The writing on the wall couldn’t be clearer, or more threatening. The sustained disempowerment and marginalization of Muslims in independent India gathered fresh momentum in 2014 and now appears to have gained the critical mass to snowball, post the 2019 BJP victory. The RSS ideology reigns supreme and what it means for the minorities in India is unambiguous since it has been articulated and documented so clearly by the founders of the Hindutva project.
That the religious minorities in India will bear the brunt of this vicious juggernaut has become obvious during the last five years of BJP rule. Their lives and property are not sacrosanct, nor are their places of worship. They could be killed just because of who they are and their killers go scot-free. Their mosques and churches can be vandalized without the restraining hand of the law. The institutions of the State, nearly all subservient to the ruling dispensation, cannot be relied upon to deliver fairness or justice. The writ of a malicious monk runs large in the most populous Indian state and a terror-accused admirer of the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi is elected to India’s parliament. Where then is the silver lining in these very dark clouds?
Social cohesion is a consequence of either internal forces that bind or externally applied pressure. Regrettably, the internal forces binding the Indian Muslims together have been woefully weak. External pressure could result in cohesion, provided the community has strength enough not to crumble under its impact.
Nothing concentrates the mind more than existential jeopardy, and undoubtedly the challenges facing the community threaten its existence. The community has to look within itself to find sources of strength and resources for regeneration. As a first step, it must learn to deal with the predators within who feed off the capital of the community for their personal gains. The inability to leverage the wealth of the Waqf properties to serve their intended purpose by freeing them from the jaws of sharks is too well known to bear repetition. The quest of Muslim politicians for crumbs from the table of privilege at the cost of who they represent, the sorry state of Muslim-managed institutions, lack of moral, intellectual, and often financial integrity, confused thinking, and disjointed action has all contributed to mire us in our present predicament. We have been resistant to change and complicit in the preservation of the status quo. The plaint is not about what others have done to us, the lament is about what we have done to ourselves.
The space for complacency has shrunk entirely and we find ourselves at the edge of a precipice. To claw back, we will need all our resilience and resolve. We will also need imagination. To find effective responses to the current challenges, we need leadership that has vision, courage, confidence, competence, and commitment. Leadership is not just political. Equally important is leadership in other spheres of life- moral, educational, social, entrepreneurial, to mention just a few. And leadership must not exist only at the apex. It must be present at multiple levels among a multitude of men and women. In what manner will the future unfold will depend upon how we attempt to shape it.
Will, we simply drift, as we have done since independence, or will we fashion reasoned, cogent and comprehensive responses to the challenges that face us? Does our foresight reveal to us the vistas of opportunity that lie beyond the bleak landscape that we are staring at? We can surely cut out in the rough terrain our path to progress if we have the vision, grit, and perseverance to do so.
The columnist is a senior business and management executive traveling between the US and the Middle East