Tablighi Jamaat in India: Evolution and Impact
Brig (Dr) Ashok Pathak
Brief Profile of Tablighi Jamaat (TJ)

The outbreak of COVID 19 pandemic in India coincided with headlines news in the Indian media on TJ. On 2 April 20 Lav Agarwal Joint Secretary Ministry of Health and Family Welfare stated ‘COVID-19 cases are doubling in 4.1 days, without Jamaat it would have been 7.4 days’.1 Besides, behavioral aspects of Jamaat members triggered debates on the role of police as also the government in maintaining law and order. The fact that it required intervention by the National Security Advisor (NSA) to get the TJ to vacate the Nizammuddin Masjid on 27 March 20 reveals the clout TJ enjoys in India.2

The Jamaat was established in 1926. It has a vision of transforming the Muslim Society in to ‘good Muslims’ based on the teachings of Islam. 3 It has presence in eighty countries with 80 million adherents, and has headquarters in some of these countries. Its global headquarters are in Nizammuddin Markaz (markaz means center). This center has a three storied mosque with a dormitory that can accommodate 5000 people.4

S Gurumurthi of Vivekanand International Foundation (VIF) in his article on 02 April 20- ‘Tablighi Jamaat its other evil side’ describes the Jamaat as the system driver for ‘Islamic Violent Non State Actor’. Many of its members have dual membership with the jihadists groups such as Al Qaeda, Jaish e Muhammd, Lashkar e Taiba and the like. Hence TJ members have been linked to many terror attacks in the US, France Spain, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India. The infamous Godhra attack on the karsevaks is also linked to TJ followers.5

The Ripple Effects at the Surface

What we see at the surface is the spread of COVID-19 in India through members of a religious congregation due to their stubborn behavior. This placed large section of Indian population at serious health risks, hundreds of Indians died and thousands got infected by the virus spread by irresponsible behavior by TJ members. Unfortunately it is the Muslim minority community which is bearing the brunt of Covid-19 spread by the TJ6

Coupled with this there were unruly behavior by sections of society in various states (Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and Chennai) where people harassed and harmed health workers tasked to protect the Indian population from the pandemic. This forced the Indian cabinet to bring in an ordinance legislating stringent punishments for offence against COVID warriors in India.7

Thus when we discuss TJ the two aspects described above are the focus of our discussion. We also hope that given the tough ordinance and public awareness about COVID-19 precautions the issue will be resolved. If this is our assumption, then we would be addressing the ripples on the surface. Hence there is a need to go deeper into the causes of what we witnessed since 27 March 20 in India. Understanding the problem in correct perspective will help us in finding a lasting solution.

Evolution: Pre Independence Era

Maulana AbulKalam Azad in his book, ‘India Wins Freedom’, identified two main issues that were to be addressed at Shimla Conference in 1946 just before independence8. These were political and communal dimensions of independent India. The political dimension dealt with transfer of power. The communal problem dealt with addressing the demand by the Muslim League for removing the fear of Hindu dominance in independent India. Birth of TJ is linked with this perceived fear of Hindu dominance propagated by Jinnah’s Muslim League. How relevant was this fear and how was it addressed by our political leaders before independence are critical issues to our discussion?

The All India Muslim League (AIML) was formed in 1906 at Dacca. The reasons for creating the league were to express the loyalty of Indian Muslims to the British and serve the Muslim cause9. Thus the League came into existence after 21 years of formation of Indian National Congress (INC) in 1885 which foughtagainst the British rule in India10. Seven years after League came into existence the Hindu Mahasabha was formed in India in December 191311. Azad refers to Hindu Mahasabha as a ‘communal party’ in one reference at page 57 and again translates Hindu Mahsabha as ‘Hindu communal’ at page 263 in his book12. He does not describe AIML as a communal organization in such clear terms. Bipin Chandra and Sumit Sarkar too found Hindu organizations as communal whereas, INC and Muslim organizations were seen as political by both these Historians (Bipin Chandra had been a professor in Jawaharlal Nehru University and Sumit Sarkar worked in Delhi university, both are described as Marxist Historians in their bio data).

