Rise of Majoritarian Far Right: Are Muslim Ulemas Responsible?

A re-joinder to Asim Ali ThePrint.in dated 18 November 2019

By Md. Zeeshan Ahmad

Majoritarian far-right is on ascendance. In this era, it is very convenient to blame the victims because there is a section of opinion-writers who can’t muster enough courage to write against the regime which is quite (in) famous for vendetta. 

The proposition of Asim Ali that “The Muslim Ulema have not only proved themselves consistently useless in safeguarding the constitutional rights of the community, but they have also been complicit in the erosion of these rights”, I think, this observation needs some scrutiny.

Asim Ali’s blames against Ulemas are quite disproportionate. The Ulema do share a considerable share of blame but not as much as Asim Ali tries to put. Ali asks why India’s Muslims have not protested against the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya verdict”.

For this silence of India’s Muslims why cannot the modern educated ‘secular’ leadership take the lead? The ulema mobilized Muslims in 1985-86 against the Supreme Court verdict on Shah Bano and got it nullified through legislation only to give a boost to saffron majoritarianism, subsequently. Precisely because of that the Ulema have considerably lost their credibility.  The tiny educated middle class that has emerged among India’s Muslims are challenging the clergy on the issues such as Saira Bano verdict (August 2017).  It is this educated middle-class, represented by the organizations such as Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan who were at the forefront of this case.  They fought and won against the clergy to secure entry of women in the Haji Ali dargah. Also, these segments of Muslims spoke out loudly against the “Deen Bachao Desh Bachao Andolan” (April 15, 2018) of Wali Rehmani, the Secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. They exposed and chastised these ulemas associated with the Imarat-e-Shariah (Patna). 

Asim should not miss another vital fact that even in the Shah Bano case, a modern educated ‘secular’ leader such as Syed Shahabuddin (1935-2017) was more responsible than the clergy, and this was done in collusion with the ‘secular’ Congress. 

If Asim has perused through the 1045 page judgment of the Ayodhya verdict, he might have come across many glaring anomalies. There is an “error apparent on the face of the record” of the judgement, as almost all legal experts have said.  To understand this better, S A Aiyar (Times of India, November, 17, 2019 https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/Swaminomics/sc-should-not-only-be-impartial-but-seen-to-be-so/)  have this to say  “This question will inevitably arise after four successive Supreme Court judgments in the last week that all went BJP’s way, albeit with caveat”.  Yet, almost all the ‘secular’ parties have gone silent on the Ayodhya verdict, November 9, 2019. This has further exacerbated the situation, developing a fear psychosis, which is the reason for the silence of Muslims.

Here, the institutional credibility of the Supreme Court is at stake and not the failure of Ulema.

As far as Mahmud Madni supporting National Register of Citizen (NRC) is concerned, as Asim has said, Madni is just playing to the gallery either to protect himself or to curry personal favours from the regime. This intent of Mahmud Madni is no longer a secret for a fairly large proportion of India’s Muslims.

Coming back to the Supreme Court-monitored NRC, though it was completely an administrative work within the realms of legislature, as many commentators observed, but the zealousness of Supreme Court taking upon itself this task was an aberration from the settled jurisprudence of the Constitution. As in the Bal Mukund vs. State of Bihar (2000), separation of power has been held to be a basic structure.   

Asim Ali needs to understand that there is a sea of difference between majoritarian far-right politics and conservatism of the minorities coming out of a perceived or real threat to religio-cultural identities. Given a large number of recurrent communal violence, Muslims suffer loss of property and the cultural detachment, therefore, a deep psychological impact.   

True, Ulema are a great failure on gender and caste issues. But even on this count, the blame is to be shared equally by many suit-clad modern educated leaders.

In the pre-BJP era, just take a look into the profiles of political representatives happening to be Muslims. How many of them really belonged to the segment of clergy. Azam Khan (a law graduate from a premier university), Syed Shahabuddin (diplomat turned parliamentarian), Owaisi (London educated barrister), and a host of others don’t belong to the clergy, even though they do use the clout of the clergy or toe the line of clergy. 

One needs to really do a field-work, sample survey and apply other relevant methodologies to ascertain as to how many Muslims really follow the political dictates of the Ulema.  Hilal Ahmad argues that “Muslims seem to make a very clear distinction between religious concerns and political matters. They do recognise the importance of Ulema as intellectuals and expect them to operate in the realm of religious knowledge.”(ThePrint.in,April,15,2019, https://theprint.in/opinion/fatwa-waving-ulema-had-power-to-swing-muslim-votes-until-coalition-politics-kicked-in/221389/) .

A non-clergy leadership of every hue, not only Muslims, have they really resorted to street mobilization on pressing issues of education, employment, security, basic and municipal amenities and other citizenship rights? Unfortunately, the answer is a big NO.

Thus, it is the secular political groups as a whole have failed in launching counter-mobilization against the forces of majoritarian far right as well as against the minority conservatives.

Ground reality is: it is the failure of the secular-liberal forces and of the civil societies to check the growth of RSS. This utter failure of secular politics cannot be covered up by putting all the blames on the doors of the clergy.

True, Ulema, with great perseverance, do mobilize fund to run madrasas. Did they really ever stop anybody from opening up quality residential schools of modern education? Certainly not! This begs the question: Shouldn’t the secular leadership and political formations work towards ensuring delivery of the state-run schemes and programmes. For instance ensuring the implementation of education (fundamental right), given to the children between 6-14 years by virtue of Article 21A.

The state is increasingly abdicating its responsibilities of education and health-care and municipal amenities. The sinking economy and fugitive big capitalists are not being made the target of public anger.

Christophe Jaffrolet explains this development, how RSS has snowballed into an indispensable force since its inception in 1925. “The resulting ideology of Hindu nationalism has been supported by a network of organisations – the Sangh Parivar – whose strength has no equivalent. In addition to their deep-rooted implantation in certain segments of the society, Hindu nationalists have now captured the state apparatus and are attempting to use it to propagate their views.”(The Rise of Hindu Nationalism and the Marginalisation of Muslims in India Today).

In what way these are the faults of the Ulema?

How many of Ulema have really lorded over the Waqf assets to make their fortunes? They are the ‘secular’ leadership (political and bureaucratic) in connivance with the party in power. Barring few countable individuals, the Ulema are struggling hard to make their both ends meet. Even with the incumbent BJP establishment, it is the ilks of Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Shahnawaz Hussain, who are enjoying the fruits of power or state favours, and not the Ulema.

By way of summing up, let it be reiterated that the rise of majoritarian far-right has its economic and political roots and failure of the secular formations. Lashing out the clergy’ conservatism by putting all the blames upon them is absolutely unfair. 

(Author is BA LLB student in AMU Aligarh)

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