If there is any community that has been grievously and repeatedly been let down by its religious leaders, it is the Muslims in India. The latest is the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid, Ahmed Bukhari, who has issued an invitation to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and excluded Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the anointment of his son as the next imam.
The Shahi Imam is well within his rights to call whoever he chooses to his son’s elevation function. But by making remarks that Indian Muslims don’t like Mr Modi and that Mr Modi in turn does not like them, the imam has done no favour to India’s Muslims.
Millions of Muslims don’t subscribe to his views about Mr Modi nor do they think the prime minister dislikes them. The imam has cited the compensation for the 1984 riot victims by the NDA government as proof that it is neglecting the Muslims.
The elevation of the next Shahi Imam ought not to be either politicised or
communalised as Bukhari has done. The imam is only further ghettoising Muslims as people who need sops to assuage feelings of hurt. Certainly, there is a case for more compensation and rehabilitation of riot victims, but this is not religion-specific.
The invitation to Mr Sharif is calculated to provoke and also to lead misguided elements in society to tar all Muslims with the non-patriotic brush. It is passing strange the imam is not speaking about better education and job opportunities for Muslims under the new dispensation.
And by his remarks, he has also undermined his son, who is by all accounts a modern and progressive person. He has spoken of the need for the Muslim community to go forward and seize the advantages that education and other opportunities provide.
Politicians too must share the blame for the sense of importance that the Shahi Imam has acquired. Many of them go to him during election time in the hope that he can swing the Muslim vote. But there is no such thing as a monolithic Muslim vote and the average Muslim aspires to the same things — education, employment, security and quality of life — that every other Indian does.
The imam is trying to play up the differences between Muslims and others. In this he is trying to suggest that he is the interlocutor for all Muslims, which he is not and never has been. With spokesmen like the Shahi Imam, the Muslim community needs no enemies. Fortunately, the bulk of Indian Muslims don’t subscribe to the imam’s views, nor are they likely to take him too seriously.