I see the forums that are emerging as bargaining forums, nothing more

I am keeping a close watch on these developments as my hunch and conclusion for the moment is that these are moves mainly surrounding elections and the bartering of votes. While I do appreciate that Muslims and other minorities have special problems that need to be voiced and resolved as legitimate issues, the question is: why are none of these issues raised at other times and why do they only surface during elections? The leadership that is at the helm of this Muslim party initiative in Uttar Pradesh comprises the same people who, for a number of reasons, are not being given any share, importance or prominence by mainstream political parties as they were before.

Coming to the elections in Uttar Pradesh, time will tell whether these leaders are mere paper tigers, propped by a shallow and sensational media. Are these leaders coming forward to salvage the community or salvage themselves?

The experience of the Left, nationwide, has been a vote of confidence and trust from the minorities who see us as genuinely fighting against the former NDA and for secular values and issues.

A very interesting development has been taking place in Kerala. Since pre-independence days, right wing reactionary forces, from all religious groups, have been deeply suspicious of the Left and have actively campaigned against their constituents, Hindu, Muslim or others, voting for the Left. However, we see now, especially in Kerala, in Muslim League strongholds like Mallapuram, a left wing candidate, Comrade Jaleel, defeating a former minister, Kunjalikutty. Muslim women played a huge role in this victory for the Left.

In areas where the Left has a strong base, all communities, including the Muslim community, are active participants, even voting for us. This is a triumph of the secular democratic approach. Minorities have recognised that the Left’s struggle against communalism is to represent their genuine cause, not to appease the community. Hindu or Muslim, both Advani and Kunjalikutty are today viewed as self-seeking leaders rather than leaders of their community.

Coming back to the developments in UP following Assam, I see the forums that are emerging as bargaining forums, nothing more.

In Assam, the formation of Ajmal’s outfit ended up by helping the Congress to win and keeping the AGP out. The Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind (Assam) broke away from its national unit and served as a network for Ajmal’s party. Badruddin Ajmal is the state unit president of the JUH, Assam. This is unlikely to happen in Uttar Pradesh and without the grass roots organisational network of either the JUH or the Jamaat-e-Islami it is not easy to fight or win an election.

‘What is needed is not a Muslim party but a party that is sensitive to Muslim concerns’

Salman Khursheed
President, UP Congress(I)

Indian Muslims have scrupulously stayed away from Muslim parties. This tradition has come out of both the Indian Muslims' instinctive understanding of what partition has done to their cause and the wider secular democratic cause as also their comfort and ease with the Congress party, traditionally a party that has represented them. It is only in the recent past, when for one reason and another and in varying degrees Indian Muslims experienced a loss of faith in the Congress, that they have exercised alternate choices.

As far as the Muslim party experiment in UP is concerned, it is the demolition of the Babri Masjid and now the 'success' of the Assam experiment that has some people convinced that such an alternative is feasible. In my opinion, it is not. What is needed is not a Muslim party but a party that is sensitive to Muslim concerns, one that provides a wider forum.

Muslims form 18 per cent of the vote in UP. Some people extend the erroneous argument that 'if a Yadav can become a CM, and a Dalit or a Lodi can, why can't a Muslim?' What they fail to see is that the Yadav or the Dalit or the Lodi/Kurmi did not become CMs on the strength of their caste alone. They did so with the goodwill of other castes. Now with a Muslims-only party, which caste will support or join a Muslim conglomerate?

This apart, the leaders who are talking of all this are used to speaking an exclusionist language that speaks only the language of their community and does not include others. While overtly they are trying to hurt Mulayam's government, they will end up sending a blow to all secular forces.

In Assam the establishment with its stand on the IMDT Act was a clear target. Here in UP, except for the general overall disenchantment of the Muslim with the SP and BSP, there is no clear-cut target so far.

As for the Congress and its 'failure to draw in adequate Muslim participation and representation', this is a genuine problem that the party needs to address. Today there are few leaders and participants from the community who are joining fresh, there is almost no new supply, where are the new faces? The party must find a way to discover new faces and it is certainly up to the party to actively do something in this regard. The Congress constantly faces criticism about our genuine secular and minority rights concerns. But can anyone say that we are no different from previous regimes?

