In its editorial Neighbors Neighbor, The Times of India (April 21, 95) wrote: "Though India is the second largest Islamic country in the world [recent estimates show that Indias Muslim population is now the largest] it has been subjected to hostile propaganda in the Organization of the Islamic Countries. It is, therefore, necessary for India to cultivate leading Islamic countries and explain to them, the realities of the situation in the country. It is on record, for example, that although Mr. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad was deputed by Mrs. Indira Gandhi to attend the first meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Countries held in Morocco in 1969, this mission was not a success because of Pakistans opposition to India."
It needs to be emphasized far beyond the borders of India, that in addition to constituting the largest Muslim population in the world, Indian Muslims have made extraordinary progress since 1947. Most Muslim families are now far better off than they were prior to that date. (For details, please refer to Indian Muslims by the author).
There can be no doubt that Muslims are a great asset to their country. When it comes to holding the banner of India high on the world Muslim map, they make a solid contribution. Our neighbor, Sri Lanka, having grasped this reality, has assigned its foreign ministry and many other important posts to Muslims. Sri Lanka is now benefiting greatly from the relations thus established with Muslim countries. I feel that India has yet to fully tap this precious opportunity.
Today the country is beset by serious problems to solve which new blood is required. And this new blood, according to the predictions of Swami Vivekananda, can be found among the Muslims. On June 19, 1898, he wrote:
To put it quite plainly, this would mean having a Hindu president and a Muslim prime minister for our great democratic system. Today the formation of such a government has become an inescapable necessity. The Swamis dictum of one hundred years ago would appear to be an ideal proposal in terms of present circumstances. It is not just playing with ideas, it is rather making a cool assessment of the countrys present condition. More than eighty percent of the problems faced by our country today relate directly or indirectly to Muslims. Would not an able and patriotic Muslim prime minister deal with them with greater insight and efficiency?
Let us look at what Indias most serious problems are, given its central position in a huge chain of Muslim countries stretching to its east and west. The most difficult problem to be solved is that of Kashmir. Then there is the normalization of relations with the west Asian countries, with whom innumerable matters of national interest are at issue. Other problems include securing the support of the Muslim members in the United Nations; the normalization of relations with Pakistan, which for us is of prime importance, the establishment of a corridor through Bangladesh to join northern India with the rest of the country by road or rail, and the formation of a federation of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh as a permanent political solution to the problems of the subcontinent, besides the internal normalization of Hindu-Muslim relations, and so on.
Serious problems like these have become obstacles in the path of our progress. Our journey as a nation has reached a dead end. In such circumstances, an able Muslim prime minister may effectively lead the caravan of national progress out of its present state of impasse.
The number of Muslims in Malaysia is less than that of India (about 120 million). Although the ratio of Muslims to adherents of other faiths is greater than in India. Malaysian Muslims are still numerically in a minority. Even so, for almost the last twenty years, Malaysia has had a Muslim prime minister in Maathir Mohammed. And this is without there being a Muslim majority in parliament. The number of Muslim members of parliament is actually less than fifty per cent, so that it is not a Muslim parliament which Maathir Mohammed heads, but a coalition government.
During a tour in Malaysia in July 1984, I had occasion to meet Maathir Mohammad and was able to form my own personal estimate of him. I came to the conclusion that the quality which has enabled him to head a coalition government for the last twenty years was the realism of his approach.
Unlike our Muslim leaders, he does not indulge in wishful thinking, but makes an in-depth study of circumstances and then makes plans of proven feasibility. It is this quality in him which is responsible for Malaysias extraordinary progress. It is significant that even with a minority in the Assembly, he has been able to form a government for four successive terms.
Indian Muslims are generally regarded as the downtrodden objects of social and religious persecution. But to my way of thinking, if old attitudes could be shaken off, there should be nothing to present them playing the same role in this country as is played by Mr. Maathir Mohammad in Malaysia.
It would be ridiculous to suggest, of course, that a few articles published in the newspapers should suffice for a Muslim to be offered the post of prime minister. Prime ministership is not something to be lightly conferred on demand. The aspirant should first have to prove his mettle, and then the post should be given to him on the basis of outstanding personal merit. Swami Vivekananda meant just this when he made the above-mentioned observation. If meritorious Muslims go forward at the national level where, by virtue of their excellent performance in the countrys mainstream, they come into publics eye, and emerge as national figures, they can certainly reach the highest political offices in the country.
For this to happen, Muslim intellectuals and leaders shall have to adopt a totally non-communal approach. They must concentrate on what is in the general interest of the nation and not just on the welfare of their own community. They shall have to develop national thinking instead of sectarian thinking and should have the guts to say: "I am proud to be an Indian Muslim." Their approach must be secular in the best sense of the word, and, without differentiating between Hindus and Muslims, they must show their love for all Indians in equal measure.
While in Kuala Lumpur, I said my prayers at the official residence of the Prime Minister. As a devout Muslim, Mr. Maathir Mohammad joined us. But when it comes to public life, he adopts an entirely secular approach, for, in a country with a diverse cultural and religious background, no system other than secularism is practically possible.
If a high-caliber secular, realistic, patriotic, nationally-minded Muslim were to appear on the Indian political scene, and, most important, if his character remained unaffected by malign pressures, there is no doubt about that he would make an excellent choice of becoming prime minister of India. Had Kashmiri Muslims not waged a senseless separatist war in 1989, thereby discrediting themselves in the eyes of our countrymen, I am certain that the first Muslim prime minister of India could very well have been a Kashmiri.
Even today if the Kashmiris, severing all connections with the separatist movement, joined the mainstream they would astonishingly find that the India which proposed them the post of the Prime Minister of Kashmir was willing with great pride to offer them the post of the Prime Minister of India.