Jamiat cries foul

The newly launched Muslim fronts in UP claim to take their inspiration from the experiment in Assam. But the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, the main inspiration behind the emergence of the AUDF, insists that though mistakes have been made, the AUDF is meant to be a "genuinely secular party" and never a purely Muslim outfit. Maintaining that a separate Islamic or Muslim party can only harm the community’s interests and help communal forces, it charges both Imam Bukhari and Maulana Kalbe Jawwad with misleading the Muslim masses and leading them towards potential disaster.

In this context, Communalism Combat found the two-part article published by the Urdu daily, Qaumi Awaaz, highly educative. Though long, we think it is an important political document. Therefore we are publishing below a translation of the two pieces. The author of the articles, Mohammed Salman Mansurpuri is a special invitee to the Jamiat’s national working committee. That he is clearly articulating the Jamiat’s position on the entire issue is also indicated by the fact that he is the son-in-law and nephew of the current Jamiat president, Maulana Syed Arshad Madni.

In a country such as India, the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind considers Muslim communalism to be as dangerous as Hindu communalism for the country and the minority community. This has been the Jamiat’s consistent and clear stand since the partition of the country and until today. The Jamiat strongly believes that in India we must never seek a solution to any of our problems on a communal basis. Instead, we must speak the language of what is fair and what is not, oppression and justice, backwardness and progress. That is why even on the issue of reservations the Jamiat has been demanding quotas for Muslims not on a religious basis but on the grounds of their backwardness.

The experience of 59 years since independence tells us that every time any issue is given a communal complexion, Muslims are the losers and anti-Muslim forces have gained strength. But these days it looks as if it is the season of ever new political fronts among some Muslims. And citing the example of the Assam United Democratic Front, the Jamiat is also being seen as party to it… It therefore seems necessary to place before the public an account of the efforts made by the Jamiat in recent years to initiate a political party, of the Jamiat’s perspective on the issue and the context in which the AUDF took birth, and the character of the AUDF. This is important so that people understand how they are being misled by certain political leaders who are misrepresenting the Assam example.

In March 2003 preparations were in full swing for holding, at the Ramlila grounds in Delhi, the 27th conference of the Jamiat on a grand scale. There was great excitement as preparations were in full swing across the country. In this context, I felt that our objective should not be limited to gathering a crowd. Instead, why not think of some concrete plan for the betterment of the country and the community, especially something that could increase the political weight of the minorities and the backward castes. I thought the Jamiat should take the lead in this direction. Accordingly, emphasising the need for the emergence of a genuinely secular party in the country, I prepared a proposal. The highlights of this plan were:

a. The name of the party must be such that it does not suggest that it was a party for people of only a particular religious community.

b. The constitution of the party must be such that it remains open to people of different faiths.

c. The party’s office bearers must include non-Muslims.

d. The party’s doors must be open to people from different sects and communities.

e. The Jamiat as an organisation must not become a part of the party but maintain the role of watchdog.

f. During elections such a party must seek alliances with different regional parties; it must not fight alone.

g. A large number of seats must be offered to like-minded, sincere non-Muslim candidates.

After my draft was ready, the principal of Moradabad’s Madrasa Shahi, Maulana Asad Rashidi saw it and expressed his total agreement with its contents. On March 4, 2003 I faxed a copy of the draft to the Jamiat head office. In the evening Maulana Mahmood Madni phoned me to say that the draft had been approved by the Jamiat’s president, Maulana Syed Asad Madni, and that the same would be presented for deliberations before the plenary session of the forthcoming conference.

After a lot of discussion and debate the draft was cleared by the plenary session and a seven-member committee was agreed upon to take the proposal forward. The members of the committee were:

1. Maulana Syed Asad Madni (the late Jamiat president).

2. Maulana Syed Arshad Madni (the current president).

3. Maulana Habibur Rehman Qasmi.

4. Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari.

