Monday, February 6, 2023
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Arif Mohammad Khan, you are still in 1986, your views on secularism & Muslims are outdated

Arif Mohammad Khan treats Shah Bano case as a reference point to reflect on all the issues that Muslims encounter in contemporary India.

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Former union minister Arif Mohammad Khan’s viral video interaction with Karan Thapar on the question of how Muslims are viewing PM Narendra Modi’s victory displayed his characteristic arrogant style of arguing, designed simply to demonstrate his intellectual supremacy. But what he revealed instead was intellectual sophistry, and an outdated and simplistic understanding of both politics and secularism.

Khan wanted to show that Muslims do not feel isolated after the BJP’s Lok Sabha election victory, and evoked what he called his version of secularism. He described himself as a believer of the Constitution, but his claims actually go against the basic premises of Indian secularism and constitutional assurances. He exhibited an aggressive refusal to acknowledge the impact of the anti-Muslim sentiment created in the last five years.

Technical versus political   

I agree with Khan on three things regarding the idea of political representation in India. First, the Constitution recognises voters’ identity in purely secular terms. Hence, voters must not be identified on religious and caste lines.

Second, the Constitution does not define the term minority. Hence, minority/majority must be decided contextually. Recognising Hindus as permanent majority and Muslims as permanent minority is problematic because it shows the colonial mindset.

Third, Muslims need not necessarily be represented by Muslims. An MP represents all voters of his/her constituency.


Also read: Muslim MPs, MLAs don’t always work for Muslims. See Akhilesh govt response to Muzaffarnagar


However, the problem arises when these technicalities are invoked to justify a few overtly political tendencies.

  • The remark that an MP must represent his/her electorate cannot justify what Maneka Gandhi said to Muslim voters of her constituency in a public meeting during her campaign in Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh. She categorically said that if Muslims did not vote for her, she would not work for them at all.
  • Obviously, Muslims are not a permanent minority in the strict colonial sense. However, it does not mean that the minority status of Muslims is not at all constitutional.

One must remember that following The National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992, the government (including the Modi government) recognises Muslims and other minority religious groups as national minorities. The purpose of this recognition is not to offer special rights to Muslims, but to implement the provisions of the Constitution so that a level-playing ground may be provided to all citizens.

The Modi government did not deviate from this principle. The recognition of Sachar Report as a ‘policy source’ for designing various schemes for the upliftment of minorities is a revealing example.


Also read: BJP is more interested in Sachar Report on Muslims than Congress now  


Communal secularism

It appears that Arif Mohammad Khan still lives in 1986, with his brand of rigid legal secularism. His secularism does not allow him to think beyond the Shah Bano case. He treats it as a reference point to reflect on all the issues and concerns that Muslims encounter in contemporary India.

He makes two points in this regard. First, Muslims are responsible for their own problems (Khan said “the seeds of the problems are within”). Hence, there is no need to question anyone, including the state.

Second, Hindutva does not pose any challenge. Instead, communalism is practiced by Hindu and Muslim aggressive leaders who make provocative statements that must not be taken seriously. To him, the secularism of extreme equality — the secularism that does not believe in majority and minority and creates a clear dividing line between religion and politics — is the final solution to communalism.

This uncomplicated straightforward communalism versus secularism formulation is highly problematic. The contemporary form of communalism cannot simply be called a Hindu-Muslim tussle.

On the contrary, what we witness today is Hindutva-dominated communalism. As an organised mode of politics, it produces anti-Muslim discourse, creates conditions that often lead to violence against a particular Muslim community/group or individual, and above all, it nurtures hate against the victims of violence.

In fact, Khan’s secularism of extreme equality actually goes well with Hindutva communalism primarily because it denies any legal protection to minorities.

We must remember that Khan’s secularism of extreme equality actually echoes what L.K. Advani used to call pseudo-secularism — that implies that non-BJP/RSS version of secularism is false because of its inherent anti-Hindu and/or pro-minority inclination.

