Friday, September 26, 2008

Extremist Groups or New Social Forces in Muslim Community?

RECENTLY I had a long correspondence with a young friend, who is a human rights lawyer and writer, on the rise of new movements within the Muslim community and their significance in the present Indian social and political context. Many of these organizations like the National Development Front in Kerala, Karnataka Forum for Dignity in Karnataka, Manitha Neethi Pasarai in Tamil Nadu, etc, are dubbed extremist in the mainstream press.

The question debated was whether a communal identity alone would be sufficient, or is it the right kind of social organization, to meet the present challenges facing the minority community in Indian society.

I made a few long comments, which are reproduced below, slightly edited to avoid personal references:

1. My dear friend, I was thinking about your points last night, both at the level of the principles of a pluralistic society and also based on my experiences and observations.

Yes, I agree that a movement which seeks to think only in terms of global Muslim identity can harm the Muslim cause in India. It is a wrong conception, which comes out of a homogenization project now on in various parts of the world. In this sense, I agree that this is essentially an offshoot of imperialist strategy and could backfire on the communities who emulate this model unthinkingly. I know that wherever Muslims were showing a promise of engaging themselves with the contemporary reality in their own terms, there has emerged this move towards a fundamentalist streak. I think Taliban, Usama and even Hamas were products of this kind of a global phenomenon at one point, and hence if we blindly follow this model, it can lead us to unpleasant results. But what we need to remember is that though many of them began as such, often they had taken an entirely different route and evolved to equip themselves to meet new challenges. In fact, when you look at the end results, often what you see is something fundamentally different, as they come through a process of social engagement and self-criticism.

Now let us take NDF and such indigenous movements. They came out of a serious period of introspection, immediately after the Babri attack, and were encouraged by this self- sacrifice model that had become popular in other parts of the world. No harm in it because things were in such a bad shape then. People could think there was no way out and being a martyr was the only way out.

But experiences and history count, because these are what take the society forward. The aggressive model of attacks that people like Usama bin Ladin argued for, are now seen as counter productive. It has destroyed quite a lot of bright Muslim youths and it damaged the Muslim image incalculably. It was disastrous for a community like Muslims. Even a person like me, who was born into a backward caste Thiyya family in a Muslim dominated village, who went to a Mapplila school and received so much of help from my Muslim neighbours all these years, used to feel sad that such a great community could fall a prey to such bitterness and revenge seeking.

Now, there seems to be a realization that ultimately these social tensions need to be understood and tackled on the class basis. Hence the new efforts to engage with subaltern forces like dalits, backwards and even communists to locate an effective strategy to go forward. Look at the way a new social empowerment is taking place as NDF and such forces are now bolder to question the entrenched beliefs, social classes, patriarchal forces and indirectly helping a questioning culture to develop. I see this growing trend in my newspaper when I read all the letters we receive.

It happens without any clear plan on anyone's part. It takes place as part of a natural and irreversible process of empowerment now taking place in the community with more money at their disposal, more educated people, more exposure to outside world, more women in work places, mosques and public places, and other developments. Also I feel the Muslim community's younger leaders realize that they do have a chance to give leadership to the other subaltern sections in our society, something which they did in past, say from 1880s till 1920s in most parts of south Malabar, and the present developments that point to social engagement and not exclusivity do provide an indication of how a new social partnership is emerging on the basis of equality and mutual respect. This could, in the long run, prove to be the best remedy against social divisions and communalization.

2. Every social/political movement comes as a response or reaction to some challenge. Without a challenge, there cannot be a response. Throw a stone to a pond, ripples emerge; keep the stone with you, water remains calm.

So there is nothing special about the fact that most of the new social movements like NDF or Popular Front of India emerged as responses to new challenges in our political and social life. I think two major factors that defined the contemporary course of Indian history were the Mandal factor and the Babri incident. The first unleashed new social forces at the bottom of the pit; the second had an explosive impact on the social psyche of the Muslim community; and it had its own repercussions in the entire Indian society.

It is now more than 15 years since these turning points in our history. Now it is time to take into account how important are these new forces thrown up by these cataclysmic events and what future course they may take.

I have watched the Muslim League since 1989. It seems lost in its track and is unable to answer the questions from youngsters in the Muslim community. The INL and PDP of Madani too seem to be clueless about the answers and they look forward only to some share in power, at the expense of the League.

3. Well, the point I was driving at is this:

The Muslim politics is changing, and changing quite deeply. In early 80s when I became a reporter in Kozhikode, I used to cover Muslim League meetings in their office in the middle of Big Bazar. It was a traders’ party and they conducted its affairs that way, as a business. They did not find anything wrong with it.

Then came the challenges in the form of upcountry Ayodhya movement in late eighties. In Kozhikode, Gujaratis and some upper-caste people were the Ayodhya supporters. These trading class Muslim politicians did not find anything to worry about it; it was business as usual. If you go back and check Chandrika of those days, you will see how little they bothered about the gathering clouds in the north. That is why when Babri fell, it came as a shock to them while most of us in left parties were afraid this moment would come sooner than later. It did.

The only exception I can remember is that of Sait. Ebrahim Sulaiman Sait had contacts in north India, he had travelled widely and he was deeply worried about the way things were going. From 1990, I used to communicate and interact with him, as I found him a real soul deeply concerned with the fluid situation. He thought it was the left which will prove helpful, and he made contacts. You know how he built up a link with CPM general secretary Har Kishen Singh Surjeet who advised him how to go about developing a new political party on secular basis. That is how INL came about.

One of those days P M Aboobacker, who was a great friend, rang me up in Indian Express, and told me Surjeet had called Sait to talk about INL. He was so excited. It was off the record, but I could not resist the temptation of reporting it. I did. Manorama took it up and played up so that resistance built up within the CPM itself against allying with INL, a perceived communal party.

The CPM was then in the grip of VS Achuthanandan and EMS who had written about Madani and Mahatma was in ideological eclipse. It was the hard line of VS that kept the party in thrall.

So this experiment which should have been a unique one failed right from the beginning. It was a tragedy, as I see it. As a result, it failed to take Muslim masses into a secular platform. The only option left for them was a communal platform, which is now taking place. As for Madani, he was removed from the scene for nine years and even otherwise he is not a sincere leader with any commitment to principles.

So I feel we need a new movement that is more tuned to issues, ideas, ideological positioning. NDF and Popular Front, with all their shortcomings may, hopefully, fill the bill because these are not personality oriented, are tuned to national and global developments and have grassroots contacts. It is a movement that can listen and evolve, try to understand and seems to be willing to engage itself with emerging situations. I think their models are A K Party of Turkey, Hamas and Hezbollah all of whom have evolved and taken up more pragmatic positions in recent past.

Let us see what happens when these people face real challenges and judge them by our experiences and not be guided by pre-meditated positions.


R.Sajan said...

Things depend upon how long ideology endures before commercial interests overrun it.

freethinker said...