Amir Rashadi ‘hero’, but Ulema Council may not win LS elections

By Mumtaz Alam Falahi,,

The UP Ulema Council has united Azamgarh Muslims by holding programs in villages, a big rally in New Delhi in January and a bigger one in Lucknow in February. The Ulema Council, formed in October last year in the backdrop of Batla House encounter and subsequent arresting of Azamgarh youths, has instilled confidence in local Muslims. They have come out of fear era, and have accepted the leadership of the Council. Maulana Amir Rashadi, convenor of the Council, has emerged as ‘hero.’ Notwithstanding, the Council may not win a single seat if it fights the coming Lok Sabha elections – on its own.

This is what Azamgarh Muslims – intellectuals, local politicians and social activists – tell, and not without reasons. Behind the strong possibility of the Council’s defeat are factors ranging from Muslim population to caste politics to Council’s no-no to electoral alliance to even the style of functioning of the Council.

Amir Rashadi

While the overwhelming majority of the local Muslims are supporting the Ulema Council’s decision to fight elections, some say it is an unwise decision at this time. The group should first unite and strengthen the community and its vote power like Kanshi Ram did in Dalits’ case, and only then will think about elections. Till then they should work as a pressure group, some intellectuals say. All are unanimous, however, that the organization is not in a position to win even a single seat in entire Poorvanchal (eastern UP where the Council’s presence is now being felt) on its own. It will not only lose but will end up helping – unwittingly – polarization of Hindu votes, and final result: victory of communal forces.

Ulema Council’s impact on Muslim society

Thanks to Ulema Council programs, Azamgarh Muslims have come out of fear. They are now boldly speaking on issues. The Jantar Mantar rally held in Delhi on January 29 has infused a lot of confidence in people. Only 3-4 thousand could gather in that rally but multiples of that number gathered in the Lucknow rally held on February 20, says Dr Muhammad Arshad of Azamgarh.

“It is the first time that Ulema Council or better say religious groups have gathered on a social issue in Azamgarh. This has created awareness among people. The group has got success more than expected,” says Dr Arshad, guest teacher at Jamia Millia Islamia. People had stopped carrying Azmi title with their name. Now this situation has changed, he adds.

People are now coming into open. They have come out of fear period. They think that unless they get politically strong, there is no way to solve their problems. And that’s why they are supporting Ulema Council, says Azamgarh-based social activist Tariq Shafeeq.

Echoing his view, Muhammad Azam, pradhan (village head) of Bhawapur, says that Muslims are now feeling bold. No longer do they fear police or its agencies like ATS or STF. They have completely come out of fear.

Council getting support of Muslim masses?

Youths and common Muslims of Azamgarh have now got attached with Ulema Council. They have devoted themselves to the Council, with their money and time. They have been doing this with other parties and leaders in the past. Now they are doing it with the Council, says Dr Muhammad Alauddin, Lecturer at Azamgarh’s prestigious Shibli College.

Today their impact is such that common Muslims are not ready to hear anyone except Ulema Council. They have accepted them as their undisputed leader. Now they are approaching Ulema Council on matters for which they would earlier go to political leaders, Dr Muhammad Arshad says. The influence of the Council is spreading in neighboring districts like Jaunpur, Siddharth Nagar and Basti, he adds.

Umair Manzar, native of Azamgarh’s Chandpatti village, says Ulema Council was born out of people’s frustration. When local Muslims saw no one was coming to help them, they decided to form their own group. Result is Ulema Council which has got support of 90% Muslims in Azamgarh district, says Manzar, research scholar at Jamia Millia.

Social activist Tariq Shafeeq, who lives in Sanjarpur – the village of Sajid killed in the September 19 Batla House encounter and Muhammad Saif arrested from the L-18 flat – says when asked about the opinion of the villagers about the Ulema Counci, “They are ready to support anyone who comes up to fight for their rights. They are supporting Ulema Council because it talks about their issue. They will support even BJP if it decides to fight their case. For them party is less important than their issue.”