Constitutional secularism

Secularism of extreme equality, in any case, goes against the values of constitutional secularism, which allows the Indian state to celebrate India’s religious and cultural diversity, without associating itself with any religion or culture. Unlike the French or American versions of secularism, Indian secularism remains sympathetic to the everyday life of religious communities. This is exactly what political theorist Rajeev Bhargava calls the distinctiveness of Indian secularism.

Khan, it appears, is unaware of this uniquely evolved post-colonial Indian tradition of secularism.


Also read: The good Muslim-bad Muslim binary is as old as Nehru


Yes, Khan is a good Muslim

Arif Mohammad Khan’s Muslim bashing in the name of secularism transforms him into a good Muslim — an acceptable metaphor in postcolonial Muslim politics.

As an elite Muslim, he seems to employ his cultural capital (he is upper caste, well-educated, and has a strong political-economic background) to achieve the status of a Muslim leader. His adherence to existing political correctness allows him to argue that he wants to speak as an Indian, not as a Muslim. And finally, his suggestion that Muslims should stop blaming Hindutva reflects his desperation to be a part of the Sabka Saath brigade.

The author is associate professor at CSDS, and author of the new book titled Siyasi Muslims: A Story of Political Islams in India. Views are personal.

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20 COMMENTS

  1. What’s wrong in what Maneka said? Why do you interpret it in a negative. She didn’t win and say she won’t work for Muslims, she is on an election campaign and said this word which means she was afraid that Muslims may not vote for her. Her statement only indicates that she wants Muslims to vote for her.

  2. It is amazing how everyone here has blamed Muslims for their situation in India. It only proves the author’s point! Muslims have voted for mainstream politicians always – Modi, Mulayam, Mayawati, Devi Lal, Deve Gowda, Morarji Desai, V P Singh,……go back and see how many muslims have voted for the Muslim league??? An owaisi is still struggling to win outside his constituency. But they are still told to look beyond religion???? And if there was appeasement Muslims would be somewhere – bureaucracy, business, jobs….you don’t even rent your houses to muslims and then turn around and blame them for ghettoisation?!!!

  3. To the author: Did you even listen to what Mr Khan said?

    If Islam and Indian Muslims have such a brittle spirit that the words of idiots like maneka Gandhi or sadhvi pragya can break their faith in the country and in their brothers… Then they cannot improve.

    What Mr Khan is saying is that by amplifying and projecting the weakness and perceived prosecution of some Muslims on all Muslims ( done by the media) makes the community weak. He didn’t say don’t report it… But what he is saying is don’t spread the words of those who only do harm… Who survive and thrive only in the breakdown of others…” Divide and rule” didn’t leave the shore when the British left.

    So, believe in yourself, believe in yourself as an Indian first and view the community as an Indian community that does things differently than one of the thousands of communities that have lived and grown in India for ages…

    Indians first. Believe in that. We are better when we live and work together for a better India. Not a better country for Hindus or for Muslims. But for everyone in it independent of any religion… And of caste and creed and class in our lifetime.

  4. “He exhibited an aggressive refusal to acknowledge the impact of the anti-Muslim sentiment created in the last five years.”fore This sentence from the article exhibits the mindset of the writer .Naturally article is partial.Not a wise man’s view.But the view of ONE side.

  5. Khan sahb will deflect each question to suit the point he wants to make. Stubborn man, must say. He is talking about an utopian world at dystopian times. But the way the BJP works is in front of everybody. Had everything been according to the constitution, there would have been no room for such discussions in the first place. The problem with this particular interview here is that the likes of Mr Khan are taken to represent the muslims on large. This is a shame. He does not deserve to represent them because at the times when lynchings are happening with the convicts being garlanded in public, Mr Khan choses to paint a romantic picture of hindu-muslim relationship. Now this doesn’t mean that everything is haywire, but all isn’t great too. So, Mr Thapar, please don’t waste your intellect on trying to bring out the ground reality from the likes of Mr. Khan, who having his boots off the ground is ready to sabotage the case of a scared muslim to secure his personal interests. There can be a huge debate on this very issue but I chose to satisfy myself from this comment itself. Thanks. Peace.

