Entrepreneur, Industrialist, Educationist

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A Few Questions for Indian Muslims

When we make a statement about young India and say that 65 per cent of Indian voters are below the age of 35, it becomes imperative to know the aspirations of these youths. And the aspirations of any Muslim youth are no different from those of the others belonging to any other faith. India has the largest aspirational middle-class in the world and the Muslims are very much a part of this. Muslims have always been in the minority in this country, even during almost 1000 years of Muslim rule in India.

Although Muslims are a minority community in India, the absolute number is so large that it cannot be neglected; at least when it comes to electoral mathematics. India is home to a whopping 180 million plus Muslims, which is second largest after Indonesia. Muslims in India have always carried the identity of being an Indian Muslim since time immemorial and they have played a huge role, shoulder to shoulder with their Indian brethren in fighting for the Independence of India. During the struggle for Independence, multitudes of Muslims chose and remained as Indians and refused to be a part of Pakistan. But unfortunately the role played by the Muslims in achieving Independence has been literally brushed under the carpet.

Rather than making the Muslims equal partners and giving them their legitimate share which were enshrined in the Constitution; justice and equality were denied by the governments of the day. Instead, Muslims were made a gear-stick to ride politically and crumbs were thrown to the Indian Muslims in the name of minority affairs ministry, or Hajj committees, sometimes in the name of minority commissions, at times as minority finance development boards or 15/20 point programmes. These crumbs thrown at the Muslims proved double-whammy because they did not effect any change in the lives of the Muslims, and at the same time they were accused of being appeased.

And so, today's aspiring Muslims, including Muslim youths will see and judge political parties on the merits; they will check who gives them equality, security, better and higher education chances, job opportunities, better future and equal opportunities to prosper. Sick of the divide and rule policies existing in the country, Indian Muslims do not want crumbs for the community. What Muslims need most immediately are equal opportunity and basic primary education in Muslim-dominated areas.

Recently a very irresponsible statement was issued by the minority affairs minister, K Rehmaan Khan, when he said, "200 million Indians will not vote for the BJP." Who has given him the authority to talk on behalf of the Indian Muslims? Rahman Khan should be aware that Muslims are not a homogeneous group. A minister, by having the advantage of the chair, cannot just proclaim whom the Muslims will vote for.

The problem of an Indian Muslim has been that some parties think them to be no more than their vote banks and treat them as their doormats. Has Rahman Khan forgotten what he had said at a recent seminar organised to review the progress made by Muslims since the 2006 Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee report was tabled. Three members of the panel - Justice Sachar, economist Abusaleh Shariff and academician T K Oomen - discussed with experts and politicians what had changed for Muslims in the last six years. Defending the government were Digvijay Singh, Salmaan Khurshid and K Rahman Khan. None of these ministers had any answers to give to the panel. On the contrary this is what Rahman Khan had to say to the panel and I quote him: "Six years after the Sachar panel report, there is a need to critically analyse policies." He further stated that schemes were being formulated "by bureaucrats without careful discussions."

The aspirations of any Muslim are no different from the aspirations of those belonging to the majority faith. Everything and every desire between them is the same except the religion. Muslims too aspire for good governance, tension-free atmosphere, riot-free atmosphere, they too want to achieve excellence in education and become professionals; doctors, engineers and have a good future. They aspire for a good house, a good environment and a good society around them. They too want opportunities for investments, savings and want to be equal participants in the growth of the economy. Muslims cannot be fooled by emotive issues such as a 15-point programme. Sachhar Committee was appointed by the present government to look into the state of affairs of the Muslims. That report is lying with the government for the last 6 years. Here is a diagnostic report lying for 6 years and no treatment is given to the patient. Can anything be more laughable than this? Can there be a more cruel joke on the Muslim community? Even after so many minority programmes, the state of the Muslims has worsened and stereotyping of the community has reached unprecedented levels.

I remember a couple of years back, I was invited to deliver a lecture on Islamic finance at Karachi where I was a guest of a leading financial institution of West Asia. My friend, Mahesh Bhatt, said to me, "Zafar bhai, I will come along with you. Don't go to Pakistan alone because if a Mahesh Bhatt visits Pakistan, then it is a confidence-building measure. But a Zafar Sareshwala coming back from Pakistan will be a suspect and the police will make your life miserable."

A recent report filed by Marya Shakil of CNN-IBN clearly narrates the pathetic conditions of the Muslims of UP, a state with the largest Muslim population in the country. There are over 145 constituencies in India where Muslim votes will decide the fate of Indian politics. It is now for the Muslims of this country to think about who to vote for in the next elections. The Muslims will now need to develop their political acumen around the real issues of education, equality, justice, growth and not be swayed by empty emotions. Muslims in India should take a cue, albeit from small countries like Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia where democracy and Islam go hand-in-hand and where the Muslims elect their leaders based on real issues. India is a secular democracy and there is no contradiction whatsoever between Islam and democracy.

Is it not the time for the Muslim civil society to directly talk to the political parties rather than their Muslim representatives who are no more than mere rubber stamps of that party, because their allegiance lies with their parties and not with the community?

Zafar Sareshwala @ 2021