Book Review: At Home in India- The Muslim Saga

SHAFAQNA – Salman Khurshid provides rare insights into the Muslim community and discusses issues in detail, but fails to answer why Muslim leadership in India has been a failure, or offer any concrete recommendations on how to change things, says Iftikhar Gilani

Book: At Home in India- The Muslim Saga

Author: Salman Khurshid

Publisher: Hay House India

Pages: 392 pages

Price: 419

A couple of years ago, I had an appointment with a senior Muslim minister in the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and reached his office well on time. His aide rushed in and requested if I could postpone the meeting to the next day. But the green light was flashing over the door to the minister’s chamber, indicating that he was available to meet visitors, and I insisted on a reason.

After much cajoling, the aide said, “Today’s list of visitors has too many Muslims. You are also Muslim, and we don’t want to add more Muslims to the list. We are a secular government and country. I have to balance the minister’s visitors between Hindus and Muslims.” I was flabbergasted at the revelation that to keep his secular credentials, even a senior Muslim minister – given a ticket for being a Muslim – had to keep a safe distance from the community that had elected him.

In At Home in India: The Muslim Saga, Congress leader and former Union Minister Salman Khurshid provides rare insights into the community’s aspirations and problems. The book, which covers a wide span from the late 19th century to the present and highlights the pivotal roles played by distinguished Indian Muslims, is a comprehensive, definitive and forceful account. Khurshid, who argues that Muslims do feel at home in India, does not shy from hypersensitive issues such as terrorism, communal riots, Uniform Civil Code, present-day Muslim leadership (or lack of) and the place of women in Islam.

But while underscoring the significance of the ‘trust deficit’ on part of Muslims vis-a-vis the police and government, the author, himself a leading Muslim leader, does not explain why he sulked when he was appointed Minority Affairs minister. Khurshid, who eventually got the high profile portfolio of External Affairs, kept the ministry created to bring welfare to his community, defunct.

In the book, Khurshid says Muslims constitute a crucial vote bank for the Congress party. He even advises his party not to take their support for granted. But who actually deceives the community? Muslim political leaders forget that their party gives them tickets to hold on to the Muslim electorate. But after becoming MPs and ministers, they forget that mandate. This approach leads to a credibility deficit, with the community viewing them as ‘show boys’ rather than leaders who can guide them towards equal participation in India.

Though Indian Muslims lag behind in every sphere, they have used their electoral power to effectively punish their detractors. Muslims were instrumental in decimating the Congress in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh following the 1989 Bhagalpur communal riots and 1987 Meerut riots, respectively. This facilitated the emergence of Lalu Yadav, Nitish Kumar and Mulayam Singh Yadav. But definitely, they are at home in India. Post 1971, they have abandoned Pakistan as an option, but have been held in a perpetual unfair guilt complex for partitioning the country. The violence in Kashmir, for one, hardly evokes a sense of empathy among Muslims in the rest of the country.

Consider last year’s action of the Muslim vice-chancellor of Swami Vivekanand Subharti University (SVSU) near Meerut, who preemptorily expelled Kashmiri students. Their offence: cheering the Pakistani team after it won the cricket match against India. Undoubtedly, the Kashmir crisis includes an inherent communal angle as its roots lie in the Partition. Indian Muslims have largely kept themselves aloof, even though intelligence agencies claim that like small sections of Sikhs during the Khalistani movement, some Indian Muslims too were on the radar of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Since the early 1980s, the agency had tried to motivate sections of Muslim youths to cross the border for training. Till the Babri Masjid demolition and Mumbai riots, such tactics could only convince four persons. According to an intelligence source, two of them escaped when the group reached Delhi. But, disturbing reports emerged in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition. In 1993, around 80 Muslim youngsters were recruited in militant camps. Surprisingly, the source added, the trend stopped soon after the Mumbai blasts. “Probably, these young men wanted to express their anger more intensely at the mosque demolition and the Mumbai riots,” he claimed.

Khurshid suggests that public discourse on Muslim issues should not remain confined to Muslim leaders alone. He asks leaders from the majority community to speak on issues that concern the minority community. But the fallacy lies in the nature of our democratic system. Though we have adopted a majoritarian Westminster type model, an MP or an MLA will never attend to communities uniformly unless s/he is made to secure at least 50 per cent votes in his/her constituency.

The book, spread over 37 chapters, discusses issues in detail, but doesn’t give any concrete recommendations. It fails to provide guidance and discuss why the Muslim leadership has been a dismal failure.

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