  6. Arif Was a good human and not chor Politician. He always kept his words. He should be now promoted by BJP. He was champion for making muslim education and reform in religion. Now all big leaders of Muslims want always their seat not worried about condition of Muslims. That is decided by Mullah. Now if Mullah get some money from Saudi, will parroting their philosphy.
    HE BOLDLY PROTESTED CONGRESS, BUT FAMILY ONLY LIKES CHAMCHAS SO HE WAS DUMPED. A NICE GENTLEMAN AND GOOD REFORMER.

  7. Getting stuck in 1986 may well be a good thing because the ShahBano case handling and the opening of Babri gates is the true root of the rise of Hindutva politics that we’re seeing today. We might find some solutions to the Hindutva problem if we (today’s liberals) read through everything that happened back then.

  8. Our country got partition because of exclusive apprehension inculcated in a community by few selfish people of that community being minority in future democratic state, surely for their personal ambitions .Now again for 70 odd year this feeling of exclusivity was given waters by many politician to make their ways. Even partition did no good to that community..I’s there condition anyways better in Pakistan …just on the name of faith…they are being misled…with largest population of muslims staying in India…its time for them to focus on their betterment and betterment of India…which is their motherland. Whatever they may say but will Pakistan or any other Islamic nation will own their plight…is ready to feed them or educate their children.
    They should think beyond religion.

  9. With due respects,
    First things first…minorities in India are not just Muslims alone. Yes Indian Muslims are one of the religious minorities besides fellow Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, etc. Minorities in the constitutional context have different connotations depending upon the context. One way to consider Minorities is to understand it from a numerical sense in the demography of the State and not the country as a whole. Second way could be in terms of language. Third could be in terms of culture and practices. And there could be a few more ways to look at minorities in the constitutional context.

    Now in reference to this article,
    Author’s understanding about Arif Sb’s views on Indian secularism – be it constitutional or political; or on minority – majority differentiation in the constitutional context; or on isolation, fear and insecurity amongst Indian Muslims in present context; or on constitutional assurances to minorities; or on rising Hindutva not being the cause of most ills of Indian Muslims, leave a lot to be desired.

    Author seems to have totally missed the context, the essence and the learnings from what and why Arif Sb says (what he says) in that video. Author also fails to correctly read and capture Arif Sb’s implicit far sighted message on the required changes in mindset, approach and way forward to wriggle out of the mess that Muslims find themselves in today and move away from directly or indirectly feeding competitive communalism, from that interview.

    Author’s analysis of the issues and subjects which are indeed so complex and multi- dimensional appears to be a superficial and simplistic one. Instead of delving deep into root cause analysis, Author’s piece is coloured all over by the dated traditional narrative which the Indian Muslims have continuously been fed with by vested interests, since independence and which they have been unfortunately been captive of, till now. The Author perhaps also doesn’t appreciate the need to look within amongst the Muslims. Of course, it is seldom easy to do so, anyways.

    Blaming others for one’s own mess is easy and amounts to running away from problems instead of facing them. Looking within, identifying and accepting that one has a problem at hand are the first few steps towards a meaningful solution. Unless one accepts that he or she is sick, how can the person get help or be treated.

    Learning from past mistakes of one’s own and of others, is another imperative too here. Getting away from bigotry and regressiveness, according primacy to constitutional principles & morality over popular or religious morality, opening the doors for wide meaningful exchange, integrating and getting into the mainstream, etc. are perhaps the way forward, per Arif Sb.

    The time for change has arrived. In present state of captivity of heart & mind, it’s easier said than done, though!

    May wisdom, introspection and better sense prevail towards much needed reform and change!

