Arif Mohammad Khan | File photo | PTI
Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan | File photo | PTI
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Arif Mohammad Khan has been appointed as the governor of Kerala because he now symbolises the BJP’s version of a ‘good Muslim’.

His aggressive support for the criminalisation of triple talaq, no doubt, has also contributed to his recent upward political mobility. Yet, his appointment as the governor cannot entirely be reduced to his assertive public image as the champion of Muslim women’s right.

As a ‘good Muslim’, Khan symbolises an acceptable political metaphor, used by all political parties to describe the ideal image of an average Muslim citizen in the country.

The BJP’s version of ‘good Muslim’, however, is remarkably different from the Congress’ Muslims, which makes it relevant today.


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


Qualifications for a good Muslim

There are three fundamental requirements for being classified as a good Muslim in Indian politics.

Owning cultural capital

One should have the cultural capital to demonstrate that he/she may be considered a legitimate Muslim leader/representative.

Family lineage, education, political background and access to political power are inseparable constituents of this cultural capital.

The popular distinction between conservative Ulema versus modern-liberal Muslims is not at all relevant here. Almost all known Muslim leaders of the first generation after Independence came from rich and powerful families. They invested their cultural capital in politics to carve out a space for themselves.

One of the most unapologetic explanations of the cultural capital came up in the 1990s when Indian politics was deeply divided into secular and communal camps.

Emphasising on the secular contribution of a few ‘progressive’ Muslim families, Mushirul Hasan in his book, Legacy of Divided Nation: India’s Muslims Since Independence (published in 1997), argued that progressive intellectuals inherited secular values from their families and upheld the cause of secularism in India.

Hasan talks about the family of Mohammad Habib (the Aligarh historian), and his brother, Mohammad Mujeeb, and Habib’s son Irfan Habib, who, according to him, contributed a lot to the secularisation of India. He also discusses the family of journalist Seema Mustafa, “who is a part of the Kidwai clan, the home of Rafi Ahmad Kidwai. Her grandmother was a freedom fighter and social activist; the family of Hasan Suroor, a London based journalist, whose father, despite being a British civil servant, was a sympathiser of Congress and whose mother gave up her burqa (veil) to participate in social activities” (Hasan, p. 320).

No one can question the contribution of these individuals. At the same time, however, the cultural capital inherited by them cannot be ignored.


Also read: Arif Khan, Modi govt’s only 2nd Muslim governor, whose political views align with the BJP’s


Being politically correct

The cultural capital does not transform an elite Muslim into a good Muslim. He/she should subscribe to the dominant political correctness to demonstrate his/her political value.

The Muslim leaders of the Congress in the 1960s always called upon the Muslims to become the part of the national mainstream. In their writing and speeches, they invoked symbols such as the Taj Mahal and/or individuals such as Mughal ruler Akbar to highlight the expected role of an ideal Muslim in India. No one, however, emphasised the active participation of common Muslims in electoral politics as a Muslim contribution. The electoral compulsion of the Congress actually forced them to describe Muslim presence strictly in terms of a memory of a royal Muslim past.

Toeing party line

Adherence to the party line is also very important to qualify as a good Muslim. The role played by the Congress Muslims in the Shah Bano case is a revealing example. There were many ‘progressive’ Muslims associated with the Congress at that time. However, they abided by the party line and did not question the manner in which the All India Personal Law Board, especially its leader, Ali Mian Nadwi, was appeased and used by the Congress for political purposes. In fact, Arif Mohammad Khan was the only leader who went against this Congress-driven political correctness in 1986. He walked out of the Rajiv Gandhi government because he differed with its stand on the Shah Bano case.


Also read: Arif Mohammad Khan, you are still in 1986, your views on secularism & Muslims are outdated


Distinctiveness of BJP’s Good Muslims 

The BJP’s version of good Muslims does not ignore these three qualifications. Zafar Sareshwala, Zafar Islam, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Shah Nawaz Husain, Najma Heptullah, and Arif Mohammad Khan, do have cultural capital of their own; they abide by the dominant political correctness and they are honest followers of BJP’s line on Muslims.

