The protests that are spontaneous in nature and have no single organization or even group of organizations backing them, are expected to throw a new leadership within the Indian Muslim community not just in Delhi, but around the country. The discredited old leadership, without any iota of doubt, has badly disappointed the people, as it has sat on issues of importance, while cutting deals with people in power.
This is not a new trend and the aggrieved youth who are facing the police onslaught in Jamia, AMU, and other places, realized it suddenly when they were chased down the lanes of New Friends Colony in New Delhi and across the sprawling campus in AMU. The chilly northern winds that had brought the temperatures suddenly down, seemed to have forced the ageing leadership of the community in their cushy rooms, when the students, beaten and bruised regrouped around their campuses for another round of protests.
Indian Muslim leadership, that largely comes from madrasas and seminaries, and in a few cases from some engineering colleges as well, has sorely disappointed the followers of the community organizations not only now, but almost on every occasion. They sleep when it is usually the time to stand and prostrate before power that be whenever they are pressed. This is not a new phenomenon, and seems to have persisted over the last several decades following the demise of stellar leaders like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, Dr Zakir Husain and Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani.
Earlier the followers of such leaders didn’t speak a word about the ‘reverenced’ leadership with flowing beards and impressive seminary backgrounds. However, things have started changing recently and in this round of anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests, there is a groundswell of opposition to such leaders. A leading Muslim scholar who is the chancellor of the world’s renowned seminary, Darul Uloom Deoband, told his students, when they closed a major artery connecting Delhi to Meerut, that blocking roads was un-Islamic. This has shocked the protesting students beyond belief. This has not just shocked the youths protesting throughout the country, but shows how the Muslim leadership has acted over the years in the country.
They don’t represent the community
The first and the foremost thing that comes to mind right now is the lack of connect between the Muslim leadership and the aspirations of the new generation. The recent round of protests have amplified the chasm between the two. They speak very different language and their priorities are different. The leadership that has become meek and submissive is not really equipped to lead a generation that is assertive, educated, forward looking and aspirational. They don’t really connect and the language that the leadership speaks, particularly the religious leadership, that has come to dominate the discourse over the last few decades, seems increasingly alien to not just the post-millennials but even to millennials.
Even a few leaders coming from colleges and universities and who have assumed the leadership of religious organizations also use the same dogmatic discourse that has been the hallmark of their parent outfits over the decades. Their language might have seen a slight improvement, but their preferences and policies remain the same. This is obviously the case of old wine being served in new bottles. Thankfully the boys and girls are not really ready to fall for its obvious lure.
The Muslims, especially the educated young generation, believes that the leadership, both religious and the largely sidelined political leadership has remained mute spectator over issues of importance for the community. They believe the leadership has failed to address those issues or take proactive role in tackling those concerns.
There has been a common pastime in the form of conspiracy theory that seems to have paralyzed the community leadership. Over the decades they have accused other elements for the failure of the community, instead of taking on the challenges and fighting for their redressal.
This has been more expressed in north India, compared to the South where community organizations, to some extent, have tried to work on basic issues of education, employment and overall development of the community. In the North, they have repeatedly accused the Congress governments of the past for the community’s extreme backwardness. Instead of taking a cue from the leadership of the South, where the community used the relative periods of peace to build the community and take it forward, the leadership in the North did nothing and saw the community being marginalized.
Failed to build institutions
One of the biggest failures of the Indian Muslim leadership has been its utter failure to build institutions. It has not built a single, well meaning civil liberties organization that should have been among the top priorities of the community. They endlessly talked of police excesses over the last many, many decades, and the official discrimination that the Muslims faced, however, their tears seem more like that of crocodile as despite having significant resources at their disposal they never really made efforts to establish a powerful civil liberties organization that could have efficiently taken up issues of discrimination or police excesses in scientific manner.
On the contrary, many of these organizations actually fell for a narrative that abhorred legal education for the Muslim kids and looked upon their effort to join the judiciary. This looks completely gross, but the community fell for a fictitious narrative and is now paying for the follies of the leadership.
The community leadership, being at the helm of the biggest minority community in the country, should have established a civil liberties organization that aggressively defends equal rights under the law and constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties including challenging government surveillance, government’s efforts to limit their freedom under the garb of fighting terrorism and politically marginalize them. Such organization should have played the role of an advocate for the values and institutions that sustain a diverse democratic society to ensure that rights are enjoyed by not just the minority community but by all the sections of the society.
The failure was all round. Not just civil society, the clueless leadership didn’t really saw the writing on the wall and didn’t make even a feeble effort to fight off efforts of the Sangh that was slowly poisoning the minds of the nation’s youth at almost every level. Education was never a priority for it, as most of the leadership came from seminaries and they were busy protecting their fiefs from the high walls of those madrasas. The scene has somewhat changed over the last two decades, when some ulama, religious scholars, have started talking of acquiring modern education, instead of religious education.
Their follies have cost the community dearly. The youth, amidst the present crisis, seems least interested in revering the leadership any longer. This is the reason that the boys and girls who are protesting across the country against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAA) and National Registry of Citizenship (NRC), are least bothered about them. Instead of giving them podium to talk nonstop, and mostly nonsense, they are showing them black flags forcing them to flee from the protest sites in many instances.
The protests that have spread across the country are being led by faceless young boys and girls who don’t have the burden of the past on their shoulders and who are not ready to cut deals with every government in power, as was the case with the entrenched, old leadership. These confident young boys and girls, in most cases, don’t come from religious seminaries or from religious organizations and thus speak the same language that the young generation of any community speaks. They have shown supernatural efficiency in managing the protest sites.
At Jamia, the boys and girls who sit on the dharna and manage it for the entire day, see to it that the entire stretch of road where they are protesting is cleaned before they retire for the night. The new leadership of the community is certainly going to emerge out of these young kids. The religious leadership among Muslims is set to be thrown into the dustbin of history at least in India and a brave new leadership of the community will emerge with secular outlook and good understanding of issues.
(Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based author and commentator. His latest book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Silk Letter Movement (Reshmi Rumal Tehrik)' has just been released
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a New Delhi based author and commentator. His forthcoming book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Reshmi Rumal Tehrik will be out in October