Vice President Hamid Ansari's stellar address at the golden jubilee of All India Majlis-E-Mushawarat, a deliberative body of Muslim organisations and institutions, has led to much debate.
Did Ansari pitch for a Muslim quota? Did he commit a constitutional digression by addressing the concerns of a particular community as he is the Vice President of the country? Why pitch for special state assistance only for Muslims? These have been some of the questions raised by his critics.
On the other hand, most Muslim commentators and some liberal thinkers have been lapping up parts of Ansari's speech as a reaffirmation of what they have been saying and demanding all along. Ansari has laid bare the condition of Muslim Indians as it is; he has rightly pointed out that on most socio-economic indicators, most Muslims are at par, or worse than the SCs and STs, they say.
Both Ansari's critics and defenders are actually missing the big picture. They are both reading only part of the speech and spewing knee-jerk reactions, the kind that give them primetime TV space.
The RSS and BJP wallahs we can ignore for the moment. If anyone who has insulted the constitutional position that Ansari holds, it's these guys who raked up the flag controversy on Republic Day or his "absence" on Yoga Day. For these bird-brained nationalists, Ansari will always be a Muslim first and a constitutional functionary later. They will keep trying to pin him down. The shouting mob will keep inventing reasons to lynch him at the altar of jingoism and will go back into their ratholes till they sense the next opportunity. That's the sad and hyper-nationalist reality of India today.
But the bigger problem is the selective reading of Ansari's speech by Muslim groups and leadership. They have jumped into the TV debates beating their chests and raising the reservation slogans.
The major thrust of Ansari's address was on community reforms. It was a speech anchored in today's reality and not in some theocratic idealism. He laid bare what afflicts Muslim Indians today and gave a call for a renaissance that can come only from within.
"It is evident that significant sections of the community remain trapped in a vicious circle and in a culturally defensive posture that hinders self-advancement. Tradition is made sacrosanct but the rationale of tradition is all but forgotten. Jadeediyat
or modernity has become a tainted expression. Such a mindset constrains critical thinking necessary both for the affirmation of faith and for the wellbeing of the community. The instrumentality of adaptation to change - Ijtihad
- is frowned upon or glossed over."
To me this is the message in Ansari's speech, if we were to take one. But the ulemas (religious leaders) and Muslim political leaders will tend to gloss over this bit and take the lazy route of pinning the entire blame for the pathetic conditions of Muslims on the state.
Yes, the state is to blame for much. But the community has also not done its bit. This is also a cruel reality, which Ansari tried to bring home.
The community needs to look within before looking for outside reasons. There needs to be a constructive and positive self-appraisal. Muslims were always as divided on caste lines as any section of the Indian population. But ulema and the leadership sold the theocratic utopia of equality.
"The imagery of Mahmood and Ayaz standing shoulder to shoulder in the same line is confined to the mosque; so are the injunctions on punctuality, cleanliness and discipline. Each of these is violated beyond the confines of the congregational prayer. "What is Ansari is telling the community? Islam may be an egalitarian religion in the book, but it's not in practice. So no harm in acknowledging it.
Pardon me a short digression, but it's funny that BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra on a discussion on NDTV evoked the same imagery of Mahmood aur Ayaz and quoted this couplet by Allama Iqbal: "Ek hi saf mein khade ho gaye Mahmood-o-Ayaz Na koi banda raha aur na koi banda-nawaz
(Sultan and slave in single file stood side by side. Then no servant was, nor master, nothing did them divide.)"
"Look there is no caste system in Islam, so where is the question of Daliit Muslims and Backward Muslims?" Patra said. I can pardon Patra's ignorance, but who is responsible for this perception? It's the ulemas and Muslim leadership, who project a facade of equality while practicing caste system in their bylanes and homes.
Ansari tried to demolish this facade of equality and expose that "Mahmood" and "Ayaz" are not equal.
Ansari has given a call for modern thinking, for a revival of spirit of enquiry, for social reform. This is a great moment for the community to come out of its shell and embrace the path that Sir Syed laid out. Nirvana lies in modern scientific education, in getting rid of parochial ideas and norms taught in the name of religion. The need to free religion from the shackles of the self-serving ulemas.
The real debate on Ansari's prescriptions needs to be within the community and not in TV studios.(Mohd Asim is Senior News Editor, NDTV 24x7)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.