Debating Muslim political representation


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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 members of local legislative bodies) can be elected.


In a recent study on political representation of Indian Muslims in post-colonial India, Iqbal Ansari has argued that Muslims are not adequately represented in the legislative bodies. This study, for instance, reveals that Muslim representation has not been satisfactory in the Parliament (see Table 1). Except for the 1980 and 1984 Lok Sabhas, Muslim under-representation, or what Ansari calls Muslim political deprivation, remains around 50%.


Muslims in Lok Sabha



Total elected members

Muslims elected

Expected representation on population basis

Deprivation %


























































































Notes: *1: Elections were not held in Assam (12) and Meghalaya (1); 2: Elections were not held in Assam (14); 3: Elections were not held in J&K (6) and countermanded in two seats in Bihar and one in UP.

** Including Muslims elected in bye-elections.

Source: Ansari 2006, p. 64.

Ansari points out that political parties are mainly responsible for Muslim political deprivation. He shows that almost all major political parties failed to nominate Muslims for Lok Sabha elections (Table 2). Analysing these trends, Ansari concludes that the present electoral mechanism system is inadequate because it does not provide proportional representation to Muslims. Therefore, some kind of alternative should be worked out.


Nomination of Muslims for the Lok Sabha Elections by Major Political Parties

Name of the political party

Average nomination

Ratio: elected to nominated













Janata Party/Lok Dal



Janata Dal












Source: Based on Ansari 2006, 99-102.

Ansari suggests three main avenues for increasing Muslim representation: (a) ‘All political parties nominate a fair share of minority candidates under the People’s Representation Act …at least making parties accountable for any persistent under-representation of minorities. (b) De-reserving those constituencies reserved for SC which have a good percentage of Muslim voters. Alternately, the category of SC should be defined in terms of social origin, irrespective of faith, allowing Muslims and Christian Dalits to seek election from seats reserved for SC. (c) Redrawing constituencies with a view to enabling under-represented groups like Muslims…’ (Ansari, 400-401).


One cannot overlook the relevance of such a well-argued legal-constitutional proposal. It forces us to rethink the question of Muslim under-representation in the exiting institutional set-up. More broadly, Ansari offers an alternative reading of the Indian political system, which, according to him, has not accommodated the cultural, religious and sociological diversity of Indian communities.


However, this study does not capture the complexities of Muslim political representation. Apart from being a highly mechanical agenda for political reforms, there are two internal inconsistencies in Ansari’s argument. First, his argument underlines a kind of ‘conspiracy theory’ against Muslims. For example, his criticism that all political parties ignore the genuine aspirations of Muslims is vague. All political parties cannot be placed in a single category to make such a generalisation. In fact, we cannot ignore the ideological compulsions of political parties, which play a crucial role in nominating candidates for elections.

It is true that political parties in India are not properly organized and absence of internal democracy remains an important issue. But nor does this mean that political ideologies are completely ineffective and without any analytical value. Political parties are divided along ideological lines which offer them conceptual tools to take a position on various political issues. Precisely for that reason, we cannot have one ‘politically correct’ position on Muslim representation.

For example, the cadre based CPI of the 1950s and 1960s, in principle regarded religion or caste as an inseparable part of ‘superstructure’ or a kind of a ‘false consciousness’. For them, at least in the early decades after the Partition, class division of Indian society and its exploitative mechanism was the larger political question, in which the representation of minorities was placed simply as a ‘subsidiary’ or short term concern. So how could we expect the CPI of the 1950s to follow the political correctness of the 1990s and recognize Muslim comrades simply as Muslim candidates!


There is another problem with this line of reasoning. Following Ansari one may also conclude that since all the secular/communal parties have consistently betrayed Muslims, they should form their own ‘Muslim’ political party. Ansari, of course, does not subscribe to this conclusion, and clearly suggests that Muslim under-representation is inextricably linked to the legal-constitutional system. However, despite this argument, the crucial dividing line between Muslim exclusiveness, which is clearly marked by highlighting Muslim under-representation in this framework, and a less obvious political trajectory called Muslim separatism is not entirely clear.