5. Shakeel Ahmed, advocate.

6. Maulana Mahmood Madni.

7. Mohammed Salman Mansoorpuri (This writer).

On the morning of March 8 while I was in the office, I was asked to see the president in his office immediately. Maulana Syed Arshad Madni, Maulana Mahmood Madni and Maulana Habibur Rehman Qasmi were also present. Maulana Mahmood Madni said, "Yesterday you all decided on the formation of a secular party and you have made me the convenor. I feel so burdened by this that I could not sleep all of last night. Please hand over this responsibility to someone else as I do not feel capable of it." Then he himself suggested that Imam Bukhari be made the convenor. But the president strongly opposed the suggestion and said that an undependable person cannot be given such a responsibility. After considerable deliberation it was decided that Maulana Mahmood Madni must remain the convenor. It was also decided that instead of announcing the decision to launch a genuine secular party we should say that we would endeavour towards the same and for this the seven-member committee would be given three months’ time to explore the possibilities and then submit its report. Accordingly, this suggestion was put before the working committee and the same was accepted.

It is a fact that until then Maulana Mahmood Madni, I and many others had illusions about Maulana Bukhari. We all felt that compared to his late father, Abdullah Bukhari, he was more sober and closer to the national mainstream. Therefore if he were to abide by the principles of the Jamiat, he could greatly benefit the country and the community. On the evening of March 8, a special session of the Jamiat conference was held at the Shahi Jama Masjid. Initiating the proceedings, Maulana Bukhari said, "Today ushers in a new chapter in the history of Muslim unity."

Those who want to establish a Muslim political party on communal lines are agents of anti-minority Hindu communalists
— Maulana Asad Madni, former president of the Jamiat, in the official mouthpiece of the Jamiat, Al-Jamiat, 25 December 2003-1st January, 2004

But our illusions about Maulana Bukhari were shattered immediately thereafter. The very next day, March 9, when he was invited to speak in support of the proposed secular party at the plenary session at the Ramlila grounds he showed his true colours. Addressing a gathering of lakhs, he exceeded all limits of decency while castigating secular parties in general and the Congress in particular and, in incendiary language, tore the Jamiat’s plan for a new secular party to shreds. Two statements of his were particularly indicative of his mindset.

One, he said that Ahmed Bukhari does not believe in any kind of tact or diplomacy. This one statement was enough to make it clear to me that the community can expect to gain nothing from such a leader… His second statement, which shocked everyone even more, was that in this country Hindus will be Hindus and Muslims will be Muslims and there was no way the two could work together. It was evident from this statement that the Imam Saheb was talking the language of the RSS. Clearly, he had not the least interest in the betterment of Muslims; all that mattered to him was cheap popularity.

Such a statement from the Imam Saheb was not only against the principles of the Jamiat but also against the basic teachings of Islam. Despite this, Jamiat leaders showed exemplary restraint to avoid any unpleasantness at the session. But we realised the big mistake we had made in inviting Imam Bukhari to address the plenary and felt a deep pang of conscience for having given undue importance to such an incendiary person. Not just the leadership but the entire assembly was deeply upset by his statements.

After the conference, for quite some time the issue of forming a new and genuine secular party became a hot topic for discussion among Muslims. Meanwhile, the Jamiat was engaged in exploring the possibility of such a political formation. At the May 22, 2003 meeting of the seven-member committee, in order to take the plan forward I proposed a four-point questionnaire and suggested that the same be widely circulated among the different units of the Jamiat as also among prominent political and religious leaders for their feedback. The same questionnaire was then issued under the signature of Maulana Mahmood Madni and publicised through advertisements in the media.

We started receiving feedback to this questionnaire and on June 16 the preparatory committee decided to invite sober Muslim and non-Muslim political leaders and opinion makers from all over the country for a consultation on the issue. The consultation was held on July 20, 2003. The consensus that emerged was that while there was need for a new secular political party, such a party should only be launched after a sizeable section of non-Muslims and different sects among Muslims had been convinced of its need. It was strongly felt that a premature launch of the proposed political formation would do more harm than good.

Following the consultation, the Jamiat thought it appropriate to cold-storage the plan for the moment. But efforts in this direction continued to be made at the state level in several states. In many places, programmes were organised to invite Dalits to dine with Muslims. Contacting and establishing an equation with Dalit leader Udit Raj was a part of this programme. Similarly, in Andhra Pradesh contacts were made with Dalit and tribal leaders.