However, they are different from the Congress’ good Muslims in two ways.

First, the Congress’ good Muslims assert Muslimness in a positive way to underline a highly simplistic interpretation of Nehru’s ‘unity in diversity’ thesis. To defend nationalism of Muslims, they often argue that although Islam came from outside, it amalgamated with Indian tradition; and, precisely for this reason, Muslims are patriotic and nationalists.

The BJP’s good Muslims have to demonstrate Muslimness as an intrinsic problem of India’s national identity. They subscribe to the formulation that Islam is alien to argue that Muslims have not yet fully adopted the Indian culture and tradition. Hence, Islam needs to be reformed and Muslims have to be adequately Indianised.

Zafar Islam’s suggestion that Muslim must give up self-imposed isolation; Najma Heptullah’s argument that Muslims should look at their own problems first; and Arif Mohammad Khan’s stand on the Uniform Civil Code (as if it is only about Muslims!) stems from the old Indianisation thesis of the RSS.

Second, the BJP’s Muslims have to prove that Muslims do not and cannot embrace the BJP. This Muslims versus BJP posturing helps them not only to secure their status as nationalists, but also contribute to the dominant anti-Muslim discourse, which revolves around the possibilities of isolation and/or radicalisation of Muslims in India.

So, it is inevitable for leaders like Arif Mohammad Khan to represent Muslims as an unsolved issue. After all, he is the perfect good Muslim of our time.

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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39 Comments Share Your Views

39 COMMENTS

  1. Let us look at the Hindu vrs Muslim issue in a wider perspective. Firstly the muslims in India are those who had trusted Indias secular credentials and had denied the option of Pakistan. In the post independent India there have been great muslims and luminaries from Abdul Hamid to President Abdul Kalam. The list is uncountable. So to doubt there allegiance to the nation is ethically wrong. The demolition of Babri Masjid therefore has to examined in the light of the above fact. Moreover even if Babur had destroyed there a Ram Temple 700 years back, should we settle scores with the present generation of muslims? If a man commits a murder should we take his great great grandson to gallows ? Because this is what the SC ruling implies. Can look back into history and try correcting it ? ..So an open act of vandalism has been sanctified on very debatable archeological. evidences…Secondly what is being projected as Islam being a threat to Hinduism in India, is preposterous.. The threat to Hinduism is it’s own archaic thinking. Because cow, sans the veneration it is being extended, the fact remains it is very much part of animal kingdom.. We are living in a modern age given to science and technology. Logical and rational thinking should replace obsurantism. We cannot build modern India taking cue from vedic age.. Because, we have to change with the changing times or else we shall perish..

  2. Let us look at the Hindu vrs Muslim issue in a wider perspective. Firstly the muslims in India are those who had trusted Indias secular credentials and had denied the option of Pakistan. In the post independent India there have been great muslims and luminaries from Abdul Hamid to President Abdul Kalam. The list is uncountable. So to doubt there allegiance to the nation is ethically wrong. The demolition of Babri Masjid therefore has to examined in the light of the above fact. Moreover even if Babur had destroyed there a Ram Temple 700 years back, should we settle scores with the present generation of muslims? If a man commits a murder should we take his great great grandson to gallows ? Because this is what the SC ruling implies. Can look back into history and try correcting it ? ..So an open act of vandalism has been sanctified on very debatable archeological. evidences…Secondly what is being projected as Islam being a threat to Hinduism in India, is preposterous.. The threat to Hinduism is it’s own archaic thinking. Because cow, sans the veneration it is being extended, the fact remains it is very much part of animal kingdom.. We are living in a modern age given to science and technology. Logical and rational thinking should replace obsurantism. We cannot build modern India taking cue from vedic age.. Because, we have to change with the changing times or else we shall perish..
    So let us keep in mind niether every muslim is a terrorist and nor every hindu is a saint. There are neutrals, moderates, and hardliners in every culture..
    (Maj SC Singh)

  3. TYPICAL Muslim Victim-hood In ANY Non-Muslim Nation They Live On The Globe!! The REALITY Is That Most Muslims HATE Democracy & Being Ruled By Non-Muslims!! Unless Muslims, Associate Themselves With The Land & Culture They Live In, They Will NEVER Be At Peace With Themselves Or Others!!