Let us take an example. Ahmad Bukhari, the present Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, has argued that all political parties, including the so-called secular parties, have used Muslims simply for their own vested interest. In such a situation it is important that ‘Muslims should cast away the crutches of other political parties’ and form their own party (Sahay 2004).4 Such political assertions can easily be justified by using the kind of argument Ansari offers. The Imam’s position, in fact, gets a factual input from Ansari’s work.


It does not, however, mean that Ansari fails to see a possible political ‘appropriation’ of his findings. In the introduction to his study, he attempts to answer such issues by asserting that ‘all those in India whose thinking is still conditioned by earlier political separatism of the Muslim elite will not be able to do justice to the genuine aspiration of the present Indian Muslim community… everyone knows that there is not the slightest chance of any separatist ethno-religious nationalism among Indian Muslims. Their demographic distribution… is a guarantee against that’ (Ansari, 20).

This kind of political oversimplification is again problematic. Ansari ignores post-1950 Muslim politics simply to justify a mechanical interpretation of Indian politics. He pays scant attention to the fact that in colonial India, the idea of Pakistan or Muslim nationalism of the Muslim League, particularly in the 1940s, was not exclusively based on the logic of a demographic distribution of the Muslim population.5 In fact, the performance of the Muslim League in the Muslim majority provinces is a revealing example.

These internal inconsistencies in Ansari’s argument indicate a deeper methodological problem. Muslim political representation in postcolonial India should not be understood simply by highlighting Muslim political exclusiveness. One needs to look at sociological complexities and political developments to understand the totality of this problem. However, at the same time, it does not mean that we can abandon the formal institutional framework. After all, the legal-constitutional setting provides a point of reference to ongoing political debates.


The radical politics of Muslim OBCs and Muslim Dalits represent another perspective on political representation of Indian Muslims, which may be called the social equality thesis.6 This perspective questions the dominant Muslim politics of upper caste and upper class Muslim elites.7 It is argued that although the Muslim caste system is qualitatively different from the Hindus, its operation is quite evident in postcolonial India. As a result, all the major Muslim institutions, be they religious seminaries such as the Darul Ulum Deoband and Nadwa or Muslim pressure groups like the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, are mainly governed by the upper caste Muslims.8


This perspective suggests that an adequate representation of lower caste/Dalit Muslims in legislative bodies and other state institutions will not only strengthen the responsiveness of political institutions, but also help in democratising the internal structures of the Indian Muslim community. Let us discuss two expositions of these claims: the debate on reservation for Muslims and the recommendations of the Sachar report.


The debate on reservation is inextricably linked to the question of Muslim unity. Ashfaq Husain Ansari, ex-MP and a supporter of OBC reservation, argues that there should be a separate quota for backward Muslims because these Muslims are socially as well as politically marginalized.9 Elaborating further, Ansari raises the issue of political representation of backward Muslims. He notes, ‘I have never rejected the idea of Muslim unity, but certainly I am not for any unity at the cost of present benefits provided to the backward Muslims through OBC reservation’ (Ansari, 2004a).

Syed Shahabuddin, however, takes a different line. In his opinion, Muslims, being a constitutionally recognized religious minority, can also be recognized as a ‘backward class’.10 He does not favour a separate OBC quota for Muslim Backward Castes. Instead, he argues that the Muslim OBCs should be given priority in the overall general reservation for Muslims as a backward class. Moreover, he advocates a revised universal reservation system in India based on proportional distribution of public benefits.11


The Sachar report, which in principle recognizes caste hierarchies among Muslims, is an extension of this debate. The report has not only collected data on caste lines but also proposed a multi-level strategy to increase the participation of each segment of Muslim society. More specifically, the report suggests three ways by which Muslim representation can be increased:

(a) A carefully designed nomination procedure in various institutions/boards at various levels (PHLC 2006, 241).

