Few things about contemporary India have been as consequential as the excruciating churning among Indian Muslims. Consequential, as I suggested in an earlier column, as well for Muslims worldwide (see my “Fatwa Against Terrorism,” ZNet, June 8, 2008).
Remarkably, where vested segments among Hindu organizations have sought to move the majority community towards undemocratic closures, it is the beleaguered Muslim counterparts that have been showing the way to greater democratic consolidations.
Transcending a clutch of grievance and hurt, Indian Muslims are today truly in the leadership of Indian democracy—a day I have been wishing for and writing about for over two decades and now live to see.
And this long revolution that is underway is no sham or tactical occurrence. There is stern substance to the Muslim resolve not merely to appeal to the Constitutional regime as supplicants but indeed to function as its foremost guarantors in close clasp with secular and democratic Indians across communities.
There is to me something heroic in the way in which India’s Muslim citizens have over the last two years especially sought to redefine themselves in relation to the worldwide ummah and the nation at home. All that despite the most irksome provocation.
It is the rigour of that introspection which today translates un-selfconsciously into a rejection of ungodly mayhem carried out ostensibly in defence of the faith, even as Indian Muslims along with millions of other Indians remain cognizant, as they ought to, of the oppressive forces that alternately both create and denigrate religious and cultural reaction—forces that reside both outside India and among comprador social interests at home.
If the discovery earlier of terrorist perpetrators with Hindu names had paradoxically helped to relieve the unmitigated odium vented on Muslims, obliging right-wing fascists, rather abjectly, to mirror a helpless Muslim discourse in their defence, the vanguard role played by Indian Muslims in condemning the attack on Mumbai on behalf not just of common humanity but of India has led to a still more far-reaching historical consequence.
This watershed secular assertion has had the effect of taking the stuffing out of what electoral expectations the right-wing Hindu BJP came to harbour in the wake of the Mumbai attack.
Its emphatic losses in the states that went to the polls after the terrorist strike scream a grassroot rejection of its communal politics. And of the ugly callousness that informs it.
However wedded to the BJP, India’s corporate media have had the sense to welcome this occurrence, as it now banners the slogan that terror must never be politicized. Better late than never.
It will not be long before the residual interests of India’s capitalist class and collaborative elites in retaining denominational politics, notwithstanding their often disingenuous noises against communalism, will also have to yield to propagating secular democracy in more convincing ways.
Always wary of class consolidations from “below”, India’s political class will, nonetheless, sooner than later, find it as expedient to be in the forefront of the fight against communalist politics as they are now against terrorism.
And, as these histories ripen and fructify, the credit in overwhelming measure will go to Indian Muslims and to the leadership they are now furnishing.
Prophesies can come good only as products of dedicated human labour. As India’s Muslims now come together with the great mass of other secular Indians, that labour is truly underway and destined to succeed.
In the aftermath of the Mumbai attack, this writer, like many others, has received agonizing notes from compatriots in Pakistan.
And they ask the question: can any Pakistanis truly have been involved? Is this again a “nationalist” outcry from India? Do we not realize how wistfully fragile the democratic experiment in Pakistan is, and how ambushed from all ends?
I say to them that Indian Muslims truly show the way as much to Pakistan now as they do to India.
If their leadership in India helps to render toothless and dysfunctional entrenched evils at home, it carries an equally important message to Muslims in Pakistan.
Do not simply jerk into unanalysed, Pavlonian “Muslim nationalist” reactions to what has happened.
Go rather back to the insight that Jinnah had voiced in his address to the very first session of the Assembly of the new nation of Pakistan.
In short, however the partition of India may have been brought about by vested interests on all sides, revisit the “two-nation” theory, revise the Constitution, and be reborn as a secular nation-state. In that future alone resides the well-being of the subcontinent and of much more.
Same must be the counsel for Bangladesh, indeed more especially. Given that the territory could not stay put as part of an “Islamic Pakistan,” it is an irony that upon that severance Bangladesh should still want to espouse a theocratic statehood.
If Nepal could do it why not others?
Meanwhile, it is gratifying that the UPA regime in Delhi has thus far not succumbed to the brainless jingoism of the South Mumbai crowd and those in the establishment who view that jingoism with favour.
There is now a political elite in India that requires ATM-like solutions to historical conundrums. Push in that card and pull out the required political currency, as it were. Drop the bomb and warn them not to drop their’s etc., All very profoundly slick, no doubt, but eminently ignorable. As in money-making, the shortest of short cuts is recommended—and with educated bluster in the English language.
Nonetheless, it is that Dhoni from Jharkhand who may be trusted with bringing victory to India, because less slick and more astute. And more hard-working as well. As much in politics as in cricket.
Luckily, there does exist a constituency in the Indian establishment that truly realizes that every Indians’ best interest is served if India serves the best interests of most Pakistanis. No easy job that, but increasingly both desirable and possible, since answering constituencies also speak up from Pakistan as they did not before with quite the same conviction.
Such a praxis on either side, and conjointly, must seek to isolate from public sympathy, public space, and all kinds of state favour those that find democracy ill-suited to their purposes, but misuse it nonetheless. Or make opportunist disclaimers when it suits them, as Sonal Shah is doing this minute, fearing she may be shunted out of the Obama transition team were she not to do so in time.
And it must equally seek to distance democracy in the subcontinent from superpower interests that work their nefarious way by alternately feeding the cupidities of entrenched classes or threatening disastrous military reprisals.
They ought to be referred back to the problems they have at home, dime a dozen, and indeed encouraged to change course.
In that context, President-elect Obama’s resolve to be sworn in not just as “Barack Obama” but as “Barack Hussein Obama” is a most worthy and visionary step in the right direction.
It is not that in so doing Obama will have become a Muslim; it is that he will be saying that religious denominations are simply the donnee of individual identity, and need have no bearing on our citizenship or entitlements thereof. As Colin Powell was to say honourably enough during the campaign.
The worry is, as John Pilger has pointed out in a recent ZNet article, that Obama’s appointments to the cabinet seem thus far to suggest a pattern of “continuity” rather than “change.” Surprised?
All the more reason therefore for us on the subcontinent to learn to consolidate our own lives and institutions along principles that bring the most benefit in terms of non-sectarian social and cultural cohesion, collective secular endeavour, and enlightened economic democracy spread amongst the widest commonality.
The more we embrace that sort of historical project together, India and Pakistan can begin to draw away from wasteful militarism that feeds the pockets only of those that retain a value for conflict and destruction, and learn to stand up to threats as two nation-states but one people.
And that includes the Kashmiris as well, who have just been demonstrating their allegiance to the principle of democracy in unprecedented ways.