Dissecting the “blunder” and “debacle” of Ulema Council

By NM Sampathkumar Iyangar,

“Love ’em. Hate ’em. Can’t ignore ‘em!” sums up the attitude of millions of Indians towards the country’s latest political outfit, Rashtriya Ulema Council. This in itself is a remarkable feat for the loosely knit grassroots outfit comprising of very ordinary beings. Possessing little of organizational infrastructure to boast about, the eight-month-old party contested the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. What is more, the ‘recognition’ has come its way across the country after each one of its six candidates was trounced.

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The admirers of Maulana Amir Rashadi are by no way limited to orthodox Muslims swayed by isolationist puritans frowning at any cultural intercourse with other communities. Support for RUC extends far beyond denizens with a persecution complex who are indoctrinated to entertain a deep hatred toward the dominant community.

Similarly, rabid fanatics subscribing to the concept of “Hindu Rashtra” – a theocratic puritan nation upping on the likes of Saudi Arabia, who want a truly minor role for the minorities – are not the only ones to decry Rashadi and his followers. Several Muslim intellectuals accuse him of misleading the masses due to his ignorance, if not outright selfishness. RUC is slammed for the unholy haste to contest parliamentary elections, particularly sans any alliance with any of the established political outfits.

Electoral politics

Its decision to contest elections was indeed a controversial one. It did lead to waste of a lot of money although only from voluntary contributions from Rashadi and his wealthy supporters. But, what made critics livid about the ‘blunder’ was that Dr Javed Akhtar, reputed orthopedic surgeon of Azamgarh who it fielded as an independent was instrumental in letting a notorious don Ramakant Yadav earn a thumping victory for BJP. The ‘honourable’ MP who has some 30 cases, registered in Azamgarh, Jaunpur and Gorakhpur, some under the Goonda Act and the Gangsters Act, won the Azamgarh seat for the first time for BJP. He had defected to the Saffron outfit after stints with SP and BSP, while his younger brother Umakant – an ex-MP representing BSP – is currently a VIP in jail. Yadav makes no pretence about having become a gentleman after becoming an MP. The new VIP’s underlings, driving his convoy of luxury SUVs, celebrated the last Independence Day by killing a youth and grievously injuring three. One of the SUVs ‘accidentally’ hit the bike of supporters of Rashid in Phoolpur and the toughies fired upon an enraged mob collected.

Dr Javed netted close to 60,000 votes, over 10,000 more than the history sheeter’s winning margin. But for the Ulema candidate, Yadav would surely have lost and perhaps defected to the Congress. This explains why even responsible Muslim intellectuals called RUC’s decision to contest against the “stronger Muslim candidate” a blunder. However, a closer look at the credentials of the ‘stronger Muslim candidate’ reveals that the choice before Azamgarh’s electorate was between the devil and the deep sea! It can make little difference whether a fascist goon becomes an MP or an apologist of hypocritical outfits professing secularism.

BSP had given the ticket to Akbar Ahmad ‘Dumpy’, a typical example of how ambitious criminals turn into ‘honourable’ lawmakers in a farcical democratic Republic based on vote-bank politicking. The BSP heavyweight was originally a close crony of Sanjay Gandhi –- Indira Gandhi’s spoilt brat better known to have fathered BJP’s latest poster boy Varun Gandhi, who wants anyone opposing the ‘Hindu Rashtra’ it advocates “to go to Pakistan. Dumped from Congress after Sanjay Gandhi was killed, Dumpy joined BSP and became its MP in 1998. He defected back to Congress in 2002, saying, “Now, the BSP has become behanji subkutch party and behanji subkutch paisa!” The second honeymoon with Congress lasted hardly two years and he went back to the ‘behenji’ in 2004 because the Congress “failed to counter communal forces or do anything concrete for the cause of minorities and dalits!”

Birth of RUC

It was in September 2008 that RUC came into being and its real founders were the police of New Delhi, the capital city of the “largest secular democracy” of the world. It is by accident that Amir Rashadi is credited to have been its convener. The cops were under tremendous pressure to nab – or, at least locate – culprits behind numerous serial bombing incidents across India. It is quite common for paramilitary forces, military brass and Anti Terror supercops of India to ‘crack’ dastardly conspiracies by framing and bumping off hapless guys. More often than not, victims happen to be Muslim youth who came under their watch for petty violations of law. It used to be convenient to pass them off as militants and agents of cross-border terrorism, attempting to destabilize the government. But, it has become difficult due to deeper interest taken by human rights activists from across the world in India’s custodial deaths. After all, world powers have put the simmering dispute between the nuke-armed adversarial neighbours on the front burner. Dispensing of favours by top bureaucrats – increments, promotions and decorations – nonchalantly based on ‘heroic encounters’ has become infrequent Also, courts are not as cooperative about accepting sham evidences – for example, of the type produced in the Parliament attack drama.

