Badruddin Tyabji, Rahimtulla M. Sayani, Nawab Syed Muhammad Bahadur, Syed Hasan Imam. Hakim Ajmal Khan, Maulana Mohammad Ali, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Dr. M. A. Ansari. All these great leaders of India’s freedom movement made their mark as Congress’ past presidents. Why has the face of Muslim leadership changed so in the years that followed?
From the first session of Congress in 1885 to India’s independence in1946, there were as many as eight Muslims who served as President of Indian National Congress. From 1946 till this day a Muslim has never been president of the Congress. Is it possible that a party that could find so many good Muslim leaders that it trusted with India’s independence movement, cannot find any Muslims trustworthy enough to lead a national political party?
Is it really the dearth of leadership among the Muslims of India that is making it difficult for Congress to find a Muslim capable enough for the leadership roles? Why is it that a community that gave eight Congress presidents to the political party fighting for India’s independence, cannot find anyone amongst them for the leadership for any national political party?
Then where are the Muslims leaders? Our friends in Dalit movement, environmentalists, peace activists, members and movements of all hues and persuasions are looking for Muslim representation in their movement, but they fail to find any leaders that seem to be of some stature on the national scene and have credibility within their community. All leaders of national stature are either attached to a political party that has tasked them for delivering Muslim votes on Election Day, or they are members of a religious organisation that doesn’t allow enough flexibility to reach out to other movements and organisations.
Going back to the example of Congress, it seems that there is another factor in play in the development or lack of Muslim leadership. Only those leaders who can deliver the Muslim vote bank to Congress’s doorsteps are promoted in Congress. There are hardly any attempts by Congress to develop the genuine leadership of Muslims. Doing so, they know, will make them accountable to the lack of service to the Muslim community. How will they explain the sliding backwardness of the community while it ruled India for most of that time?
So here we are, India’s population of 15 per cent having no leader that it can trust, who can present its case on the national level, who can fight for its demands, or who can look after the community’s needs when decisions and policies are discussed at the national and state levels. A leadership that is vibrant enough to look beyond its immediate vicinity and community, needs to develop alliances and relationships for people fighting for their own legitimate rights, so that a broad social justice movement can take shape.
The Dalit movement, like other social justice movements, has been looking for Muslim partners for a number of years. Sadly, they are disappointed with the lack of response. Apparently they have been looking in the wrong place. Muslim leadership does exist, but you will not find it at the national level, and not even at the state level. The overwhelming political machinery works overtime to ensure that no genuine leadership emerges from any section of downtrodden and backward social group.
To find Muslim leaders you have to go in search of them in the streets, you will find them in the mosques, discover them in colleges and universities where you will see them keeping a low profile so as not to be forced to defend their patriotism. Yes, they can defend their patriotism, but defending after a few hundred times takes its toll, saps their energy and when odds are overwhelmingly against them, they prefer to lie low and strive to succeed in one or the other competitive examinations, doing their best to boost the morale of the community, the only way that they think they can.
These are the leaders that our friends in the Dalit movement should be looking for. They should seek them out, encourage them, and they will find the best partners for their fight for justice, to lead a united front against the oppression, for the development and progress of all Indians, regardless of their gender, caste, or religion.