungry stomach neither satisfies one’s hunger nor does it quench the thirst for knowledge acquiring which is obligatory on each Muslim without distinction of deen or dunya.
What was voiced as a mere threat by a select few has now developed into a serious crisis calling for immediate attention. Instead of wailing for the nostalgia of a glorious past, it is high time we created a firm base for a better future by prudent use of the present opportunities.
(The author is a Ph.D. research scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi)
The views expressed in this articles are exclusively of the author’s, Islamic Heritage and Research Foundation does not claim any responsibility and shall be free from any legal encumbrances.