(b) The Arzals, the most backward Muslim group, ‘those with similar traditional occupation as that of the SCs, may be designated as Most Backward Classes (MBCs) as they need multifarious measures, including reservation, as they are cumulatively oppressed’ (PMHLC, 214).

(c) ‘A more rational delimitation procedure that does not reserve constituencies with high minority population shares for SCs will improve the opportunities for minorities, especially the Muslims, to contest and get elected to the Indian Parliament and the state assemblies’ (PMHLC, 241).


These recommendations have far-reaching implications, particularly in relation to the demands made by the Muslim backwards. Thus, we need to examine them critically. First, the nomination system cannot be a long term solution. It gives immense power to the ruling class to nominate ‘favourable Muslims’ in various key institutions. In addition, the nomination procedure is against the principle of democratic participation/representation. In fact, this recommendation simply ignores the demands of Dalit Muslims for fair representation because eventually powerful groups end up enjoying the benefits of a nomination system. The crumbling wakf management in the country is a good example in this regard.


The second recommendation – the inclusion of Muslim dalits into the SC list – is again a long term issue requiring a few technical changes in the legal-constitutional framework. And finally, the report touches upon the question of delimitation of those constituencies with a sizable Muslim population but reserved for SCs/ STs. This argument can be further expanded and a few non-reserved constituencies can also be included in this list.12

In fact, Iqbal Ansari has identified 32 reserved and 18 general seats where the Muslim population is more than 10% (Ansari, 393). The question is: if a number of constituencies are ‘created’ for Muslims, will it be possible for the backward Muslims to elect ‘their own’ representative? Moreover, if a considerable number of Muslim MPs and MLAs are elected, will it help in the overall development of the entire Muslim community? The debate on Muslim reservation has not taken up these issues. Perhaps for that reason the recent discussion on Muslim representation has not moved beyond the Sachar report.


Unlike these two positions, there is a third perspective on Muslim representation – the secular participation thesis, which tries to link the question of political representation of India’s Muslims with their active participation in political processes. This thesis argues that India’s Muslims have participated in the national political processes as common Indians. Therefore, Muslims are adequately represented by the secular parties on a secular basis.13 There are two possible versions of this argument: an orthodox secular version and a political secular version.

The orthodox secular version suggests that the participation of Muslims in the secular political processes will lead to greater secularisation and as a result, the boundaries of religion, caste and community will eventually disappear. However, for the time being, some kind of alternative should be worked out to safeguard the interests of Indian Muslims who, regretfully, recognize themselves as a religious community.14


The political-secular version of this thesis recognizes the political value of religious-communitarian affiliations in the formation of political identity. In fact, this thesis identifies some specific Muslim issues – including the question of Muslim representation in legislative bodies – which revolve around Muslim identity. Yet, it seeks to underline the fact that Muslims as ordinary people also share those issues and concerns, which are common to all poor and marginalized sections of society. Therefore, Muslims like other sections of society participate in larger political processes, including the socio-political movements as common Indians, and at the same time, continue to struggle for the ‘identity specific’ issues.15

This thesis, though not fully articulated, seems to suggest that Muslims participate in various political processes without giving up their religious/caste/gender identities. However, if we look at the methodology adopted by the Sachar Committee report and the position taken by the various people’s movements in recent years, particularly by non-party movements that tend to make ‘national alliances’, a clear reflection of this argument can be identified.16


It is important to note that political participation of Muslims, particularly in relation to political representation, has not been adequately or systematically studied so far. We are often told that while the culture of Muslims as a religious minority should be protected, there is no need to talk about their political representation as such discussions might lead to minorityism, create political separatism among Muslims and possibly destroy national unity. In contrast to this orthodox secular version, there is another defensive, apologetic position on Muslim representation, which, as a matter of fact, avoids conceptual discussions of any kind and talks of an imagined coalition of all marginalised groups, simply to justify a ‘politically correct’ gesture.