Batla House encounter

Therefore, Delhi cops decided to stage a fake encounter with a difference. Muslim students of Azamgarh who were pursuing higher studies at the Jamia Millia University were selected for the ‘honour’. Two of them were killed in cold blood at Batla House and many others were picked up for torture. The sons of both Rashadi and Dr Javed Akhtar were picked up by minions and implicated in terror cases. The juniors were suspected to be ‘jihadis’ working for a mysterious outfit, Indian Mujahideen, which supposedly conducted numerous serial bomb blasts but is yet to be traced!

The mainstream “national” media, in collusion with the rulers portrayed the bumped off youth as deadly militants from ‘Atankhgarh’. Media tycoons eulogized Mohan Chand Sharma, a cop with several such encounters to his credit who met with his mysterious end during (or after) the massacre as a brave-hearted national hero. It was the Jantar Mantar rally coordinated by Ulema Council in January 2009 to protest against the cover up of Batla House barbarity that shocked the civil society from its slumber. The modest rally was followed by similar rallies in Lucknow and elsewhere, which attracted several thousand protestors. They were the antithesis of lawless mob shows popularized by MK Gandhi during the so-called freedom movement, but unveiled the ugly reality of ‘encounter culture’ that has become pervasive. Interestingly, Akbar Ahmed Dumpy marked his presence at the Delhi rally protesting the cold blooded murders of students from his constituency after a lot of pondering. But, before that, the MP first made it a point to offer condolences to the family of the encounter specialist who became a ‘martyr’ in the cause of ruling dispensation.

Stigma – legacy of partition for Muslims

Ulema Council brought to the fore the bitter truth that the stigma attached to Muslims after the partition as traitors of the country is entertained to this day. The cruel fact is that having 160 million ‘traitors’ all over the country suits all politicians of India, who strategize how the delusion could be exploited to serve their own ends. Rashadi educated the people that tactics adopted by governments under self-styled secular outfits, including Congress, to cover up ruthless elimination of innocents were no less reprehensible than prevailing in ‘laboratories of Hindutva experiment’ like Gujarat. An interesting question framed by UP Public Service Commission in the provincial civil service prelim exam early this year provides an illustration. Candidates were asked, “Which district of undivided UP is being branded as the breeding ground of terrorists?” and were told to opt from: (a) Azamgarh, (b) Aligarh, (c) Pithoragarh, (d) Pratapgarh! No wonder, Azamgarh residents were even hesitant to carry the Azmi tag they once flaunted with pride. That the mandarins had to hurriedly cancel the question was the result of the awareness created by the rallies.

While announcing his outfit’s entry into politics after the Batla House atrocity, Rashadi pointed out that the problems of education and employment among Muslims have got from bad to worse in the six decades of ‘free’ India. While the BJP was openly questioning equality of the minorities in society, the self-styled champions of secularism were only cheating the community, he said. He criticized BSP and SP in UP and PDP in Kashmir of being no different than Congress in paying just lip service. Listed were the Congress Patty’s tactics to forestall implementation of Srikrishna Commission’s recommendations into the riots in Mumbai in 1993 right up to its resistance to demands for CBI or open court investigation into the State-sponsored murder at Batla House in 2008.

Any unbiased observer of the history of British rule of the subcontinent will agree that the malaise witnessed today is the inevitable result of unpardonable let downs at the time of their exit. There were legitimate proposals for separate electorates for Muslims and Dalits in a single federal entity to govern erstwhile British India. This could have ensured an effective say for them in governance to uplift their lot. Gandhi’s devious tactics sabotaged the proposal for the sake of inheriting to his followers the biggest chunk of British Indian colony. The partition they forced on communal lines is the root cause of the stigma on Muslims as traitors of the country. Virtually every political outfit in the country, including BJP, subscribes to the Gandhi doctrine. A handful of greedy blacklegs are employed to goad the marginalized people to “join the mainstream” while retaining real power to themselves.