    What Has Happened In Kashmir, West Bengal, Kerala…?? What Is It If Not Islamic Invasion With Evil Anti Human Practices?? What Were Those Calls From Mosques That Called To Kill Hindus & Non Muslims??!!

    If Muslims can be unabashedly assertive about the sanctity of their religious identity and traditions, other groups can be unapologetic about their respective identities too!!

    Muslims obstinate resistance to assimilate with the mainstream when in the minority and by dogged persistence in recreating antediluvian theocracies when in majority, Muslims not only undermined the validity of the whole Secular project, but also sowed deep doubts about the project among its previously most faithful adherents, The Hindus!!

    IF Nothing Changes In Islam & Muslims, they shall pay the major price of breakdown in blood and misery. Uighurs of China, Supported By Pakistan & All Islamic Nations, portend that future.

  4. This Governor appointed to Kerala is the RSS House negro as a previous poster commented
    Why are people who do not represent the Muslim community get appointed to represent us
    Now the BJP can pretend it appoints Muslims.
    This man speaks only for himself and not Muslims.
    He represents only the Muslims in his immediate family.
    This man has done nothing for his community

    • BUT.. Who Is A Muslim?? According To Mullah’s (Muslim Clerics), People Blowing Themselves Up For Jihad, Shouting Allah U.. Whatever Aren’t Muslims!!

  5. Hilal should define what qualities he is expecting from a muslim in India to be a politician. He has issues with Muslims in every political parties! BJP under Modi has consolidated all caste Hindu votes, thereby giving it a comfortable electoral majority. That leaves others as outsiders unless those others also create vote banks and join BJP to make their impact. Else isolation will increase leading to complete political marginalization. By itself, it is not an issue, like Parsis who don’t count anywhere in politics but they are educated and economically comfortable lot. So instead of vilifying Arif Mohd Khan, minorities should give up victimhood and join politics positively as any other indian. In any case, education and skilling is a must to become economically strong.

  6. Irony is that APJ went to a govt school in a village in TN, which invested in public education and health. Just like all other kids. It is not perfect but better than most states in these aspects. States like UP with large minority populations have to provide opportunity for all and outside petty religious/caste equations. But when political parties seek votes on these polarizes templates, the incentive to treat everybody equal is just not there. If we go beyond these myopic narratives, and treat everybody right, there is nobody to stop this land of such diverse people called India become a superpower. All of us can start with less hate towards our fellow human beings, respecting their culture and food, their views and build a bond based on mutual respect. At least that is what I was taught in school. On this Teacher’s Day, let us all educated folks make this a small note in our busy lives. Jai Hind.

  7. Dear Muslims, why don’t you go to regular schools and study. Most of your kin spend all their time in Madrasas studying Wahabi Islam. Get educated and nothing can stop you from living your life

    • Dear Indian,

      What does RSS run schools tech chidren .
      Probably this was they have taught you to address fellow Indian. Please don’t spread venom.

  8. Arey bhai, ye Hindu Muslim chodo.. Sab INDIANS hain, politicians come and go. We have to live together. If someone doesnt want to say Bharath mata ki Jai, then leave it.. that doesnt make them anti-India. People have their own beliefs. Every Indian Muslim loves India, its their mother land. Every human loves their homeland. DOT. Dont believe in such columns by paid press.

  9. Good Muslims and Bad Muslims. The Judgement is related to political identities and not cultural ,social or religious . There are no Good Muslims or Bad Muslims,just as there are no Good Hindus or Bad Hindus,Good Christians or Bad Christians.

  10. Dr APJ Abdul Kalam tops the List of BJP’s “Good Muslim” I do remember to make look a good Muslim, BJP even put a book of geeta with his statue. IN A NUTSHELL A GOOD MUSLIM IS A PERSON WHO IS NOT FEEL GREAT ABOUT BEING A MUSLIM AND WOULD LOVE TO APE HINDU STYLE OF LIVING.