Recent developments have indicated that Muslims participate in political processes as Muslims, as citizens of India, as workers, as peasants, as displaced people and so on. We need to recognize a mode by which the complex modern Indo-Islamic identity and its various political manifestations could be understood. The political secular perspective, it could be argued, has the required potential to develop such a methodology, primarily because it acknowledges the intricacies of the political identity of Indian Muslims and their political representation.


Our discussion raises two important theoretical points: (a) the relationship between Indian democracy and the political representation of Muslims in India and (b) the responsiveness of the Muslim representatives, including the representatives of backward Muslims and women.17 Let us briefly discuss these issues.

Muslim political representation is often linked to the success of democracy. It is understandable because the entire debate on minority rights on the one hand and ‘Muslim appeasement/Muslim vote bank’ on the other, have established a direct connection between the representation of Muslims and the political health of Indian democracy. The legal-constitutional thesis, as discussed earlier, also underlines the fact that adequate representation of Muslims in legislative bodies would help in democratizing the actual behaviour of political institutions. However, we need to make a crucial distinction between the idea of representation and Indian democracy primarily to understand the complexities of this debate.


We must recognize the fact that constitutional democracy is not an essential precondition for political representation. The premise that a Muslim should represent Muslims could equally be legitimate in an oppressive, undemocratic political system. That is what precisely happened in the first decade of the 20th century, when the educated Muslim and elite classes formed the Muslim League and demanded separate electorates in legislative assemblies. In fact, such a move was packaged as a protective measure to safeguard the interests of the Muslim community in a colonial context. Thus, the demand for Muslim political representation, particularly in its conventional form, is not necessarily related to democratic politics.18


This leads to the second point: the responsiveness of Muslim representatives. It is argued that political representatives should act as guardians, free to take decisions on behalf of the community. Highlighting the political immaturity of the Muslim community, the postcolonial Muslim elites – mainly those who came from upper class/upper caste background – presented themselves as custodians of Muslim collective interests. For that reason, these Muslim elites did not allow the state, as well as other non-Muslim political actors, to highlight the internal complexities of Muslim communities. The relationship between the representatives and the community, an integral part of this debate, was not included in the wider discussion on the question of political representation.

These two points take us back to the three main theses on Muslim political representation discussed in this paper. A close reading of these positions suggests some interesting yet unexplored areas of research. The legal-constitutional thesis draws our attention to the institutional settings and the modes by which Muslim representatives are elected in legislative bodies.


The social-equality thesis forces us to look at the complex relationship between Muslim representatives and those who are supposed to be represented by them. In fact, this thesis raises a fundamental question about the relationship between the concept of democracy and representation. And finally, the secular-participation thesis, particularly its political-secular version, advances a complex formulation that Muslims participate in various political processes without giving up their religious/caste/gender identities. This makes the question of Muslim representation highly contingent and contextual. These theses touch upon the question of Muslim political representation from different points of view and offer a variety of answers. However, a systematic exploration is still required to trace the linkages among these explanations.



1. The formation of a Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board is a very recent development. Interestingly, the board has articulated the demand for delimitation of constituencies in such a way as to increase the political representation of Muslims in general and Muslim women in particular. See the statement issued by the Women’s Board on 12 June 2006.

2. One may add the Hindutva position on Muslim representation in this list. However, the paper deliberately ignores this version because it has not been fully articulated. One finds a few sketchy remarks on this question in the writings of Jagmohan and Arun Shourie, which are quite insufficient. Similarly, a Hindutva response to the Sachar report is still in its formative stages.

3. There is a crucial difference between Iqbal Ansari and Shahabuddin’s positions. Ansari takes a strict legal-constitutional line. One does not find any space for active ‘Muslim politics’ in his framework. Therefore, ‘Muslim representation’ is simply understood as ‘Muslim participation’ in the political processes. Shahabuddin, however, argues that the institutional design should be made compatible with the plural character of Indian social life so that Muslims, including the other section of Indian society, could easily be accommodated in legislative bodies. Moreover, he also points out that the active participation of Muslims in free, fair and regular elections at every level of the political system is also important for the smooth functioning of the political system (Shahabuddin 1987, 435-437).

