Minority report

India's 150 million Muslims face poverty, illiteracy and attacks from the Hindu right, but their ide

In August 1947, Pakistan was carved out of India to satisfy the demands of Indian Muslims for a separate homeland. But the areas that became West and East Pakistan (today's Bangladesh) contained only two-thirds of the subcontinent's Muslims. The rest, many of whom had voted for the Muslim League that led the demand for Pakistan, remained in India. As an estimated 60 million Muslims, the elite of the population, migrated from India, the impoverished community left behind became the largest minority in the world.

Charged with the stigma of dismembering India and troubled by the instant hostility between the two countries, India's Muslims have struggled ever since with illiteracy, poverty and a sense of themselves as a victimised group. In 1947 Nehru ensured that India, unlike Pakistan, secured its minorities' freedom and rights, and committed to the creation of a socialist, secular and democratic society. But early on, Muslims found it difficult to secure jobs, rent properties or conduct businesses. Sixty years later, inequities remain. A 2001 census revealed that the Muslim community was growing faster than the Hindu majority.

In fact the adjusted figure from the Government of India Census Report in 2001 suggested the percentage growth of the Hindu community in the 10 years to 2001 was running at 20 percent whereas the Muslim community grew by 29.3 percent over the same period.

Social mobility in the new India has not entirely excluded Muslims. Many Indian Muslims have become sports heroes (the long-serving cricket captain Mohammed Azhar ud din, for instance), film stars, politicians (including the recent ex-president A P J Abdul Kalam), academics, professional leaders, business tycoons or journalists. But the great majority languish.

The momentum of democracy has created its own problems. Indian Muslims complain that the state is insufficiently secular because it does not ensure affirmative action for minorities; their opponents counter that a secular state cannot give special benefits to any one community. The wrangling has affected policy, as securing the Muslim vote has been essential for any party intending to stand on a secular, pan- national platform. Past governments have relied on gestures of "appeasement" - such as the 1989 decision by the Congress-led government, the first in the world to do so, to ban Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses - in return for electoral support.

From the viewpoint of discontented Muslims, appeasement has brought few concrete rewards for the community, and the effects of democracy have cut both ways. It may have allowed the country to vote out the governing BJP Hindu right-wing party in 2004 - but it also enabled Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, to return to power with an increased majority to "defend Hindu interests" when many held him partly responsible for communal riots in 2002 that resulted in at least 790 Muslim deaths.

This uneasy balance of power - and the ongoing dispute between India and Pakistan over the Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir - has recently opened the way for both home-grown and Pakistan-based Islamist groups, believed by many to be responsible for the Mumbai train bombings last year that left 200 dead. The recent Bangalore arrests may seem to belie the confident claim of the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, that "Indian Muslims have kept out of the global network of terror".

But India is no hotbed of Islamic extremism. Though it has the largest network of madrasas in the world, they are far less politicised than those of its western neighbour. Indians practise a distinctive, Sufi-influenced variety of Islam, centred as much on visiting shrines, devotional songs (qawwalis) and reverence for pirs (spiritual guides) as on the mosque and the Quran. Since the arrival of Islam with Arab traders and scholars in the seventh century, India has also been one of the great centres of Islamic scholarship, literature and the arts - traditions that have all been influenced by contact with India's other faiths and cultures.

It is difficult to write a history for India's Muslims as a separate group because they are as diverse, geographically and culturally, as the rest of the country, and deeply integrated within it. As India is poised to shake off its image of poverty, its Muslims, like other minorities, will wrestle to claim their share of the rewards. As they look left and right they see, in Pakistan and Bangladesh, two Muslim states beset with civil insecurity, strife and discontent. They have a centuries-old history of coexistence to draw on - and no insecurity can shake a long-standing belief that they are the salt that brings together the many disparate dishes that make up India.

Mahmood Farooqui is a Delhi-based scholar and translator

India by numbers

Population

2005: 1.1 billion

1945: 340 million

Religions

Hindu 80.5%

Muslim 13.4 %

Christian 2.3%

Buddhists 1.1%

Sikh 1.9%

Jains 0.4%

Life expectancy at birth

2005: 62.9

1950: 37.4

Population growth rate

2007: 1.6%

1950: 1.7%

Birth rate (per 1,000 population)

2005: 25.1

1950: 43.3

Death rate (per 1,000 population)

2005: 8.7

1950: 26.0

Population below poverty line

22%

Urban population

2005 : 28.7

1950 : 17.0

Literacy rate

Total: 61%

Male: 73.4%

Female: 47.8%

Research by Marika Mathieu. Sources: CIA Factbook and UN Population Division

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times