The late Indian leader Syed Shahabuddin was a distinguished parliamentarian. Even though he achieved too little in politics, he was free from all the avarice prevalent in Indian public life. It is well known that no political party, including that of Indira Gandhi, could win him over and buy him at any price. He was successful in bringing awareness to Indian Muslims regarding their infallible right to negotiate for their constitutional rights without becoming the fodder of vote-bank politics.
He was the epitome of the collective angst of Indian Muslim suffering, simmering since independence but obviously without the force of a long-lasting mass movement. The Indian political system was not ready to impart even constitutional rights to its religious minorities and Babri Masjid was the embodiment of this blatant prejudice.
Shahabuddin was ahead of his time. The Indian Muslim community was incapable of taking advantage of his intellect in parliamentary democracy. He was certainly not a mass leader or a demagogue but rather a sincere thinker with great cognitive power.
His journal, “Muslim India,” is a testament to the discrimination suffered by Muslims in democratic India: In the economy, jobs, education, the share in governmental benefits, social uplift, judicial apathy, the extinction of their culture and language, non-participation in policy-making, inadequate representation in parliamentary politics, de-listing of Muslim backward classes from the list of reserved castes, the high-handedness of the delimitation commission, manipulation of census reports, tribulation in communal carnage, non-presence of any mechanism for dispensing justice to the victims of communal carnage, etc. It was he who brought all such issues to the forefront of Indian politics without mincing words. This was anathema in free India.
Whether Indian Muslims agree or disagree, it is a fact that Shahabuddin gave a voice to Muslims so they could be heard on issues which were swept under the carpet by mainstream political parties. For this, we owe him a lot and we can learn much from his “Muslim India.”