What Difference Would One Modi Make?

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WHO'S AFRAID OF MODI? Narendra Modi meets a group of Gujarati Muslims at a rally.
WHO’S AFRAID OF MODI? Narendra Modi meets a group of Gujarati Muslims at a rally.

Muslims have more to fear themselves than the imminent arrival of a Modi on the political firmament

OZMA SIDDIQUI

As speculation reaches fever pitch about who will rule India next and the media has a ball with the public’s fears and insecurities of changes in the secularist nature of the country, one has to grudgingly admit that when the BJP came to power some years ago, it not only restored our faith in democracy, but interestingly, it led India on the road to prosperity and holds the distinction of putting India on the world map as one of the fastest growing economies along with China and the Far East today.

Of course, BJP’s ideology has manifested itself in the proliferation of a number of religious symbols, chief among them, the ubiquitous idols which we now have to contend with everywhere be it a public park, a city square, a river bank or then a larger than life erection somewhere on a forsaken plain. New gods seem to emerge with every passing year, event or festival and sometimes in shapes which are unrecognizable.

The idols themselves often times lack the grace and beauty of earlier ones which were sculpted to perfection by artisans who strove to show the human form in its perfection such as one sees in the Elephanta Caves in Mumbai.

I am not a believer in idols for religious purposes but I do appreciate good art and what we see around us today is anything but that. Moreover, the television soaps serve to reinforce Hinduism in ways never seen before. Perhaps only the Hindi film industry can be credited for taking the idea of religion light heartedly so we see Hrithik Roshan gyrating to Om Shanti on a foot-tapping tune which would make the most sedate of us want to shake a leg or two.

Hindutva flourishes in present day India. It is all pervasive and is reflected in the attitudes of the common man on the street, in a bus or train. Gone are the days when one could expect cordial behavior from someone not belonging to one’s community. Ever since Muslim profiling happened and we became synonymous with terrorism, the ‘aam aadmi’ lives in fear and distrust of anything that looks remotely Muslim. Commuting is now characterized by a strictly observed silence and guarded looks with a hint of hostility which could erupt at the slightest notice.

Was this the case before the BJP came to power and will Modi make it worse? Perhaps this is the troubling question that people are asking themselves. But then is the Hindutva policy and the saffron brigade the only ones to blame for our backwardness? Perhaps not. A prurient media with strong negative bias against Muslims globally is part of the problem; world events with Muslim involvement is another (take the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers and the Ajmal Kasab case for example); strong rhetoric against non-Muslims is yet another and now the persistent display of Muslim symbolism and search for an identity in a country which is or was striving to be secular only makes matters worse.

The question is: how has all this served our purpose? Over the years, whether it was the Congress or the BJP in the seat of governance, Muslim prospects have steadily declined. While all around it, a shining India glances and dances on the world stage with prominent Bollywood celebrities showing evidence of prosperity, progress and advancement; the Ambanis flaunting their new-found wealth; news of some Indian or other across the world wining accolades for academic excellence (there is one Salman Khan, a computer wizard though) or then for physical attributes in the ubiquitous beauty pageants. The question is: Where do the Muslims at large figure in all this?

Increasingly, the Indian Muslims are being marginalized and if they are not careful, they will be erased off the map completely with their numbers showing up with the dying communities of India.

Except for the entertainment media and perhaps the jails, as one prominent journalist mentioned some years ago, Muslims are invisible. They should have featured in the major decision making institutions of the country: the judiciary for example not just as ordinary lawyers but as judges or magistrates and there should have been a sizeable number of them; they should have figured in the police force, the army and all such entities which protect public interests.

And then we decry Muslims for not having a voice. The point is that you need to be in the right place at the right time and among the right people to have your voice heard. A mosque is not enough; a religious gathering will certainly not serve the purpose and continuous talk of being discriminated and not making constructive efforts to resolve the problem is not the solution. One Farooque or Omar Abdullah will not make a difference; one Pataudi or Dilip Kumar will certainly make no difference at all. But we have to credit them for being out there if only to give a face to the Indian Muslim community.

Muslim inferiority is most pronounced in public debates. Recently in a polio-vaccine drive, Muslims failed to give substantial reasons supported with scientific proof and logic to defend their stance of refusing to have male children vaccinated. How does that reflect upon us as a community?

A report has indicated that Muslims continue to live on the edge of poverty despite the opportunities afforded them by both governmental and private bodies. What is the problem? Lack of education is often cited as the most common reason for Muslim backwardness while Muslims complain of discrimination and not being given a chance.

This may be true to some extent. However, experience shows that even the most hard-core Hindu recognizes merit and gives one a chance if one is willing to take it.

Perhaps we have to re-evaluate our perspective. We seem to be in the grip of a deeper malaise. Refusing to move with the times, fearing to explore opportunities, insecure of our identities as Muslims we end up secluding ourselves in small pockets isolated from the greater India. But do these pockets afford the security we are so desperately looking for? The astonishing number of ‘fiqs’ mushrooming among the Muslims themselves and  their petty arguments have made us a laughing stock not to mention alienating us even further from the people we live with.

I think we have more to fear from ourselves than the imminent arrival of a Modi on the political firmament. History shows that the Muslims have not progressed as they should have and this is regardless of which ideology or government came into power. Seriously, how will one Modi make a difference?

Somerset Maugham said: “I’ve learned by long experience that people generally keep their vices to themselves but insist on throwing their virtues in your face. And if you don’t happen to have any of your own, you get the worst of the encounter.” Now there’s some food for thought.

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