In 1920 Gandhi entered the freedom movement. His earliest attempt to unite Hindus and Muslims was by assuming the leadership of Khilafat movement so far spearheaded by the Ali brothers of Muslim League. Khilafat had nothing to do with India’s struggle for independence and hence as per the INC’s vision under Goapal Krishna Gokhale was irrelevant to the INC. For a brief period, there was bonhomie among Hindu and Muslim elite groups. The movement fizzled out in three years. Ali brothers parted ways with Gandhi in 1923. Turkey- a country at the center of Khilafat movement dropped the demand for the Caliphate by 1924. 13

During the Khilafat movement the Moplah uprising was at its peak in the Malabar region in India. The poor Muslim peasants were engaged in violent struggle with the upper caste Hindus and the British Government against the revenue laws that deprived the peasants from their meagre earning. This movement was given religious overtone by Khilafat leaders. Even Gandhi praised these Muslim peasants for their courage. Since upper caste Hindus were at the receiving end in this fight Arya Samaj was formed in 1926 to cleanse the Hindus of their dogmatic rituals and foster unity amongst various castes and sects among them. Arya Samaj envisioned shudhi and Sangthan (cleansing and organizing) as their twin agenda. Tablighi Jamaat came in response to Arya Samaj where Tablighi is for making good Muslims and Jamaat translates to organization or group. 14,15 However, the similarity ends here. Arya Samaj is not known to have undertaken any terrorist acts whereas TJ slowly transformed into a rigid and uncompromising organization with global ambitions.

Did the AIML or the TJ represent all Muslims in undivided India? No, bulk of the Muslims and all the Hindus were determined to keep India united. The provincial elections of 1937 and 1946 prove this point. The League was virtually wiped out by the Unionists (Muslim Groups opposed to partition) in the 1937 elections. In 1946 the League did improve its tally but was unable to form government even in the Muslim majority province of Punjab. In 1946 the Unionists formed coalition government in Punjab with the INC through their President Abul Kalam’s initiatives. Gandhi as well as Nehru did not appreciate INC to deal with small parties. They were fixated on the stature of AIML as the party representing Muslims in India. Kalam on many occasions found that the League was gaining in stature through underserved attention given to it by Gandhi.16

Post -Independence and Partition

Independence of India was preceded by partition of the subcontinent with devastating effects on the people on both sides of the Radcliffe Line. Reflecting on the human misery inflicted by the partition, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad observed that those representing the people (INC and the League) endorsed a catastrophic decision which was not supported by one hundred percent Hindus and overwhelming majority of Muslims.17 Muslim league lost its popularity in Pakistan with in first ten years of its formation.18 INC took longer to become unpopular in India. Important events that define the deeper fault lines linked with TJ relate to the type of political systems and institutions that emerged on 15 August 1947, the way our leaders and institutions addressed the complex communal issue and exceptionally retrograde economic policies.

Durga Das in his book ‘India From Curzon to Nehru and After’ describes the scene very vividly. Gandhi learnt that INC is fielding candidates who were known to be extremely corrupt, highly selfish and prone to subvert other institutions such as the judiciary. He wanted to purge the system. No one listened to him. He felt like one exploited by his comrades for their political ends. He then suggested that the Congress must be dissolved as a political party and a Lok Seva Sangh (Servants of the People Society) take its place. But before this could be implemented he was assassinated.19

The journey since 1947 has been shaped by a combination of inept handling of communal divides, increasing levels of corruption and dishonesty in public dealings as also marginalizing and corrupting law enforcing, administrative, financial as also security institutions. The data relating to our secular credentials, our ranking in global order in the context of corruption and strengths of institutions, economic performance and communal turbulence prove the above statement.

The idea of secularism was not included in the Indian Constitution in 1950. This was introduced in 1976 during emergency without any debate in the parliament. Subhash C Kashyap- an eminent constitutional expert observes that the ‘secularism’ in India is being used in a manner so that majority of the population does not enjoy any special privileges whereas the religious rights of the minorities get protected in different ways’.20 However, data pertaining to conditions of Indian Muslims since 1947 for whom secularism is being used for electoral gains tell a different story. There have been more riots and killings of Muslims in riots and their economic conditions have steadily deteriorated.21

If we analyze the issues related to economic growth and performance of administrative and supporting institutions then the World Economic Forum(WEF) data indicates that till 2014 our ranking in all the relevant factors such as institutions, corruption, per capita income, GDP growth rate has been in the bottom half of the table. In 2018 our ranking jumped up five places when compared to 2017 and 13 places in comparison to ranking in 2014.22

Inferences and Recommendations

In the context of TJ episode in India during the pandemic the deep rooted fault lines lie in four macro domains. First is our inability to remove the ill-conceived fear of dominance by the majority Hindu dominance. This is primarily due to the fact that our political system as also the mainstream media addresses Indian citizens in terms of communities based on religion, region, languages and customs. Since the current narrative thrives on these fault lines any effort to remove these meets with very high friction.

