ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

Exploring Muslim Representation

The contemporary Muslim political discourse in India seems to revolve around the question of political underrepresentation of Muslims. There is a strong legal-constitutional argument, which recognises the Indian Muslim community as an identifiable religious minority and envisages its appropriate representation in legislative bodies so as to ensure the effective implementation of the minority rights. The observations, recommendations, and views expressed by various government reports in recent years (such as the Sachar Committee Report and the Rangnath Misra Commission Report) are invoked to legitimise the relevance of such claims. Although one should not underestimate the declining number of Muslim MPs and MLAs, particularly in relation to the overall Muslim marginalisation, there is a need to problematise the idea of political representation.

Three very commonsensical questions could be raised in this regard: What are the Muslim issues in India? Who is responsible for the present crisis of Muslims? And, what could be the way out?

The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)-Lokniti conducted a national survey on India's Muslims in 2006 to explore these issues. This was an all India survey which aimed at collecting the views of a variety of Muslim respondents in the country. The outcomes of this experiment are quite revealing: a complex configuration of a postcolonial Indo-Islamic identity seems to determine the aspirations, anxieties and expectations of a highly diversified Muslim community. For instance, poverty and unemployment are identified as the most important Muslim issues by Muslims (69 percent). Instead of Hindu communalism or lack of religious freedom, a majority of the respondents (60 percent) feel that the government is responsible for the present situation of Muslims in India. In fact, 16 percent Muslims say that Muslims themselves are responsible for the present predicaments of the community. Affirmative action policies are considered as the possible way out to get rid of socio-economic backwardness. A majority of Muslims strongly support the view that Muslims must have some kind of reservation in educational institutions (72 percent) as well as in the Parliament and the State Assemblies (82 percent).

Interestingly, these overtly socio-political demands are not addressed to Muslim elites. In fact, the question of Muslim leadership was not at all given any considerable importance. Only four per cent of respondents find that the “lack of the right kind of Muslim leadership” has been a problem for Muslims in this country. On the basis of these findings, it would suffice to suggest that the question of Muslim leadership is not a fundamental issue for Muslims at all. On the contrary, Muslims, like other deprived and marginalized sections of society, seem to recognize the State as a reference point for making political claims.

Can we, therefore, say that Muslims in India do not want to be represented by Muslim political and/or religious elites? I do not think that this complicated question can be answered merely on the basis of evidence/data we have discussed here. It requires a systematic exploration of a different kind by which we can make sense of the contextual placing of Muslim elites in the socio-cultural universe of Muslim communities. Yet, we can certainly argue that Muslim participation in different forms of politics should be taken seriously to understand the multiplicity of the political representation debates.

About Author

Hilal Ahmed ( ​ is Associate Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing societies, New Delhi. He is the author of Monuments, Memory and Contestation: Muslim Political Discourse in Postcolonial India (Routledge/Forthcoming). Ahmed writes on popular Islam and Muslim politics. He is working on his second book project, Politics of Muslim Political Representation.     
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