State’s take on Batla was no aberration

The kind of vote bank politicking that plagues India today is the inevitable result of such fundamental flaws in the formation of Indian Union. Its structure is inherently incompatible with the volume of inequity and backwardness in the sub continental society. Apart from political institutions, the system has led to tyranny of power in bureaucracy and judiciary as well. The “clean chit” given to authorities by NHRC on Batla House was by no means an aberration.

Take the obeisance being paid by top Union ministers to a terminally ill Saffron patriarch who proudly admitted having openly incited mobs to demolish a disputed Masjid and ordered his thugs to tame the community with arson and mass murder; (A seven-day State-mourning is very likely to be declared by the ‘secular’ Congress government when he departs!)

Take the Supreme Court verdict putting a teenage riot victim behind bars and setting Income Tax minions to hound her for flip flopping during several-year-long proceedings; Her remaining relatives have to make a living in a State ruled by minions who sponsored a mob to burn her close kin in front of her eyes; (The judges have happily constituted an eyewash investigation team that is only supposed to ‘look into’ and not to investigate pogroms!)

Take the “rejection” by a government of magisterial verdict in the same State confirming that a 19-year-old collegian and her Muslim friends were eliminated in a fake encounter and passed off as LeT operatives by top cops to impress the chief minister and get promotions; (His government gets an obliging High Court to order a fresh inquiry into the incident on the very day of the lower court verdict and then cites the technicality of jurisdiction as ‘bad in law’)!

All these may instill a sense of shame in any civilized person for having to profess faith in such an entity. However, to undo the fallacy of 1947-50 is an extremely complicated issue that may require protracted international efforts and intensive negotiations to iron out a sustainable solution. It is in this contest that RUC’s to contest elections and go it alone cannot look such a huge “blunder” and its performance a “debacle”.

Performance of RUC in elections

Given that the RUC candidates did not hire crooks and did not make deals with parties packed with crooks, they could not have entertained any illusion about making it to the parliament. As it turned out, the six independent candidates together secured 2.25 lakh votes. Critics contrast this with the electoral performance of Assam United Democratic Front, which took 26 per cent of all votes in its debut race to parliament and won one of the nine seats contested. However, it must be noted that AUDF was founded in Oct 2005 and has ten MLAs out of the 126 members in State Assembly. Of course, it fought both Congress and BJP, like RUC. But, it had an alliance with the much talked about ‘third front’ and hobnobbed with the likes of NCP after the original partner AGP decided to have a marriage of convenience with BJP.

It will be more appropriate to compare RUC’s performance with that of Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (which translates to National Progressive Dravidian Party) of Tamil Nadu. DMDK, a comparatively new ‘Dravidian’ outfit promoted by multimillionaire movie icon Vijayakanth in 2004, is perceived as the closest to Muslims and Dalits. This State is dominated by a dozen ‘Dravidian’ parties aligned under two Fronts. Both BJP and Congress are nonentities and even sitting Central ministers of the ‘national’ parties would lose their deposits if they contest outside one of the Fronts. Like SP and BSP have turned out in UP, the two main Dravidian parties in TN have turned out to be unprincipled dens of corruption, nepotism and ruthless tyranny, with scant concern for the masses.Within a year of formation, DMDK contested all 234 Assembly seats in 2005, spurning alliance with either. It lost in all but one.

Still, candidates were fielded in all 39 Parliamentary constituencies without alliance partners. The candidate selection procedure was refreshingly open and systematic, resembling CAT / Civil Service. The DMDK secured over 3.1 million votes, working out to more than 10 per cent of the total. Although each one of its candidates was predictably trounced, it averaged 78,000 votes per constituency. Nine of them polled over 100,000 votes, while 27 candidates scored between 50,000 and 100,000. Just three candidates got less than 50,000, but not less than 35,000. DMDK’s votes came basically from the growing constituency of youth — only youthful, untainted ones with deep knowledge about the constituency contested for the party. This was no ‘debacle’ and there is no doubt that the party is set to emerge as a significantly strong force in the next Assembly elections. Even if it does not share spoils of power, it will be in a position to make a big difference to the oppressed masses by forcing the powers-that-be to not abandon them.


There is a very bright possibility that marginalized and suppressed sections would receive much fairer treatment after the next State elections from the State in UP too. The awareness created among them by the “blunder” of RUC could have sown the seeds. Whether or not its members find place in farcical institutions of democracy, they would at least have made a start toward undoing the horrible blunder impeding their growth. For that, its leadership must, however, refrain from becoming a clone of Congress or BJP that most other parties have become.

[The author is an independent analyst of South Asian issues, based in Ahmedabad, India.]