  11. Whatever may be Arif M Khan’s plus points, I don’t know, but he’s a hugely self-righteous man. I saw him interacting with Arafa Khanam Sherwani for a THE WIRE video, and he came across as quite a repugnant guy. Anyone who is talking mere common sense can thump a table, but refinement is to talk common sense as an understatement. AM Khan does not know that.

  12. This is a brown nosed Muslim.
    He does not represent the Muslim community but just himself.
    We all can guess how he got his nose brown.
    A House negro to his BJP masters

  13. When a citizen irrespective of any identity marker( religion/Hindu,Muslim,Sikh,Cristian etc ; political ideology/ leftist, socialist, communist, Saffron etc; ethnicity) considers herself/himself as Patriotic Indian first followed by any other identity marker as a secondary attribute, he/she is a good citizen
    The primary issue of the largest minority in India stems from the implicit reversal in asserting being ‘Muslim’ as the primary Identity marker and every other marker as secondary.
    This particular formulation emphasizes separateness and subconsciously reminds non-Muslims about the Partition and its painful memories associate wit a historical event. Over emphasis of a group of people with separate belief, a separate life style, separate rituals and a separate laws leads to the fear of a repeat of the painful events of 1947.
    Every minority, especially ‘Muslims’ , will do well to work towards identifying with the main stream national thought and mood and join them whenever possible without loosing their other identity markers.
    Self criticism and improvement by removing shortcomings is a must for every citizen and for our beloved ‘India’ to take its rightful place in the comity of nations!

  14. A house negro indeed. A good Muslim is one who has never spoken out about lynchings and discrimination against his own community.
    He does not represent any Muslim in the country, is supported only by hindus

  15. Reading comments all one gets to hear is lynchings. In a country of more than a billion and over a period of five years there were a couple dozen or so cases with some leading to deaths. Yes, any kind of mob violence and death of innocent should be unacceptable but we also live in a country where for every hundred thousand people there are only around a hundred policemen about half of what it should be. if we take out those on vip service and in reserves then the numbers are even lower. The judiciary has millions of pending cases. In a poor third world country {india’s percapita gdp is less than nigeria }, its hardly surprising that injustice and violence are the unfortunate reality for every one. So, while the bajrang dal- gau rakshak types are vile and should be resisted by evry one, frankly i am also tired of the victimhood narrative from some muslims. Move on with life or keep wallowing in self pity, its your choice.

    • Actually more educated the Muslim, more the outpourings of victimhood. The ordinary Muslim and I do happen to know a few, is happy to be a full citizen of India, but badly let down by upper class Muslims and
      Muslim politicians. People in this country of all religions, regions and castes generally get along quite fine.

  16. The author of this article should study where the RSS gets its inspiration from and how it came into power by demonising a minority.
    He Should study the murder of MP Ehsan Jafri in Gujarat a Shia Muslim like Arif Mohmmad Khan.
    To should read the RSS bible written by Savakar and Golwalker.
    A good Muslim is Sanghi??
    A good Muslim is one who has not got one iota of support within the Muslim community and has become an acolyte of the BJP and been made a governor.
    Basically a sellout individual with Muslim name who pretend to be a reformer for Muslim community and propagates anti-Muslim, anti-Islam stereotypes, and Hindutva agenda.

    • I bet Rashida Khan and Hilal Ahmed are Sunni muslims. That’s why they are beating up on a Shia muslim, Arif Md. Khan. Sunnis are like white supremacists. Sunnis believe they are superior to other sects of muslims like Shias, Sufis, Baha’is and Ahmadiyyas and other human beings in general. Sunnis owe their primary fealty to quran and the islamic caliphate. muslims like Rashida Khan and Hilal Ahmed don’t bother about their nationalities because it is irrelevant. Their allegiances are only to the establishment of an islamic caliphate. They are the ISIS in disguise living amongst us. Beware!