In the context of UP we also need to remember that Mulayam is a wily leader. The first sign of an emergent leader from the community where he has his own base and who is a genuine challenge will be jointly defeated by the SP and BSP.


‘The future lies in strengthening secular parties’

Mushirul Hasan
Vice chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi

The very principal of political action based on religion and religious solidarity is, I think, highly objectionable because in secular democratic India within the existing democratic and secular structures it is still possible for grievances to be addressed.

Be it through the Congress, the Left or any other centrist party. Lessons that we have learnt in the past from various initiatives must not be forgotten, for example in Bihar, as also in UP, where the Majlis-e-Mushawarat was formed. This attempt arose out of constitutional and secular motivations under the leadership of Dr Faridi and Dr Syed Mahmood. The experiment did not work and in fact was counterproductive, leading to the polarisation of not just votes but also sentiments. In that limited sense, the developments in UP do not augur well for secular democratic politics as a whole.

It becomes possible for alternate political parties to exploit the formation of such a Muslim front to mobilise followers around Hindutva and sectarian symbols.

In the long run if the motive is to focus on Muslim grievances – i.e. the genuine issues of exclusion, under-representation, discrimination – this is best and most effectively done from a secular platform rather than one driven by religious identity.

This discussion must also take into consideration the demographic distribution of Muslim votes that militate against corporators, MLAs or MPs getting voted in.

By and large – and I believe this is a good and healthy trend – the Muslim electorate has a wider choice than 10 years ago and it is possible, strategically and tactically, to exercise these choices. The future lies in strengthening secular parties rather than the formation of sectarian forums or options. They, ordinary Indian Muslims, have time and time again exposed the myth of the Muslim vote but our so-called specialists and commentators simply cannot come to terms with the fact that the Muslim community is a differentiated community, not a monolith. Given the image of the Muslim, the expert commentator is desperately in search of this monolith because they just cannot accept the fact that the Muslim vote is as complex and as differentiated as any caste. 


 ‘Muslims are being taken for granted by secular parties’

Qasim Rasool
Member, Executive Council, Jamaat-e-Islami, India and Convenor, Babri Masjid Action Committee

The executive body of the Jamaat-e-Islami is to meet next month where it will take a decision on where it stands vis-à-vis the newly formed PDF and UPUDF. All aspects of the issue will be taken into consideration before we take a decision. We will, for example, have to consider the fact of a widespread feeling among Muslims that they have been taken completely for granted by most secular parties and leaders, including Mulayam Singh Yadav in UP and Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar. Two thirds of the total votes polled by Mulayam Singh Yadav, for example, are Muslim votes while the Yadavs contribute only 25 per cent. But of the 1,300 police constables recently appointed by his government, 1,000 are Yadavs while only 30 Muslims were selected. The case with Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar is no different. As for Mayawati, she had no qualms about campaigning for Narendra Modi even after the Gujarat genocide. So many Muslims are asking: if Yadavs and Dalits can form their own party what is wrong if Muslims do the same. At the same time, there is the real problem of communal polarisation if Muslims form their own front. Besides, there is the problem of sectarian fragmentation of Muslims in UP and then there is the image of Imam Bukhari. In principle, the Jamaat-e-Islami believes in supporting only such political formations that keep the interests of all communities and castes in mind.


Bukhari appealed to Muslims to vote for BJP in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections'


Kamal Farooqui
Chartered accountant, member, Milli Council, member, All India Muslim Personal Law Board

I cannot accept any party formed on a religious or communal basis in my secular country. History shows that Muslims on the subcontinent have not favoured a communal party either during the freedom movement or since independence. The Muslim masses and the ulema strongly opposed the partition of the country. It was only the feudal landlords and their kind who supported the movement for Pakistan. Post-independence Muslims have always treated non-Muslims – Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh, Bahuguna – as their political leaders. They had more faith in them than in Muslim leaders. Even a person like Dr Jalil Faridi who otherwise was widely respected and had huge credibility could make no dent in UP with his Muslim Majlis.

Talking of replicating the Assam model in UP is playing a highly dangerous political game. In any case, Assam was a fiasco, not a success story. And don't the Muslims know who Ahmed Bukhari is and where he was in the last general elections? He appealed to Muslims to vote for the BJP. I will be surprised if the amount of votes garnered by any of the candidates put up by the two Muslim fronts in the coming UP elections manages to cross four figures.