Meanwhile, an important development took place in Assam. The IMDT Act legislated by the state Congress had at last provided some security to Bengali-speaking Muslims in the state and widespread harassment by the police had stopped. But the Supreme Court struck down the Act and the Bengali-speaking Muslims were once again faced with the spectre of deportation. The Jamiat believed that the Act would not have been struck down if the Congress government in Assam had argued its case properly.

Because of this, at a state level meeting of the Jamiat at which Assam’s chief minister, Tarun Gogoi was present, the late Maulana Syed Asad Madni, then Jamiat president, used strong words. He warned that unless the wrong was set right in six months the Jamiat would topple Gogoi’s government. When the government did nothing in those six months to resolve the problem, state Jamiat president Badruddin Ajmal Ali and his colleagues started making contacts with different tribal groups and organisations in Assam. Thus the ground was prepared for the formation of a united front along with the Assam Labour Party (which represents tea plantation workers), the Assam Harijan Unian Samaj (a political formation of Dalits) and others. Some dissident Congress leaders were also invited to join. The proposed alliance was also welcomed by various Muslim bodies in Assam, including the Jamaat-e-Islami.

After all the groundwork was complete, the party was launched at a well attended meeting held in Guwahati on October 13, 2005. The then Jamiat president, Maulana Syed Asad Madni and other top leaders of the Jamiat were present on the occasion. What was launched was in every sense a secular front. While Badruddin Ajmal Ali was made the president, three of the five vice-presidents of the front were non-Muslims. Their names are:

1. Shri Bharoj Lal Arvi Das, president, All-Assam Harijan Unian Samaj.

2. Shri Gautam Prasad Goswami, former Congress leader.

3. Prof. Kamal Lane Bhattacharya, former Congress leader.

The general secretary of the front, Aditya Link Satha (Bimasa) too was a non-Muslim who, incidentally, won his seat in the recent polls. Similarly, Shri Shyam Sundar Choudhary, a Dalit leader, was one of the secretaries of the front. Thus, five of the 11 office bearers of the front were non-Muslims. It should be evident from this that the newly formed front was by no means a Muslim organisation (as is being done these days) but a front that Muslims in Assam formed along with non-Muslims from the backward and exploited sections. This front gave itself the name Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) and started preparing for elections.

The front was formed a few days before Ramzan. On his return from Medina the Jamiat president, Maulana Syed Asad Madni retired to Deoband for the month of Ramzan as was his usual practice. A day after Id, Maulana Madni went into a coma following an injury and remained bedridden until his death on February 6, 2006. Thus, in its very formative stage, the front was deprived of the guidance of the very influential and popular Jamiat president.

Since the AUDF was the first product of the Jamiat’s efforts at a new political initiative, it was critical that it retained its secular character and every possible precaution taken to prevent a communal climate at election time. The success of the front depended, and still does, on it retaining its secular character. It was essential that anyone who is perceived as a communal or an incendiary leader be kept away from the election campaign. Similarly, it was also necessary for religious institutions and madrasas to refrain from open participation in the campaign. It was equally necessary to include non-Muslim colleagues in every statement and in public rallies so that a clear message went out to the entire country that a united front of Muslims and Hindus had entered the electoral fray in Assam.

Bukhari’s statement, which shocked everyone even more, was that in this country Hindus will be Hindus and Muslims will be Muslims and there was no way the two could work together. It was evident from this statement that the Imam Saheb was talking the language of the RSS. Clearly, he had not the least interest in the betterment of Muslims; all that mattered to him was cheap popularity

But I am sorry to say that knowingly or unknowingly the AUDF leadership in Assam took some steps as a result of which the AUDF’s secular character was tarnished and Maulana Badruddin Ajmal was forced to repeatedly clarify that his was not a Muslim political outfit. If the necessary precautions had been taken, the need for constant clarification would not have arisen. Of the things that caused damage to the AUDF cause, I would like to highlight three:

1. The entire country knows that Imam Bukhari is known or has been projected as a communal and an extremist leader. But on the ill advice of god knows who all, Bukhari Saheb was invited to Assam to campaign for the AUDF and was taken around the state in helicopters. Those who were swayed by emotions did not realise it at the time but the fact is that Bukhari Saheb played a key role in ruining the AUDF’s image. His campaign tour gave the electoral campaign a communal colour. The result being that the AUDF, which had been launched as a secular front and had given 22 of its 71 tickets to non-Muslims, acquired the image of a purely Muslim front. Because of this, AUDF candidates lost seats even where it was in a strong position and gave the Congress an opportunity to attract Hindu votes.