  17. THE LOVE OF A GOOD SARKARI MUSLIM, IN THE AGE OF SECOND CLASS CITIZENSHIP
    The house Negro usually lived close to his master. He dressed like his master. He wore his master’s second-hand clothes. He ate food that his master left on the table. And he lived in his master’s house–probably in the basement or the attic–but he still lived in the master’s house.
    So whenever that house Negro identified himself, he always identified himself in the same sense that his master identified himself. When his master said, “We have good food,” the house Negro would say, “Yes, we have plenty of good food.” “We” have plenty of good food. When the master said that “we have a fine home here,” the house Negro said, “Yes, we have a fine home here.” When the master would be sick, the house Negro identified himself so much with his master he’d say, “What’s the matter boss, we sick?” His master’s pain was his pain. And it hurt him more for his master to be sick than for him to be sick himself. When the house started burning down, that type of Negro would fight harder to put the master’s house out than the master himself would.
    If someone came to the house Negro and said, “Let’s go, let’s separate,” naturally that Uncle Tom would say, “Go where? What could I do without boss? Where would I live? How would I dress? Who would look out for me?” That’s the house Negro.

  18. There has been nothing substantial which the Muslim leaders did for the community – even occupying power at centre and states. The author is correct when observes that most of them came from elite background. For Congress too Muslim leaders were show pieces and were just used to woo the community as a feeder to vote banks.
    There would be nothing like Congress of BJP Muslim – Congress was a mass movement and like everyone Muslims joining freedom movement became congressmen, on the contrary BJP (or then Jansangh) being formed out of Hindu Mahasabha naturally did not have Muslims. But this remains the history and BJP has come a long way from there.
    While resigning from Rajiv Cabinet Arif ji did not calculate his political risks – he just did what he honestly felt. There are hardliner Hindus and hardliner Muslims. Those who join public life have to be moderates – or else they can’t grow.
    There is more and more need for the Muslims to join mainstream politics and take the community along. Political parties will come to power, will loose power too but if certain concrete things are done for the community, the community grows and become more and more relevant for the time.
    BJP, as a Party, too has to walk extra miles to take Muslims and other minorities on board to make itself more dynamic!

    • Jana Sangh did not grow out of Hindu Mahasabha. In fact Jana Sangh was formed by S.P. Mookherjee after he left Hindu Mahasabha, as he was opposed to it’s only Hindus policy. There was never any restriction on Muslims joining Jana Sangh, except those that were self imposed by Muslims themselves.

    • A good Muslim must put Bharat first . That’s unconditional . Umma comes last . Zero tolerance for anti Bharat activities

      A good Muslim will not ask for Minority status.

      A good Muslim will work to keep the birth rate at 2.0

      A good Muslim will demand Uniform Civil Law with no special Muslim exemptions.. ignore that Fatwa , No Burqa , Work Marriage Laws via the Courts , Ignore Sharia Law and Hadith . No stopping traffic daily for azan and . namaz. Want. a Juloos ?Get a permit .

  19. Muslims, Hindus or whoever… and no matter what your analysis about the kinds of Muslims may be…there are several who will make all kinds of adjustments and compromises to get into power and powerful positions…. just wait and watch for many other Muslims to create bridge with BJP till it is power … which perhaps would be driven by RSS… saw news of recent meetings between Bhagwat and Madani…..

  20. One wonders how the average Indian Muslim views these gentlemen. For that matter, how free / autonomous these worthies – seated in their elegant official accommodation – would be to express their anguish if a Muslim is wronged, say in a particularly egregious case of lynching.

    • No Muslim worthy was / is bothered by the plight of poor Muslims, Shah Bano being a good example, so no reason for them to be agitated now. And it doesn’t matter which kind of Muslim’leader’ it is, the Arif Mohammed Khan type or the Owaisi type. For all his pretensions, Jinnah himself watched as lakhs of Muslims were slaughtered during partition. And blithely left Muslims behind in India, to the tender mercies of the majority telling them that they must sacrifice themselves for the greater good.

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