Speaking for ourselves

India's still narrow but emerging Muslim middle class, which lies outside the traditional Muslim elites and occupations, has made forays into areas like pharmaceuticals, IT and other forms of entrepreneurship. This middle class, active on the internet, would be aware of the online platforms and chat rooms where there are animated discussions of the Muslim problem. For the last five years or so, websites that claim to give us "Muslim India" news have all carried a subtext — the absence of a Muslim leadership. A recently activated website has been carrying the responses of Indian Muslims, from varying backgrounds, who were asked to identify three problems that affected the community and judge whether the political leadership was capable of solving them. Speculation that Narendra Modi could become PM has added to a subliminal anxiety among Muslims — that they would become invisible voters in an electoral battle that only seeks to win the Hindu vote.

In chat rooms on the internet, some advocate the formation of a party modelled on the Bahujan Samaj Party of the 1990s or the Samajwadi Party, both of which voiced the concerns of a particular constituency. What is missing in these discussions is the fact that both the BSP and the SP eventually grew desperate to extend their constituencies and become more inclusive. The Muslim yearning for representation has been met in some places by a Muslim leadership — by Badruddin Ajmal's Assam United Democratic Front, by the controversial Popular Front in Kerala and, for a while, by the shortlived Peace Party in UP. But a legitimate desire for representation is being clouded by the idea that Muslims must be represented by "one of our own". It is important to understand the need for representation and contest this narrow notion of Muslim leadership, because such identity politics continues to hold hostage the idea of modern representation in India.

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