There is a certain air of pleasant, youthful bouyance and optimism in Rahul Gandhi that my generation first saw is his father Rajiv. He was the first leader to talk about the 21st century (way back in the mid-80s) and prepare the country mentally and emotionally for the future. He was cruelly ridiculed for that by the negativist BJP which, in the Vajpayee years of misrule and communal politics, tried to appropriate Rajiv’s ground work for the IT revolution as its own. It was duly rebuffed for its false claim, by the people, of course.
Sorry, that seems to be rather a long-winded introduction to what I want to say. Rahul was in my alma mater, the beloved AMU, last week, where he was feted, admired and lionized by the young men and women of the university. That Rahul gets the same warm response in every college and university he visits makes a particular point: AMU is a minority university, which is one of its distinctions, but in its humanity and Indianness it is no different from any other.
Now, coming to what Mr Gandhi said at the AMU, and what it could mean, if such youthful utterances mean anything. Among other nice things, he said a Muslim could be a Prime Minister in the future. Constitutionally, and theoretically, it is very much possible, despite BJP.
The present Pime Minister, the current chairperson of UPA and a number of former Presidents and CJIS have come from the religious minorities, although their religious minority background may not have got much to do with their position.
However, a Muslim Prime Minister has so far been a distant possibility. A Muslim Prime Minister is another level of political empowerment that Mr Gandhi is right to lead his generation of Muslims to aspire for. His systematic, graded approach to the attainment of that level of aspiration is also something that we would not think unrealistic.
Meanwhile, one would like to point out that besides his insistence on having 25 good Muslim leaders as a prerequisite for meeting the ultimate aspiration is only one dimension. Another dimension is the empowerment of common Muslims to throw up those 25 good leaders from amongst them.
For that kind of general, across-the-board empowerment of Muslims, we need to have sufficient access to good schools and colleges, jobs in police, army, civil service and corporate sector. Besides, we would be needing access to bank loans, other essential services and proper representation in Assemblies and Parliament.
Mr. Gandhi will do well to have a look at the Sachar Committee Report (especially, its “Perceptions” and “Recommendations” part). That will work as a road map for his noble endeavour of pulling the community out of its difficult situation.
He should keep in mind that that denial of justice to victims of organized anti-Muslim massacres has created a fear psychosis in the community. The police have invariably acted partially and in bad faith in anti-Muslim riots over the decades. Hence, the demand for proper representation in police and other armed forces as well as for expediting cases against the perpetrators of Ayodhya and other cases of anti-Muslim violence.
Everything grows in a conducive environment, an environment that is free from discrimination, injustice and denial of opportunity. In the post-partition environment of suspicion and residual animosity towards Muslims (kept alive by RSS and its affiliates through hostile propaganda and mass violence) the community’s empowerment has been extremely difficult. That environment must be improved for Muslim energies to be released for creativity.
With that, we wish Mr. Gandhi all the best in his mission.
---Dr Manzoor Alam, is Chairman, Institute of Objective Studies (IOS), New Delhi and General Secretary, All India Milli Council (AIMC).