4. It would be completely incorrect to link such a statement with the pre-Partition Muslim politics of separatism. Bukhari’s statement stems from a kind of Muslim politics that emerged in the late 1970s and which, as a matter of fact, operates in the legal-constitutional framework of secularism of minority rights. Yet, it is separatism of a different kind, which can operate in the electoral form of democratic politics without entirely corresponding to the logic of participatory democracy. For a detailed discussion see Ahmed 2007.

5. Francis Robinson shows three interesting propositions: (a) the Muslim political identity was a phenomenon of the Muslim minority provinces; (b) Muslim political identity acquired a prominent place in the years 1937-47, which had little to do with the desire of the Muslims of Muslim majority provinces; and (c) In not one of the majority provinces, except Bengal, was there deep rooted support for Pakistan (Robinson 1992, 34). This argument shows that Pakistan or the separatism of that kind was not directly linked to demographic profile of Muslims.

6. The term, ‘Dalit Muslims’, refers to the lower caste Muslims, who are also called Arzals. Although other expressions such ‘Backward Muslims’ and ‘Pasmanda Muslim’ are also used interchangeably for these Muslim communities, the term Dalit Muslims is more widespread mainly because it underlines the increasing politicization of these marginalised groups. It is important to note that many middle caste Ajlaf Muslim communities, which have already been included in the OBC list, also associate themselves with Dalit Muslims, in order to challenge the Ashraf or the upper caste Muslim hegemony. Interestingly, the Sachar Committee has found that there is a slight difference between the socio-economic position of Asharfs and the Ajlafs. In fact, in many cases the Muslim OBCs are much better off than the Ashraf Muslims (PMHLC 2006, 214). However, the difference between the socio-economic position of Arzals and other Muslim communities is an important issue, which has not been adequately addressed so far.

7. For example, discussing the relationship between caste and Muslim politics, Irfan Ahmad writes, ‘…in post-partition India Muslim politics has predominately been reactive. It has raised emotive issues rather than substantive issues. Monopolized by the traditional privileged classes Muslim leadership has rarely looked beyond the four issues of Urdu, Aligarh Muslim University, Muslim Personal Law and Babri Masjid’ (Ahmad 2003).

8. Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of literature on Dalit Muslims in India: (a) academic writings based on intellectual reflections, comments and/or empirical researches published in professional academic journals and books; (b) the popular writings by activists and politicians in newspaper and magazines; (c) pamphlets, books and journals published by the caste based Muslim organizations in India. From our point of view, the first type of literature is very significant because it not only examines the other two types of works for formulating certain arguments but also place the question of Dalit Muslims in a wider discourse of identity politics. Yoginder Sikand’s recent book, Islam, Caste and Dalit Muslim Relations in India (2005) and a collection of articles on Backward Class Muslims published in the Economic and Political Weekly (15 November 2003 issue) can be taken as examples of this kind of literature in English. A broad reading of these writings suggests that the ‘specific’ and complex nature of the upper caste dominated Muslim politics has not been taken seriously. In this regard, one can point to two main problems. First, the strategies, ideologies, and tactics of the upper caste elite to mobilise lower caste Muslims for collective Muslim politics is virtually ignored in these writings. Despite underlining the political existence of an upper caste Muslim elite hegemony in India, these studies do not look at the nature of this hegemony and its role in different socio-political contexts. Second, the ‘Dalit Muslim’ is shown as a monolithic entity. We are not told how and why a particular Muslim caste becomes politically organized, what kinds of religious and political and social symbols it uses, how a specific kind of leadership develops and how Muslim caste politics dovetails into the much larger politics of minority rights in India.

9. Ansari claims: ‘Muslims like Sikhs, Christians and Hindus are broadly divided into Backward and non-Backward classes. The elite and Ashraf section of Muslim Ulama claim that there is no categorization between Ashraf and non-Ashrafs, i.e. Ajlaf and Arzal, among Muslims. They should know that the word Ashraf, Ajlaf and Arzal are not derived from Sanskrit or Hindi. These are Arabic words and are in usage from earliest periods’ (Ansari 2004a).

