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Indian Muslims: A reflection

By Iqbal Ahmad,

With Parliamentary elections around the corner, Indian Muslims have become vocal in putting forward their grievances and demands. More aggressively and forcefully than ever before.

Last few weeks witnessed a lot of activities – ranging from protest against fake encounters to demand reservation for Muslims in jobs and education.

In the era of coalitions with no single political party in a position to form the next government at the Centre, Indian Muslims are aware of the significance of their vote. They no longer want to be sidelined or ignored or merely be treated as a vote bank.

Azamgarh Rally at Jantar Mantar

On January 29, nearly 4,000 Muslims assembled at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar to protest against the allegedly labelling of innocent Muslims as terrorists. Most of them had arrived on a special train called the “Ulema Express,” which started from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh.

Two days later, a prominent Muslim group All India Milli Council held a rally at the Ramlila grounds in New Delhi in which more than ten thousand Muslims were present. The group raised some issues related to the development of Muslim community.

It was followed by a daylong “National Convention on Muslim Reservation,” organized by Joint Committee of Muslim Organizations for Empowerment (JCMOE), on Feb 01 at the India Islamic Cultural Centre in New Delhi. The meeting was convened by former diplomat and parliamentarian Syed Shahabuddin.

National Convention on Muslim Reservation

The convention adopted a resolution seeking publication of the Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission report on backward religious and linguistic minorities which has recommended ”15 per cent reservation for minorities, with 10 per cent exclusively for the Muslims, along with the unutilised portion of the other five per cent.”

It also demanded inclusion of Muslim and Christian Dalits in the Scheduled Caste (SC) list.

A number of political leaders, including LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan, CPI’s A B Bardhan, Debabrata Biswas of AIFB and representatives of JD(S) and NCP attended the convention.

All India Milli Council’s rally in Delhi

Given the track record of the government and most of the mainstream political parties vis-a-vis development of Muslims in the last sixty years, it is not very difficult to speculate how much attention the community would seek from the powers-that-be.

But what is more important is that it indicates that the community has shed fear to voice grievances in public. This speaks volumes about the community’s new approach.

Indian Muslims know very well that it’s a herculean task to get anything concrete from the state. In every meeting, a large number of speakers emphasised on the need for a reform from within the community while simultaneously striving to extract benefits from the state.

So the larger question is how the community is going to reform itself.

Some of the events that have unfolded in the last few months raise some serious doubts about the path the community and its so-called leadership have been following.

Hardly three to four kilometres away from the venue of the convention for reservation, a luncheon was given by Siraj Qureshi, the newly elected president of the India Islamic Culture Centre (IICC) at Pragati Maidan. More than five thousand people, majority of them Muslims off course, were treating themselves with the lavish menu. While only a few hundred were present at the convention on reservation. It is nobody’s argument that only the presence of a larger number would ensure reservation for the Muslims. At least it says something about the priority of the community.

IICC – supposed to be the nerve centre of Muslim elite — has been in news for being a battleground between Congress leader Salman Khurshid and incumbent president Siraj Qureshi. The newly elected president of the IICC did not bother to show his presence at such an important meeting to discuss the issues related to the Muslim community. Let me recall that Mr Qureshi fought the election by claiming a lot of development work for Muslims.

Mr Qureshi can be excused for being host at the Pragati Maidan luncheon but even his token presence at the convention for a few minutes would have been appreciated by all.

On the same day, Aligarh Muslim University had planned to organise a two-day national convention on minority education. But it was postponed at the last moment. The official reason given by AMU authorities was that the seminar was postponed due to the sad demise of the former President Mr R Venkatraman. But according to some very reliable sources and keen watcher of the university politics, it was because Union HRD Minister Arjun Singh was not available for the inauguration.

Firstly, it was not a function or a celebration that couldn’t have been done due to state mourning. It was a serious programme to discuss the educational conditions of the Indian Muslims. And even if Arjun Singh was not available, does it make any difference? What is more important — individual or the issue?

Unfortunately, this is the way AMU has been functioning.

Coming back to Delhi. I would like to discuss something about the recent election of Mr Adeeb Mohammad Khan to the Rajya Sabha from UP as a joint candidate of Congress and Samajwadi Party, and with a tacit approval of All India Muslim Personal Law Board. This gentleman had written a letter to Congress President Mrs Sonia Gandhi on Oct 26 last year citing reasons for departing away from Congress party. He mentioned about the grievances of the Muslim community — from Babri Masjid demolition to Batla House encounter. But when he was picked up for the Rajya Sabha, all his grievances were redressed. The community must ask him which of the promises have been fulfilled. Or perhaps the truth is that he had only his grievances under the garb of raising the issues of the community.

Independent candidate Mohammad Adeeb Khan filing his nomination papers for the Rajya Sabha in Lucknow on Monday as Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav and Congress State president Rita Bhaguna Joshi look on. [The Hindu]

The latest assembly election in Delhi is also a classic example. There was an encounter in South Delhi’s Batla House in September 2008, in which two alleged terrorists were killed by the police and a police inspector was also killed. A large number of locals were of the opinion that it was a fake encounter and they were demanding a judicial or CBI enquiry. They were also very angry with the role of the local Cong MLA Mr Pervez Hashmi. All the demands for the enquiry were rejected by the government.

The issue became headlines for several weeks. Finally, it became an election issue. The entire national media was speculating as to what the Muslim voters of the Okhla would do. In the end, sitting Cong MLA Mr Parvez Hashmi won by a thin margin of 541 votes. Most of the newspapers carried headlines such as ‘Despite L-18, Muslims endorse Cong in Delhi.’

The obvious question is why did the Muslims (about 30 percent of the total Muslim vote in this constituency) voted for the sitting Congress MLA. If the Muslims of this area were so angry with Congress then they could have voted out the Congress candidate. Moreover, this election was being treated by a large section of the media as a referendum on the encounter.

And a larger number of people changed their loyalty at the twelfth hour in which wealth and wine played a major role. The irony is that not just the average voter, but even some of the religious and social organisations of the Muslims voted and campaigned for the Congress candidate.

All India Milli Council tried its level best to convince voters in favour of the Congress. Its General Secretary Mr Manzoor Alam held several meetings with the Muslim journalists and other activists just after the encounter to express his concern. But when the time came for some decisive action, he was also no different.

I ask myself. Why should I have problems with someone hosting parties? Why should I expect someone to attend a particular seminar? Why should I ask someone to vote in favour or against a particular candidate? Why should I object to someone using the community’s name for political gains?

I am anguished by the happenings around me. I am distressed by the condition of the community. But who is responsible for this. I have no answers. May I remember the great Urdu poet Faiz.

Hum Hain Mata-e-Kuch-e-Bazar Ki Tarah,

Uthti Hai Har Nigah Kharidaar Ki Tarah.


Iqbal is a BBC correspondent based in New Delhi. He can be contacted at [email protected]