Schizophrenic Traits by Girilal Jain

It is only natural for liberal Indians to empathise with Muslim academicians, jour­nalists, lawyers, social activists and others who as­sembled in New Delhi on January 24. They had been shaken by the demolition of the Babri struc­ture in Ayodhya on December 6 and subsequent riots, especially in Bombay, and were looking for a way out of the dilemma they faced.

As such, they deserve understanding and support. But it may be less than realistic to believe either that they would persist with this effort, or that the effort would produce much by way of results if they did.

One general reason is obvious. Outside possibly of France, the influence of intellectuals on public opinion and, therefore, on the course of events is at best minimal and transient. And the phenomenal growth of the mass media in recent years has, if anything, changed the picture for the worse.

The quality of public discourse has declined with the attention span and manipulation has taken the place of reasoned debate. By way of illustration, the Khomeini revolution in Iran in 1979 was partly a tribute to the power of the cassette. It defeated the Shah’s propaganda machine and aroused passions to a feverish pitch.

The general picture apart, how­ever, the space for liberals in the Muslim world is severely limited. For centuries they have, as a rule, not dared question the central dogmas that the Koran is the immutable word of God, that Mohammad is the seal of prophecy, and the Hadith is as binding on the faithful as the Koran.

All that they have sought to do in recent decades is to try to give the Koran and the Hadith interpretations which allow for peaceful co-existence with unbe­lievers. Even this space has visibly shrunk in recent years in the face of the tide of funda­mentalism. The New Delhi meeting was not concerned with these basic problems. But, they are central to the future shape of Indian Islam.

In India, the Ulema have wield­ed enormous influence among the faithful since the arrival of Islam. Even Emperor Akbar found it hard to cope with them at the height of his power. In modern times, only Mr Jinnah can be said to have relegated them to the background, though in his case also it is patently wrong to suggest that most maulvis were pitted against him. He could not have succeeded if they were.

In any case, he could prevail to the extent he did because he pitted the alluring promise of power against vague pan-Islamism of maulanas such as Abul Kalam Azad, aroused anti-Hindu emotions to an unprece­dented pitch and revived the spirit of jihad so much so that finally he provoked the great killings in Calcutta. Mr Jinnah can well be called the ghazi (holy warrior) of the pen. The implications of this kind of ghazi and his kind of jihad have not been studied.  Clearly, they deserve to be.

Once partition had taken place, and the shock of the bloodbath preceding it and accompanying it was over, the status quo ante was bound to be restored, and it was restored. The maulvi resumed his supremacy among the flock.

Maulana Azad’s status in the Congress leadership only facili­tated his task. Thus, it was not mere weakness on Jawaharlal Nehru’s part to ‘postpone’ indefinitely the ques­tion of a common civil code; he was right in regarding discretion the better part of valour.

Similarly, it has not been out of perversity that the Congress and other ‘secular’ parties have leaned on orthodox mullahs in their search for Muslim support; they have been realistic. The plain truth is that there has not existed, and does not exist, an­other focus of authority among Indian Muslims.

Some Muslim intellectuals com­plained at the time of the Shah Bano case in 1986 that Mr Rajiv Gandhi listened to ‘obscurantist’ mullahs and not to them. They have repeated the complaint in respect of the present Congress leadership. Implicit in it is a self-perception which is not based on reality.

They could not have delivered in 1986 when Syed Shahabuddin and others were getting ready to bring the Muslims on to the street.

This time they woke up only after the demolition of the struc­ture in Ayodhya and its aftermath, though it should have been obvious to the meanest intelligence that to seek to preserve it would only aggravate tension.

Most Muslim intellectuals do not even recognise the need to remove layers of obscurantism that have accumulated over the centuries in the Muslim mind and psyche. The few who do know that the task is herculean, and move away. There have been some exceptions such as the late Mr M C Chagla, the late Mr M R A Baig, and the late Mr Hamid Dalwai, but they can hardly be said to have made much of an impact on fellow Muslims.

An exit has also been made available to Muslim Intellectuals. Hindu intellectuals have produc­ed a public discourse which deliberately and studiously avoids basic questions and historical facts.

The issue of civilisational con­flicts has been a taboo in this discourse and history has been distorted beyond measure. The Aligarh school could have ac­quired acceptance only in the context of such a discourse. Its architect, the late Professor Mohammad Habib, would, for instance, have us believe that Muslim conquerors and rulers were not interested in proselytisation.

Muslim intellectuals cannot ad­dress Muslim audiences except to make demands on the Indian State. They can participate in the discourse fashioned by Hindu intellectuals on the basis of abstract principles such as social­ism and social justice divorced from both reality and history. It is not an ideal situation either for them or for the larger Indian society.

But, it cannot be helped. This is said in a spirit of understanding and goodwill and not of criticism.

The problem of Muslim intellectuals is, however, a relatively small one. The real problem relates to the Muslim community and, in the absence of a parallel, it is not possible to propose a solution.

The old Turkish model of minorities as millets, for instance, cannot apply because in that system everyone was a subject and not a citizen. Europe has not produced amodel, however tall European claims and how­ever great their propensity to read lectures to others.

In the United States, the Anglo-Saxon Protestant mould has only cracked; it has not disappeared. The use of the English language by everyone, for example, is still in place. But above all, the United States can cope with the problem of clash of loyalties of ethnic groups because its security is assured and it possesses a six trillion dollar economy. Even if that economy is not vibrant, it remains the world’s largest.

Indian Muslims or Muslim India according to Syed Shahabuddin, see themselves as a millet entitled to protect and promote their cultural identity based on the Koran, the Hadith and the Arab-Persian influence as reflected not only in the Urdu language but in Muslim manners and customs.

The Constitution guarantees them this right. This is alright by itself. But, they are also citizens and as such influence the political environment.

It is only natural that they would wish to do so in a manner that blocks the emergence of the Hindu ethos which otherwise has been in the works for two centuries, more particularly since Independence, accompanied as it was by Partition on a cultural-religious basis. The Constitution ignores this reality, indeed, in the nature of things, it cannot do otherwise.

As a result, we have what may be called a schizophrenic constitution. No wonder, Syed Shahabuddin and other Muslim leaders can swear by it. It enables them to eat their cake and have it too.

This schizophrenic constitution could work so long as the Con­gress ascendancy was assured, which is a polite way of saying that it could work so long as Hindu assertion had not moved to a point where it could provide the RSS-BJP-VHP combine the kind of clout it now enjoys. That is the crux of the matter. The dominant intelligentsia’s re­fusal to face up to the problem of the incompatibility between the Muslim millet and citizenry can only be fraught with trouble.

The Observer of Business and Politics, 2 February 1993

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