Secondly, instead of adopting a professional approach in creating and nurturing institutions we adopted an approach that protects the cadre and promotes self-serving approach in almost all institutions. Thus even institutions expected to complement each other compete and remain in silos. Thirdly, we have failed to transform institutions that have close contact with the citizen to adopt people friendly approach as against the British era mai bap approach. These institutions include the health care, educational, financial, judicial, administrative and law enforcing organizations.

Fourthly, even after liberalization of our economy in 1991 our approach still hinges on command driven macro economy. Excessive dependence on socialism does not allow the human capital to become competitive and innovative. Overwhelmingly large section of Indian population looks up to the government for even rudimentary support.

Since 2014 major efforts have been made to rid ourselves from these shortcomings. However, given the habits formed by people and institutions it will be time before things change for the better. On the positive side the way India has addressed the COVID-19 pandemic under Prime Minister Modi gives us hope that India is now ready to address the problem head on and regain her position among the comity of nations.

End Notes
  1. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/rate-of-doubling-of-covid-19-cases-4-1-days-without-tablighi-jamaat-incident-it-would-have-been-7-4-government/articleshow/74994181.cms?from=mdr ( as reported by Economics Times dated 5 April 20, Nidhi Sharma ( accessed 20 April 20)
  2. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/markaz-leadership-resisted-then-nsa-ajit-doval-dropped-by-at-2-am/story-RhL243HMbRgTGBbriNIVzL.html NSA’s intervention reported by Hindustan Times dated 02 April 20, story by Shishir Gupta ( Accessed on 20 April 20)
  3. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52131338Tablighi Jamaat : The Group blamed for new COVID 19 outbreak in India 2 April 20, Accessed on 22 April 20.
  4. https://navbharattimes.indiatimes.com/education/gk-update/what-is-tablighi-jamaat-and-who-is-the-founder-of-it-know-all-about-him/articleshow/74906227.cmsNavbharat Times dated 3 April 20 accessed 23 April 20.
  5. https://www.vifindia.org/article/2019/april/02/coronavirus-tablighi-jamaat-its-other-evil-sideS Gurumurthy Chairman VIF 2 April 20 ( Accessed 4 April 20)
  6. https://swarajyamag.com/ideas/india-why-muslims-are-being-disproportionally-hit-by-covid-19Swarajya Staff 14 April 20, ( Accessed on 03 May 20)
  7. https://www.asianage.com/india/all-india/230420/ordinance-to-punish-those-attacking-healthcare-personnel-comes-into-force.html Ordinance to Protect Health care workers: Which Act of Violence is Punishable Offence? “Asian Age” 23 April 20 ( Accessed on 25 April 20)
  8. Maulana AbulKalam Azad, “India Wins Freedom An Autobiographical Narrative” Longman Green and Co New York, London Toronto 1960 Library of Congress Catalog No 60-10882 (Pp 120)
  9. Maulana AbulKalam Azad Formation of Muslim League Page 130 Origin and aim of Moslem League
  10. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Indian-National-Congress Establishment of Indian NationaL Congress ( Accessed 18 April 20)
  11. https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/168527/10/10_chapter%206.pdf Formation of All India Hindu Mahasabha 1913
  12. Maulana AbulKalamAzad Hindu Mahasabha communal ( Pp 57 and 263)
  13. Durga Das, ‘India From Curzon to Nehru & After’ Collins St James Palace London 1969 Passing of Tilak era Khilafat and Gandhi (Pp 71)
  14. Sumit Sarkar MODERN INDIA 1885-1947 Macmillan Darya Ganj New Delhi First Published 1983 ISBN 0333 904257, Arya Samaj and TJ
  15. Bipin Chandra et al , ‘ India’s Struggle for Independence’ Penguin Books India 1988, ISBN 9780140107814
  16. Maulana AbulKalam Azad Elitist decision on partition (Pp 241, Divided India)
  17. Maulana AbulKalam Azad League losing to the Unionists (Pp 139 General Elections)
  18. Maulana AbulKalam Azad Muslim League loses popularity in Pakistan Pp 264)
  19. Durga Das, ‘India From Curzon to Nehru & After’ Collins St James Palace London 1969 (Pp 276, 277)
  20. Subhash C Kashyap, ‘Our Constitution An Introduction to Constitution and Constitutional Law National’ Book Trust India 2011, ISBN 978-81-237-0734 (Pp 63 Secularism)
  21. http://www.minorityaffairs.gov.in/sites/default/files/sachar_comm.pdfcondition of IndianMuslims
  22. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/GCR2018/05FullReport/TheGlobalCompetitivenessReport2018.pdf read page xi and 10. ( Accessed on 24 April 20) and ranking in 2014 at https://reports.weforum.org/global-competitiveness-report-2014-2015/rankings/

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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