2. The second example of the AUDF’s failure to take precautions was the open involvement of numerous madrasas in the electoral process. A person from Assam recently told me that madrasas in Assam were closed down for 15 days to enable its staff and students to create a favourable climate for the AUDF. In my view, this too was an unwise step. It too contributed to giving the campaign a communal complexion and the AUDF had to pay for it. We have ourselves had experience of this while campaigning for Maulana Mahmood Madni during the general elections in 2004. The open engagement of Muslim religious bodies in the electoral process results in a natural polarisation of Hindu votes and this does not help our case.

3. The third pointer to the AUDF’s immaturity was its arrogant dismissal of the sincere and conciliatory gesture made by the Congress high command during the last phase of campaigning. Had the AUDF responded positively and arrived at some electoral understanding with the Congress, it would not have found itself isolated as it does today. The AUDF could have increased its electoral tally and been further able to exert pressure on the Congress to resolve the problems that the community faces in Assam. I have no doubt that had Maulana Syed Asad Madni been alive he would never have allowed such an opportunity to escape. If despite these shortcomings the AUDF managed limited electoral success, credit for this must be attributed to the hold and influence of the Jamiat in Assam. If the Jamiat were not in the picture, the AUDF would have found it difficult to win even one or two seats. And no one should forget that the Jamiat supported the AUDF not because it was a Muslim front but on the clear understanding that it was a secular formation.

Seeing the huge turnouts at the election rallies in Assam, Bukhari Saheb has the illusion that the turnouts had to do with his charismatic personality. That is why, soon after results were declared, he announced that the Assam formula would be replicated in the coming polls in UP. But even before he could give some shape to his game plan, another aspirant from UP, Maulana Kalbe Jawwad announced the formation of his own front. Seeing the opportunity slip through his fingers, Bukhari Saheb quickly convened a conference in Delhi on June 10 and has announced the launch of his own Muslim front under the banner of UPUDF.

Not a single non-Muslim leader or organisation has so far shown any interest in either of these two fronts. Despite this, both men talk repeatedly of the Assam formula. The fact is that the front which emerged in Assam was a secular front backed by a grass roots organisation like the Jamiat. Both these aspects are lacking in the newly launched fronts. There is no non-Muslim participation in either, nor does either have the backing of the Jamiat. If, despite this, the Assam experience continues to be invoked by these purely Muslim fronts, it is nothing short of fooling the masses. The Jamiat stand on this has been made very clear. At a press conference jointly addressed by them in Delhi on May 23, the Jamiat president, Maulana Syed Arshad Madni, and the general secretary, Maulana Mahmood Madni, have made it plain that a separate party of Muslims can only damage the community’s interests. Therefore the Jamiat can never support an initiative that harms Muslims and helps communal forces.

With the Jamiat having reiterated its basic principles, it is incumbent on state and district committee members of the organisation to ensure that they do not do anything that tarnishes the Jamiat’s anti-communal perspective. At the same time, it is incumbent on the Jamiat’s central leadership to keep its distance from leaders like Imam Bukhari. We must all ensure that we do not repeat the scenarios of the recent past where the Jamiat and Imam Bukhari were seen as being close. All the units of the Jamiat must also stay steadfastly committed to the principles of national unity and guard against anything that might attract the label of "Muslim communalism".

We must not forget that in a country like India sharing political power is not as important as the security of life and property. We must at all costs refrain from such attempts at sharing power that are likely to aggravate the communal atmosphere and precipitate violence. Such efforts can neither stand the test of reason nor be rationalised as a search for justice. May Allah save Muslims from extremism and rescue them from trials and tribulations. Aameen!

(Translated by Javed Anand.)

Archived from Communalism Combat, June 2006. Year 12. No.116, Cover Story 2



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