About fifteen years ago on a visit to Jamia Milia Islamia University in the Muslim majority locality of Okhla, New Delhi, I asked a Muslim professor at Jamia if some Muslim NGOs are working to help the educational-socio-economic development of the depressed Muslim community. He explained to me that indeed other than the yateemkhanas and zakat-charities, a few educated Muslims have established NGOs in north India; they collect donations from within the country and abroad and provide it to the Muslim community's schools, and give scholarships to the needy youth for their school-college tuition fees. They also help build classrooms in the over-crowded Muslim community schools.
The Jamia professor's thrust was that the Muslims have realized that rather than spending most of their energy and resources in futile chasing of the tails of politicians and political parties, it is far more productive for the Muslims to raise their educational and socioeconomic abilities, so that they will have better collective strength and then political parties will pay more real attention to them rather than treat them with lip service as vote banks. And ofcourse also participate in the political process.
However, starting in summer of this year as various political parties started their campaigns for the 2014 parliamentary election, a hot wind (garam hawa) has started blowing through the Muslim community in India. Politicians of BJP and Congress, and other parties, many of them Muslims, have cleverly fanned that wind through the Muslim community and are inducing Muslims to get involved. Obviously as citizens of India Muslims must participate in the political and electoral processes of the nation.
But the experience of elections in the last few years shows that such fanning of positive and negative political activities in the Muslim communities and involving Muslims in gainful activities generally happens a few months before the election and subsides soon thereafter. Thus politicians' promises of government help for development in Muslim communities remain mostly as promises. Additionally it serves to distract Muslims who are active in NGOs and development activities on the ground into political activities that finally lead nowhere.
Starting in the summer of this year, BJP's campaign to nominate Narendra Modi as their candidate for Prime Minister in the 2014 election garnered high publicity in the media. Since last six months the Muslim and Urdu media and Muslim journalists in particular have become so obsessed with Modi, that not a day goes by that they do not devote at least one-third of their precious space to Modi. They respond to each and every report or story published in Hindi or other vernacular newspapers or websites or electronic media outlet, that is linked to Modi. As the vernacular newspapers and media services become more shrill, the Muslim and Urdu newspapers raise their pitch and coverage, thereby becoming mirror images of the vernacular media that frequently sympathizes with BJP.
Not only the Muslim and Urdu media is swept into this Modi hot wind, several reputed Muslim NGOs and activists who were doing good development work are also swept into it. Many development oriented Muslim activists are now spending much more of their time and energy as political activists. Indeed several of them are making presentations and appeals to Modi to listen to their suggestions on what Modi can do to gain the favour of the Muslims. They are holding conferences and seminars in the Muslim community on how to approach Modi. All that energy has obviously been sidetracked from development in the Muslim community.
I personally know of the heads of a few Muslim NGOs who were running schools and coaching centers for Muslim youth in Delhi, UP, Bihar, who are now spending most of their time in chasing the media generated Modi-mania. This obsession of many Muslim activists and media with the Modi-menia is in fact giving far more coverage and attention to Modi than he got earlier using BJP's resources. In fact many of these Muslim activists are behaving as if Modi is already the Prime Minister of India and they have to establish a dialogue with him. Even though Modi has never either apologized for any of his nefarious anti-Muslim actions in 2002 and since. What else Modi and BJP need than Muslim activists indirectly fanning attention to him in the minds of the Muslim community at large?
It is very sad that the serious efforts of the Muslim NGOs to develop their community in north India is once again being sidetracked in favour of renewed political games with politicians, and amazingly in trying to make an impression on Modi and his BJP cohorts. Modi made a few deceptive sadbhavna noises and a few false statements that he and BJP want to bring Muslims in their fold, and many a Muslim activists and leaders formed a bee-line outside his door!
Sadly once again the brief momentum that Muslim NGOs had formed after decades of waiting, to bring development in their community is being discarded by the Muslim activists. What else Modi and BJP wish than keeping the Muslim community underdeveloped, Muslim youth lacking education and skills to compete and find jobs; Muslim neighourhoods underdeveloped. So that they and other politicians can keep on playing their political chicanery and deceptions with the Muslim community's votes.
Kaleem Kawaja is an Indian-American activist based in Washington. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org