India is no Rwanda, and its air waves shall not bear the likes of Radio Rwanda. Sudarshan News’ crudely named programme, Bindas Bol, presented by a crass rabble rouser of an anchor, Suresh Chavhanke, was brazen hate speech. On 15 September 2020, a visibly alarmed Supreme Court stopped its telecast with these words: “This programme is so insidious. See how insinuating is the subject of this programme that Muslims have infiltrated the services and this puts the examinations of UPSC under scanner without any factual basis. Aspersions have been cast on UPSC. Such allegations without any factual basis, how can this be allowed? Can such programs be allowed in a free society.”
Competitive communalism thrives on stereotypes, prejudices, apprehensions, incriminations and recriminations. But very few could have foreseen public discourse plumbing into such a nadir. While the boorish, snide remark of ‘jihad’ is a predictable diatribe on the part of Sudarshan News, there are equally damaging stereotypes that find many takers on the other side. Sarkari Muslim is one such.
Fears of Indian Muslim
Many apprehensions are rife among the Muslims about the Indian State and its apparatuses. Their misgivings operate at two levels. At one, the Indian State and its agencies are suspected to be ill disposed towards the Muslims. Therefore, those who work for the government are despised as compradors and stigmatised as Sarkari Musalman, that is, the ones who struck a Faustian bargain with a Mephistophelian State. At another level, Indian Muslims do want to integrate more closely with the State in order to mainstream themselves in contemporary India. But the sense of alienation is so pervasive that they harbour a fear of discrimination.
One would try to allay their misgivings by arguing that the number of Muslims was so low in different institutions of the State that it was an embarrassment for the nation, and therefore, suspecting a systemic bias against Muslims was misplaced. Muslims are about 15 per cent of India’s population. If they are less than 5 per cent in public institutions, it reflects an uneven development, which might skew the nation’s progress.
Therefore, the common sense dictated that if they worked hard enough to be selected on merit for the government services, the community’s efforts to join the mainstream would be viewed with appreciation. It would not only instil a confidence in them to be a part of India’s destiny but also spare the country the need for ‘positive discrimination’ in their favour.
Community or Constitution?
Most Indians have always had a great fascination for civil services. Muslims are no exception to this. It is the surest route to empowerment among the upwardly mobile classes, particularly from the rural and mofussil settings. They have the hunger and audacity to take a shot at the institutional power of the State. Most Indians, including most Muslims, fall in this category. However, irrespective of the altruistic platitudes, young men and women join these services in pursuit of their personal ambition. They are neither a Faustus nor a Prometheus. Their country, caste and community are incidental, not intended, beneficiary of their success.
In a democratising society, a group, be it social, religious or linguistic, would have an urge to see itself well represented in the power structure. Here comes the catch. Is the officer just an individual who is personally sworn to the Constitution, or does she also represent her caste, community and region? True, her very presence in a high position would create a ripple effect, which would inspire many to emulate her, and may also create a lambent sense of pride among her kith and kin, and among all those who see their reflection in her. But, in the end, she is an officer of the government who belongs to all groups equally. Therefore, if a group wishes that its members joined the civil services to represent them in the government, it might inadvertently be triggering a dynamic of envies and resentments that were best avoided.
The missing educational base
Muslims may be about 15 per cent of India’s population, they are only 3.68 per cent of India’s graduates. Thus, their 3-5 per cent presence in different civil services rather commensurately represents the educational status of the community. This number can swing a bit either way from year to year without impacting the natural correspondence between the qualified and competing candidates on the one hand and the selected ones on the other. So, if there were more schools, colleges, and technical and professional institutes, in some years their output would reflect in different walks of life, including the government services. However, if the community displays the hurry to increase this proportion without having expanded its educational base, it would be pursuing the chimera of an unviable top-down model of development.
It is in this light that the mushrooming of coaching institutes should be critiqued. Although they offer an insight into the drive for mobility in a society undergoing structural transformation, they are monuments of the neglect of proper institutional education, and typify the urge to make big by cutting corners. Many of these coaching institutes are run by Muslims. Some are aided by the government to help the socio-economically backward sections.
The relative lack of secularisation among Muslims, their lag in building secular institutions, and their inability to fashion a secular discourse are mirrored in how quite a few of these coaching institutes are run from a mosque or a Haj House with an avowed religious inspiration, and imbued in deep religious idioms. This is bad optics, but it’s a result of a deficit in secularisation, which should not be misconstrued as a diabolical design to infiltrate the secular State. That said, if the Muslim narrative-makers had any wisdom, they would be mindful of such inadvertence.
Bury the ‘traitor’ narrative
In the last couple of years, the results of civil services examinations have shown a fractional increase in the percentage of Muslims among the successful candidates. Though the coaching institutes would like to take credit for this, more than anything else, this is a reflection of an improvement in the general conditions of the community, which is making them better appreciate the importance of education.
A group seeking better representation in the government cannot live in a permanent estrangement with the State. If more Muslims want to serve in the government, there will be more Sarkari Musalmans. The ideology that uses this epithet to see the government officer as the traitor to the Muslim community posits an antagonistic relationship between the Indian State and the Indian Muslims. This narrative has to be buried, and with this will be buried many ghosts of the past.
Najmul Hoda is an IPS officer. Views are personal.