Debating Muslim Political Representation

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  • Topic: Islam in India, India, Politics of India
  • Pages : 19 (6460 words )
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  • Published : February 28, 2013
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Debating Muslim political representation
HILAL AHMED

THE political representation of Indian Muslims, one of the most contested political questions in postcolonial India, has become very relevant in recent years primarily because of two important, yet distinct, reasons. The publication of the Sachar Committee report (The report of the Prime Minister’s High Level Committee on Social, Economic and Educational Status of Muslims in India – PMHLC 2006) is the first reason behind the apparent revival of this debate. Although, the Sachar Committee was not asked to collect data/information on the ‘political backwardness’ of Indian Muslims, the main finding of the report and its various recommendations establish a clear link between various forms of Muslim backwardness and the discourse of political representation. In examining the question of political empowerment of Muslims the committee underlines the problems with the present delimitation of parliamentary and assembly constituencies as a result of which Muslims do not have adequate political representation in legislative bodies. The post-Babri Masjid Muslim political discourse in India also plays a crucial role in re-conceptualising the idea of Muslim political representation. This new kind of Muslim politics goes beyond the conventional Muslim political concerns – protection of Urdu, minority character of the Aligarh Muslim University, protection of Muslim Personal Law, and the protection of wakf – by challenging the notion of a single homogeneous Indian Muslim community. The demand for caste-based reservation for Muslim Dalits and OBCs and the formation of the Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board are two revealing examples of this new radical Muslim politics.1 Such claims seem to suggest that the notion of ‘Muslim representation’ needs to be examined critically, particularly from the perspective of marginalized Muslim groups. These recent developments have changed the nature of debate on Muslim political representation. Merely calculating the number of Muslim MPs and MLAs can no longer solve this vexed question in the country/or concerned state. In contrast, the focus is on the sociological complexities of Muslim communities and their political assertions in relation to the responsiveness of political institutions. Thus, in order to map out the various trends of the debate on Muslim representation in contemporary India, one needs a systematic analysis of various positions, perspectives, issues and concerns. This paper discusses three theses on Muslim representation: (a) the legal-constitutional thesis; (b) the social-equality thesis; and (c) the secular-participation thesis, together illustrating the wider politics of Muslim representation in contemporary India.2  

Let us begin our discussion with the legal-constitutional thesis on Muslim representation which recognizes the Indian Muslim community as an identifiable religious minority and envisages its appropriate representation in legislative bodies so as to ensure the implementation of the constitutional provisions related to minority rights. This perspective derives its moral strength from the Constitution and emphasises the fact that, in principle, the success of Indian democracy depends on an adequate and proper representation of minorities in the decision-making process. The writings of Syed Shahabuddin and Iqbal A. Ansari are relevant in this regard.3 This thesis is based on following three broad assumptions:

1. There are some collective identifiable interests of a pan-Indian Muslim community. 2. Adequate (proportional) representation of Muslims is an essential means to safeguard these collective interests in the existing legal-constitutional framework. 3. Muslim political representation is inextricably linked to legislative bodies. Therefore, we need to think of a legally justifiable and constitutionally permissible alternative institutional design by which an adequate number of Muslim legislators (MPs, MLAs and...
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