10. He notes: It is well-authenticated from the records of the debates in the Constituent Assembly and the first draft of the Constitution that Muslims as a religious minority were to enjoy reservation in public employment and legislatures in proportion to their population, but on the basis of joint electorate, not separate electorate, which was all along the only point of objection of the nationalist movement to the Muslim demand for reservation. The proposed reservation was dropped in the last stages of Constitution-making... the Muslim community received …verbal assurances of generous treatment by national leaders like Patel and Nehru. Secondly, when the term ‘Backward Class’ was being discussed, almost everyone, including Munshi, Patel and Ambedkar agreed that it was inclusive of a religious minority. This view was endorsed by the Supreme Court in the Inder Sawhney judgement, which clearly states that a religious community may also be categorized as a Backward Class. This very view has been upheld by the Venkatachalliah Commission, which has stated that grant of reservation to the Muslims, if they constitute a Backward Class, does not require any amendment to the Constitution but it is a matter of government policy… Many Muslim sub-communities, which are exclusively Muslim and not pan-religious, already stand included in the OBC lists of practically all states. So it is nothing short of legal illiteracy to argue that a religious group cannot be recognized as a Backward Class (Shahabuddin 2004).

11. According to Shahabuddin: ‘I would have no problem with a modified reservation system which breaks up the artificial conglomerates of SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities and introduce a regime of Universal Reservation with separate quotas for every identifiable and self conscious sub-group (religious, caste, racial, geographic, linguistic and cultural) in proportion to its population and its index of backwardness at every operational level. Even, in the event of a Muslim quota under the present system, if any Muslim sub-group which comprises more than 1% of the total population wishes to have its own sub-quota I have no objection though it may weaken the bargaining capacity of the community in other respects’ (emphasis in original; Shahabuddin 2004).

12. Analyzing these suggestions, Shahabuddin raises a very interesting point. He notes: ‘Without political empowerment no group, in multi-segmented polity, can participate in governance, or have a finger on the levers of the decision making process, or even enter the chambers where decisions were made… The Report touches only one minor aspect …the question of reservation of Muslim concentration for SC/ST. It does not mention the deliberate fragmentation of Muslim concentration pockets into more than one contiguous constituencies, which is designed to reduce their political weight’ (Shahabuddin 2007).

13. Interestingly, dominant Muslim politics also supported the orthodox secular perspective, particularly in the early 1950s. For instance, three major political meetings/conferences: the All India Azad Muslim Conference, (September 1947), the All India Muslim Conference (Lucknow, 27 December 1947) and the All India Muslim Convention (Delhi, May 1951), which were organized just after independence, passed resolutions in support of secular parties. These conferences and conventions not only expressed confidence in the policies of the Nehru government but also proposed that all Muslim organizations should give up their political activities and Indian Muslims should join secular political parties for the protection of their constitutional rights (Noorani 1974; emphasis added). The controversial issues such as rebuilding of the Somnath temple, the tradition-based archaeological excavations, and the Babri Masjid issue were deliberately ignored. On the other hand, serious discussion took place on the changing structure of the state and the given legal-constitutional rights. The educational development of Muslims and the protection of cultural identity were identified as the main Muslim issues (Khan 2004, Int.).

14. Rajeev Bhargava uses the term hyper-substantive secularism for this kind of orthodox secularism. According to him this kind of secularism excludes religion from politics and seeks to maintain an absolute kind of polity for the realisation of some ultimate ideal (see Bhargava 1998). The orthodox Marxist position also takes this line of argument. For them there are two possibilities: (a) ‘in order to ensure cultural security to the different minority groups, secularism, in the true sense of the word should guide the state’s policy. There should be a real separation between religion and state, i.e. depriving all the religious communities of any support from public funds’ (Shakir 1983, 117).