  10. Secularism is a western concept. One of its tenets equality of law for all people in the state. The state treats all people equal irrespective of the religion they follow. The Indian does not follow equality of law. It allows people to follow their religious traditions and laws. In my view that is called pluralism. I am not sure why we call it secularism or distinctive Indian version of secularism as the author is calling it.

  11. With due respects,
    First things first…minorities in India are not just Muslims alone. Yes Indian Muslims are one of the religious minorities besides fellow Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, etc. Minorities in the constitutional context have different connotations depending upon the context. One way to consider Minorities is to understand it from a numerical sense in the demography of the State and not the country as a whole. Second way could be in terms of language. Third could be in terms of culture and practices. And there could be perhaps few more ways to look at it in the constitutional sense.

    Now in reference to this article,
    Author’s understanding about Arif Sb’s views on Indian secularism – be it constitutional or political; or on minority – majority differentiation in the constitutional context; or on isolation, fear and insecurity amongst Indian Muslims in present context; or on constitutional assurances to minorities; or on rising Hindutva not being the cause of most ills of Indian Muslims, leave a lot to be desired.

    Author seems to have totally missed the context, the essence and the learnings from what and why Arif Sb says (what he says) in that video. Author also fails to correctly read and capture Arif Sb’s implicit far sighted message on the required changes in mindset, approach, the way forward to wriggle out of the mess that Muslims find themselves in today and to move away from directly or indirectly feeding competitive communalism, in that interview.

    Author’s analysis of the issues and subjects which are indeed so complex and multi- dimensional appears to be a superficial and simplistic one. Instead of delving deep into root cause analysis, Author’s piece is coloured all over by the dated traditional narrative which the Indian Muslims have continuously been fed with by vested interests, since independence and which they have been unfortunately been captive of, until now. The Author perhaps also doesn’t appreciate the need to look within amongst the Muslims. Of course, it is seldom easy to do so, anyways.

    Blaming others for one’s own mess won’t help. It’s so easy to blame others but it amounts to running away from one’s own problems instead of facing them. Looking within, identifying and accepting that one has a problem at hand are the first few steps towards a meaningful solution. Unless one accepts that he or she is sick, how can the person get help or be treated.

    Learning from past mistakes of one’s own and of others, is another imperative too here. Getting away from bigotry and regressiveness, according primacy to constitutional principles & morality over popular or religious morality, opening the doors for wide meaningful exchange, integrating and getting into the mainstream, etc. are perhaps the way forward, per Arif Sb.

    The time for change has arrived. In present state of captivity of heart & mind, it’s easier said than done, though!

    May wisdom, thoughtfulness, introspection and better sense prevail towards reform & change!!

  12. We are fed up with this term secularism. Now it has become an abuse. And as far as Indian secularism is concerned, it is only the appeasement of Muslims. He says that voters must not be identified with caste and religion. Good, but what we see in media, is opposite to this. Whole media wastes it’s time on discussing the numbers of voters of such an such castes and faiths in any constituency. Now whether a Muslim should represent Muslim is also creation of secularists. Yes, when the constitution does not define minority, why everyday we hear the word minorities? More over in Indian context, minority only means Muslims and not the real ones of other faiths. Stop appeasing muslims, and feel the pulse of the muslims on streets. It is not, the common Muslim who is against BJP, but the secularists sitting in media houses, who interview only the leaders among them. Their leaders and Maulavis have their own calculations to keep the muslims away from the mainstream of population. The Muslims of India are on crossroads. Their interests ask them to mix into the mainstream, but their representatives and secularists force them to remain aloof. Hence the Muslim Personal Law Board and Minority Commission were created to keep the pot boiling, just for votebank politics.

