NEW DELHI: Except for a few, very few, journalists who if off the old stock always hesitate to brand themselves in a religious colour (allowing the trolls to do it for them) the Muslim intellectuals have disappeared from view. There has not been a word from the worthies about the attacks on Muslims over the past years, the lynching of Akhlaq for instance that shocked secular India, and while privately many shake their heads in what they insist is despair, publicly they have not written or spoken a word.

This is quite unlike the Dalits, who after the public flogging of Dalit youths by a mob of the right wing in Una, are out in numbers. Not just in Gujarat where they did not have even a local political leader to show them the direction, the task being executed admirably by young activists, but across the country with the few intellectuals that define the community stretching out with articles. Many of them are visible on public platforms, hitting hard at the politics of discrimination.

The Muslims, on the other hand, have more intellectuals across India than the Dalits who had been denied the spoils of power and with it education even in independent India. Many of them are retired bureaucrats---true that the numbers are dismal when compared to the population---, academics, lawyers, indeed in all walks of life. But the silence has been rather deafening, with just a few writing an odd article, and stirring him or herself to speak at a platform for rights and justice. By and large they have disappeared from view, rarely heard from, and rarely seen in the public domain on issues of communalism, discrimination, rights and justice.

It is true that there is no Muslim leadership. There never has been. And to this writers mind at least that has been good as the Muslims demonstrated a certain secularism and a belief in independent India when they supported Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and went on through the years to embrace politicians who they perceived as unbiased and secular. The Muslim electorate never searched for a Muslim leader to guide them through the elections, rejecting candidates floated in states like Uttar Pradesh by the Jamaat e Islami and insisting on exercising the franchise for a secular option.

Thus despite the mainstream politicians liking for the maulanas---yes even BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee tried to woo these men at one point in time with an ‘event’ at a 5star hotel in New Delhi----the Muslim electorate has never been impressed. In fact over and over again political fatwas issued by the Jama Masjid Imam to vote for one or the other political party in an election have been soundly rejected by the Muslim voters who like to think their way through the electoral exercise.

As a result, there has been little scope for a Muslim leader to emerge and take leadership of the flock as it were. Those who have tried to play minority politics have remained confined to just a city, or rather localities within, such as Azam Khan, the Owaisis and some others.

It is here, thus, that the role of the Muslim intellectual becomes important. As he or she is part of the secular space that the Muslims in India have always looked out for and nurtured by attaching themselves to the mainstream secular parties, and not the fringe, and hence important in the current scenario.

Regrettably the participation of the minorities in larger activities countering communalism is also minimalist as those who have occupied positions in government and academia tend to stay away, or not even lend their names to signature campaigns. They are not seen in even seminars raising concerns about the present and future of India, with even Bollywood stars actually intervening more frequently than those Muslims who have held positions of seniority in government, in the judiciary and academia.

This is largely because this class of intellectuals has been drawn from the Muslim elite that has tended to move with the establishment and not question it for fear of opting out of the comfort zone. All are worried these days, speak about the trying times with the community under concerted attack, but are clear that there is little they can do. What about speaking out, or writing? The response from at least 3 fairly well known persons asked this question centred around, what can we do, who is listening to us?

Are you scared? Well aren’t you, was the riposte.

At a time when conventional secular leadership is fast disappearing, the vacuum is being felt acutely by this marginalised community. More so as the so called messiahs of secularism have fallen by the wayside under the new challenges with Mulayam Singh Yadav allowing Uttar Pradesh to be opened to communal wolves, and others like Navin Patnaik, Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar basically limiting themselves to Orissa, West Bengal and Bihar respectively, and maintaining a policy of relative silence on the national level.

In an atmosphere where even to speak for the Muslims is not being tolerated, the first to opt out have been the political parties who are more vocal when it comes to rights issues involving non-Muslims, than when the minorities are directly involved. The media does not see beyond Muslim terror, and in its rabble rousing coverage of even the recent incident where a national flag was draped over the body of an alleged assasin who had along with others lynched a man over beef, it managed to bring both at par. At levels ,of course, it remained weighed against the family of Akhlaq who was dragged out of his home and beaten to death.

A retired Muslim bureaucrat waxing forth on this terrible travesty of justice, lost his voice when asked whether he would write on this. Or speak out at a meeting? This silence has allowed the communal right wing forces to attack individual Muslims and others with impunity, with no check whatsoever.

A major reason for this is the Muslim elite’s close association with the establishment. Referred disparagingly by others not on the hierarchical ladder as ‘sarkari Muslims’ many were content in either directly joining the government, or keeping close to the circles of power to ensure that life was not disrupted. The Congress given its own elitist nature, encouraged this and secured them in ambassadorial, ministerial posts as well as many other such lollipops in semi-government bodies, Commissions, Universities, Raj Bhawans etc. Along the years they learnt to keep out of uncomfortable issues such as communalism, and remain on the good side of the governments to keep their generations secure.

Now that the trials have increased, the silence continues. Some, who could by professing levels of loyalty in action and not just words, are with the government, in government and posts where they are doing a commendable job for the BJP. Some who tried and were shunned are sitting back waiting for an opportunity and circling the circles of power. And still others who are now dissolving into criticism privately, are reluctant and resistant to speaking out, preferring instead to maintain this stoic silence that does not one, put them out there and two, does not foreclose options.

They, thus, remain publicly unmoved by the violence against the Muslims, to a point where the largest minority of India is being, gradually and not that slowly, pushed into an abyss of fear and trauma. By refusing to speak out, or as in the case of some well known individuals speaking only against Muslim extremism but not rabid acts of other communities, this elite has managed to stay out of all controversy.

The Muslim intelligentisa does not speak for the students, the Dalits, the farmers or any other marginalised section of society. But at least the Muslims, as that was the identity they took to catapult themselves into positions of power.But as the waters rise they still insist on being the only men and women on the rescue boat leaving behind those whom they had piggbacked on for so many years, the Muslim masses.

What they do not realise that the boat has developed fatal leaks since they were on it last.

(Representational image of Delhi Lt Governor Najeeb Jung)