‘A negative and unfortunate development’


Nishat Hussain
Founder and president, National Muslim Women’s Welfare Society, Jaipur

This would be both a negative and unfortunate development. In the past also, a Muslim political party was created, the Muslim League. What has been its impact? All that it is associated with is the partition of India. By this kind of talk, fascist and communal forces get more strength.

Then there is the other ground level reality. Muslim candidates have rarely won from Muslim majority areas. This is really healthy – the fact that Muslims do not vote according to the community or religion of the candidate but for secular concerns – and this is a healthy tradition that should be encouraged as a trend in politics.

Even if such a party is formed, what will happen? They will fail electorally anyway but with their failure they will have managed (negatively for the overall interests of the community) to raise the bogey of separatism against all Muslims. This will be very unfortunate.

I am confident that the so-called Muslim leadership that is being talked of will be thwarted by the community itself. Having said this, there is a great need for Muslims to build up their political strength and articulate their demands within mainstream political parties. We should think of increasing our impact on the political process overall. The questions Muslims need to ask are where are Muslims today in national politics, why are there no Muslim women in mainstream political parties? What have the so-called Muslim leaders in mainstream parties done for the community’s socio-economic development? Have they been able to raise the real bread-and-butter issues of the Muslim community?

(The National Muslim Women’s Welfare Society, with 800 members all over Rajasthan, was founded in 1989 after Jaipur’s first post-partition outbreak of communal violence during LK Advani’s rath yatra.)


‘Emulate the example of the Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam'

Prof MH Jawahirullah
President, Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK)

Muslim leadership always projects emotional issues instead of economic and social issues. The impact of globalisation, agrarian crises and poverty eradication are not articulated.

The PDF should emulate the example of the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam. The TMMK is not a political party fighting elections. However, working under a secular democratic framework it has successfully carved out a space for itself in the Tamil Nadu political arena. Its interaction with the non-Muslim community through its various services and actions has earned it high stature in the state's political scenario. Though the TMMK plays a vital political role during elections, it feels that it has not matured enough to become a political party. Our humble suggestion to the PDF is that they should first become a social movement, serve all communities, earn their goodwill and then ultimately become a political party.


‘Very little percolates into any change on the ground’

D. Sharifa Khanam
Director of STEPS Women’s Development Organisation and representative of the Tamil Nadu Muslim Women’s Jamaat, Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu

From the Tamil Nadu experience where there are three or four Muslim formations and organisations – the Tamil Nadu Muslim League (oldest), the Tamil Muslim Munnetra Kazagham (TMMK), the Tamil Nadu Tauheed Jamaat and the Tamil Nadu Muslim Women’s Jamaat – it is clear that they have been able to achieve little for the development and rights of the community. (The Women’s Jamaat articulates Muslim women’s concerns for serious social reform within the community and political rights overall – we have no electoral aims.)

Historically, the Tamil Muslim Munnetra Kazagham allied with the DMK until the latter tied up with the BJP and the TMMK then drifted towards the Congress. The Tauheed Jamaat has allied with the AIADMK. Neither the TMMK nor the Tauheed Jamaat has ever raised issues of reform or discrimination. Unfortunately, these organisations have degenerated into organisations that offer a barter of the Muslim vote at election time. They collect crowds immediately prior to an election and raise issues like reservations for Muslims, education for Muslims, but very little percolates into any change on the ground.

There is discrimination faced by Muslims even for small simple loans. Muslim inclusion in the Below the Poverty Line category (BPL) to avail of PDS and other benefits is minuscule despite the pathetic economic conditions of the community. How is it that these serious community issues are never raised by the MMK and the Tauheed Jamaat? Small subsistence Muslim farmers face despair and exclusion when there is drought. A Muslim woman was tonsured in Perambalur a month ago, another was burnt alive in Pudukottai just recently. Why do such issues not figure in the discourse of these outfits? Because Muslim women are invisible to them and social reform is not a priority for them. They are, in the ordinary Muslim mind, merely forums to transfer votes at election time.

Archived from Communalism Combat, June 2006. Year 12, No.116, Cover Story 3



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