  13. The author’s final comment “his desperation to be a part of the Sabka Saath brigade” exposes her warped view of secularism as it should be! A Secular State essentially must eschew consideration by faith. Hitherto in India it has been distorted in precisely the opposite interpretation. I think PM Modi is right to try and shift the narrative to consideration by economic status of the citizens under his Sab Ka Saath, Sab Ka Vikaas narrative now embellished with Sab Ka Viswas.. The author wants to retain the perverted version currently obtaining in India. Arif Khan has got it right in that Muslims in India should think of themselves as Indians first who are of Muslim faith. This consistent refusal to identify with the nation or country of residence is what is also causing their alienation in the Western countries. As Peter Morris suggests above this is what is also causing a backlash towards their community in countries like the UK and in European nations to an extent not seen with Hindus or Buddhists, for example. I think Arif Khan is not stuck in 1980’s, it is in fact the author that is stuck in the post independence old time warp.

  14. I watched the interview n by n large I agree with him.If only muslim leaders of the eighties had been like Arif MD Khan and Cong. party especially Rajiv had banked on Muslims like him BJP would not have grown to present strength.

  15. Hilal Ahmed is wrong. Muslims are architects of their own misery and victims of Islamic clergy and regressive politicians such as Asaduddin Owaisi. Islamic clergy has done everything in their power to isolate Muslims from the mainstream: discouraging modern education; preaching against Muslim women’s education; separate family law. Islamic clergy incite Muslims to commit violence. The clergy play victim card creating resentment against the majority. Muslims do not want to learn the state languages making themselves unqualified for government jobs – then crying discrimination. Muslims who are well integrated are doing very well in India. Indian Muslims have more religious freedom than in most Muslim majority countries, including Pakistan – Shia and Ahmediyya Muslims are freer in India than in Sunni majority countries. And let us not forget the fact – Hindus had no political rights or the freedom of religion when Muslims ruled India.

  16. Dear Muslims and the author of this article

    Start by educating your children in mainstream schools following a mainstream curriculum. Encourage them to do well.

    Forget your bigoted imams and their interpretation of Islam. Read the holy book yourself and understand and appreciate your religion.

    Follow practiced which the rest of the country practice, which is one wife and divorce through standard law

    Try to appreciate the faith and culture of our great nation and don’t fall for silly things like won’t recite the mantis all song etc

    There is nothing which can and will hold you back and you will succeed and be happy in this great country called Bharat

  17. Muslims and Christians in India may be putting up a brave front, but they are afraid for their future, though such undercurrents will not be overtly expressed for fear of a backlash.
    The only Constitutional right that Minorities in India have is to run their own institutions. This right is also under constant threat by executive and judicial pronouncements every now and then.
    After pseudo-secularism we are now told about minority appeasement. Is giving scholarships , as the BJP Govt has also recently announced, called appeasement? Are reservations for SCs, STs, OBCs appeasement or reverse discrimination?
    Why do we turn a blind eye to thousands of crores of tax payers money being spent on a purely religious event like the Kumbh? Why do we not see the public property usurped by roadside temples? Where is secularism when temples are erected in almost every police station or Govt office?

    • who is denying reservations?? and what about subsidies on HAJ and roadside mazars and masjid. You ppl are exact reason why secularism is earning a bad name.

  18. As a minority in a minority, I strongly disagree with the views expressed by the author. I do not understand what he is referring to when talking about an “anti-muslim sentiment”. For this author and everyone one of his ilk, minorities mean only Muslims. What about the other minorities such as Christians, Pharsees, Jains, and Sikhs. In the public space in a truce secular sense there should be no privileges extended to anyone based on faith alone. For initially starts as religious freedom soon grows into an epidemic were natives are totally outnumbered and their culture is destroyed. A classic example is Britian today. The natives are a minority. In Dearbon, Michigan, it is Sharia law and other minorities cannot practice their faith in public because it offends the sentiments of some people.

    Take the case owhere a muslim girl refused to remove the Hijab when she appeared for the NEET exam recently. It is time we all grow up and uphold the true spirit of secularism as enshrined in the Constitution.

    • Dear Mr Peter: All your points are very precise. You have put in words what most would be thinking. I wish your views come to success, but it will not be easy dealing with this fanatics.

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