Muslim Politics in New India’ : A Conceptual Exploration — Hilal Ahmed

This presentation tries to map out the contemporary moment of Muslim politics in India. Deviating slightly from the commonsensical perception that the contemporary moment entirely means here and now, I try to historicize the post-2014 Muslim politics by placing it in the long postcolonial Indian story of democracy. In this sense, the official idea of New India is recognized as a significant watershed moment of Indian politics; and for this reason, I treat the electoral success of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of Narendra Modi in 2014 as the beginning of our contemporary political time. I question the dominant descriptions of Muslim politics in India by highlighting three serious conceptual problems. First, there is an assumption that Muslims constitute a single homogeneous community, whose political/​electoral behaviour is self-evident. Second, the Muslim voting’ is envisaged as an independent self-governing exercise as if Muslim politics all about Muslim voting. Third, Muslim voting behaviour is always understood in relation to Muslim political representation in legislative bodies. It is assumed, in fact rather uncritically, that there is an organic and instrumental relationship between Muslim voters and Muslim MPs and MLAs. Reliability on these assumptions does not allow political analysts to pay attention to various sociological, cultural, and economic factors that determine Muslim political imaginations. Muslim politics, I argue, is not simply about the number of Muslim MPs and MLAs. Nor is it entirely reducible to the voting behaviour of Muslim electorates. The political engagements of Muslims in contemporary India must be explored as an ever-evolving independent discourse, which does not necessarily respond to the challenges posed by Hindutva politics. The presentation deals with three prominent issues: Muslim portrayal in public life, Muslim representation in public institutions (including in the legislative bodies), and most importantly, Muslim political actions (or inaction!). For analytical purposes, these issues are addressed as three interrelated facets of contemporary Muslim politics —Muslim presence, Muslim representation and Muslim participation. 

Hilal Ahmed is Associate Professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi. He works on political Islam, Muslim politics of representation, and politics of symbols in South Asia. His first book Muslim Political Discourse in Postcolonial India: Monuments, Memory, Contestation (Routledge 2014) explores these thematic concerns to evolve an interdisciplinary approach to study Muslim politics. His recent works, Siyasi Muslims: A Story of Political Islam in India (Penguin-Random House, New Delhi, 2019) and Democratic Accommodations: Minorities in Contemporary India (With Peter R deSouza, and Sanjeer Alam, Bloomsbury, 2019) further elaborate these themes and make a modest attempt to explain the discursively constituted nature of contemporary Muslim political discourse in India. Ahmed is also currently working on a book project on the politics of Muslim political representation in postcolonial India. He is also editing a Hindi Reader of Sudipta Kaviraj’s writings. Ahmed is the Associate Editor, South Asian Studies, journal of the British Association of South Asian Studies. He has produced two documentaries, Encountering the Political Jama Masjid (English, 2006) and Qutub ek Adhura Afsana (Qutub: an unfinished story, Hindi with English subtitles, 2016). He was awarded the Institute of Advanced Studies-Nantes (IAS-Nantes, France) Fellowship, 2018 – 19, the Rajya Sabha Fellowship (2015−2016), the Asia Fellow Award (2008÷2010), the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies Fellowship (2009), the Ford Foundation-IFP Fellowship (2002), the ATRI-Charities Aid Foundation Fellowship (2001), and UGC Senior Research Fellowship (1999) and the UGC Junior Research Fellowship (1997). A film Beacons of Hope (English, 2008) documents Ahmed’s life story.

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