(b) For the poor Muslims as well as the other deprived sections of Indian society, the ‘hope lies only in politics, not the politics of an elitist nature; not the politics which serves the aims of establishment; but the politics of emancipation; politics of scrapping the capitalist framework with one capable of serving the interests of the entire society’ (Shakir, 119).

15. I borrow the term ‘political secular’ from Rajeev Bhargava, who uses the term ‘political secularism’ for underlining the nature of such types of secular engagements.

16. Explaining its methodology, the Sachar Committee report notes: ‘It is useful to distinguish between three types of overlapping issues… faced by the Muslim community in India: Issues that are common to all poor people (Muslims are largely poor); Issues that are common to all minorities; Issues that are specific to Muslims.

‘For example, several concerns relating to employment and education specific to Muslims may fall in the first category. Similarly, some aspects of identity and security may be common across minorities while some others may be specific to Muslims’ (PMHLC 2006, p. 4).

The responses of various people’s movements, NGOs and community-based organizations are not at all homogeneous and thus should not be clubbed in a single category. For example, NGO networks like Voluntary Action Network India take a very clear orthodox secular position (for detailed discussion on these responses see Burlet 1999, 44-46). On the contrary, the Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM), a non-party trade union movement, takes a different position. For CMM, Muslim representation is simply linked to their participation in the larger struggles of socio-political emancipation. (For this point see, Sadgopal and Namr 1993, 297-298.)

17. These points remind us of the questions raised by Hanna Pitkin in her study, The Concept of Representation (1967). Pitkin argues that there is significant difference between representation and democracy. She notes, ‘the concept and the practice of representation have had little to do with democracy or liberty. Representation need not mean representative government’ (Pitkin 1967, 2). Pitkin further points to another crucial, though obvious, difference. She notes that there is an endless controversy on the proper relationship between representatives and constituents. According to her, a section of political theorists argue that the representatives are free to do whatever they please; others think that the ‘representative’s duty is to reflect accurately the wishes and opinion of those he represents’ (Pitkin, 4).

Elaborating her own position on these issues Pitkin suggests: ‘What is necessary is to interpret each view by identifying its angle of vision or …by identifying the context for which it is correct and exploring the assumptions and implications imposed by that context. This process discloses the meaning of representation, as no single definition can be sufficient, by making explicit the knowledge we already have about the way the word is used. And knowing how the word is a vital element in knowing that the thing is’ (Pitkin, 11). Following Pitkin’s argument it is possible to examine these two points: democracy and the demand for political representation, responsiveness/accountability of Muslim representatives.

18. Yogendra Yadav makes an interesting point, arguing that ‘The real failure of the current phase of Indian democracy is not the failure to hold free and fair elections, nor the inability of the people to affect change in governments through the exercise of their free vote, but the growing distortion in the mechanism of political representation, the growing distance between the electors and the elected …clearly, the institutional frame of democracy has failed to translate popular participation and enthusiasm into a set of desirable consequences’ (Yadav 2001).

He further talks about two very specific problems: the under-representation of Muslims and women. In Yadav’s opinion, ‘There is a need to shift the emphasis of analytical energy to thinking about other instruments (public opinion, media, social movements) that must accompany or supplement legal-constitutional changes so as to yield the desired institutional practices’ (Yadav 2001).



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All India Muslim Personal Law Board on Muslim Women’s Reservation, statement issued on 12 June 2006, Milli Gazette, July 2006.

Ashfaq Husain Ansari, Rejoinder to Syed Shahabuddin: Reservation for Muslim Backwards. Archives/2004/16-30Nov04-Print-Edition/163011200463.htm

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Francis Robinson, James Origin, E. William and Subroto Roy (eds.), Foundation of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, Sage, New Delhi, 1992.

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Khan 2004, Int.: Interview with Khan Abdul Wadud Khan, Ex-Member of Legislative Council, Uttar Pradesh, 1984-1990, Ex-Wakf officer, Delhi Wakf Board, Delhi, 27 January 2004.

Sambhali 2005, Int.: Interview with Maulana Atiqur Rehman, Founder Member, All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, London, 9 January 2005.