People accepted Council’s decision to fight elections?

Dr Muhammad Alauddin of Shibli College says: Thousands of people went with Ulema Council to Delhi where decision to fight elections was announced. Many more thousands of people attended the Lucknow rally. This shows that people are with them.

But if this mass support will convert into votes, it is difficult to say now. Elections are two months away. They haven’t announced their candidates. So it is difficult to say about the impacts of the Council on elections, he adds.

Dr Muhammad Arshad says Ulema Council’s decision to contest elections is as unplanned as its creation. The decision has been taken in frustration as not even secular parties were coming to the rescue of Azamgarh Muslim youths. People felt they had no leadership. No one was speaking against the atrocities against them, against the picking up of their children. No one was openly supporting them. Council is the result of that situation. It has got mass support. But whether this mass support will convert into vote is premature to say.

He further says: “Their decision to contest elections on its own at this time is unwise. Rather, they should work as a pressure group. When Kanshi Ram jumped into politics for his community, he first united the community and only when they became a strong force, he utilized or exploited that force for power.”

“At this juncture, Ulema Council should not field its candidates; rather they should work as a pressure group. Or at least they should extend support to those who can be helpful to them. If they jump into election politics now, divisions may appear in Ulema Council” he says.

Social activist Tariq Shafeeq says: Youths and people attached with madrasas are supporting Council’s stand to fight elections but intellectuals and modern educated class have not yet made up their mind. “They think Council is not a political party. It is an organization. And several such organizations emerge at the time of elections,” he says.

Muhammad Azam says: “Muslims are ready to accept any decision of Ulema Council. They are ready to support their election candidate also. 95% Muslims are with them. Cutting across party line they will support Ulema Council. Muslims are ready to support even Hindu candidates fielded by Council. Muslims are now approaching the Council for their matters. Amir Rashadi has emerged as a hero.”

Will Ulema Council win on their own?

Impossible, as Muslims are around 17% of the population in Azamgarh. The council hasn’t yet forged any alliance with other parties. So its Muslim candidates are not going to win. However, they can strengthen the chances of their win only if they fully turn the cast combination in their favor and field Hindu candidates.

Tariq Shafeeq says: Their Muslim candidates will not win because they have not yet forged any alliance with any Hindu group. They have not taken Hindus along with them. They have not taken along secular Hindus with them. They are not in winning position. If they are to win they will have to field a strong Hindu candidate from Thakur or Yadav castes. That strong candidate with full Muslim support may be in position to win the Azamgarh seat.

Ramakant Yadav, a strong man of the area, is BJP candidate. People have been supporting SP or BSP to defeat BJP. Now BSP has a Muslim candidate, and another Muslim candidate will just help Ramakant.

“Another factor that makes Council’s victory dim is its not being a political party. It has not its cadres. Cadres gather votes or divide opposite votes. They have just emotions. And emotions cannot go long,” says Tariq.

Muhammad Azam says: Their candidate on his own will not win until they get an alliance. Like Dalits have been voting for BSP, Muslims this time will support Council candidate. In Azamgarh Sadr there is good presence of Dalits, Thakurs and then Yadavs. It is difficult for a Muslim candidate to win the seat.

Umair Manzar also agrees that Council may not win on its own. They will have to forge alliance.

Dr Muhammad Arshad says: If Council fields their own candidates, it will be very unwise as it will ultimately help communal forces. Even if Muslim votes get polarized they will not be in winning position. On the other hand the polarization of Hindu votes, which is most possible in view of Muslim polarization, will get communal forces to victory.

Tariq Shafeeq says that communal and emotional tone of the Council has begun hampering its popularity. This has distanced many from the Council as they are not agreed with the work style of the council. Their regular call of Allah o Akbar in their programs and rallies has begun polarizing Hindu votes, he says. Their on and off religious sloganeering is causing much annoyance and disturbing communal harmony, he adds.