Asghar Ali Engineer
(Secular Perspective November 16-30, 2008)
These days some Muslim leaders are throwing up the idea of forming a separate Muslim party. Recently some leaders from Maharashtra got together and said Muslims should not vote for Congress-NCP Alliance nor for Shiv Sena-BJP and since there is no third alternative hence a hurried conclusion was drawn to set up a separate Muslim party. Will it be a wise move to form a separate party? It has given rise to this debate.
At the outset I must say two things: one, it is within any ones democratic rights to form such party and seek alliances with other parties already in existence; two, the situation today is very different from pre-partition days and forming any such party cannot lead to separatism. That fear is quite unwarranted and perhaps no one now raises such fear either. So much for forming a Muslim party.
Having said that one must really seriously reflect whether forming such party would at all be for good of Muslims? Unfortunately answer does not seem to be very favorable. Often on such occasions Muslim leaders tend to give example of Assam where a separate outfit was formed and won 10 seats. At the time of last U.P. elections too some Muslims had thrown up this idea-giving example of Assam but ultimately drew blank and no such party was formed.
And then situation in Assam is very different. It has 28 per cent Muslim population with several Muslim majority pockets from where it is possible for a Muslim candidate to win. Whole of India, or even Maharashtra is not Assam. Kerala is another state where a separate Muslim party exists. Kerala again is a very different kind of state with more than 20 per cent population and also 20 per cent Christian population and thus has a very balanced population and a separate party can be effective. Moreover this separate party there has existed right from the beginning.
In Assam there was no such history and Jamiatul Ulama had been a Congress ally. But of late Jamiat in Assam developed grievance that Muslims are not being given tickets and many other grievances of Muslims were not being attended to by the Congress party. The Congress party neglected these grievances and out of sheer frustration a separate party was formed by Mr. Ajmal, a rich businessman who has been a supporter of Jamiatul Ulama. The Party could register some success because of anger among Muslims in Assam against the Congress.
However, right from the beginning of separate party there was debate among Muslims in Assam whether it was a wise step to form a separate outfit. Many Muslims told me in Assam it was a wrong step and nothing much was gained by this step. It was more of an ego question than a wise move. Prof. Munirul Hussain of Guwahati University from Department of Political Science also felt that forming a separate political party leads to more polarization in the society and thus becomes harmful for the community. And there was limited success in terms of some seats because Ajmal is very rich businessman and gives money for madrasas and mosques in remote rural areas and thus those Muslims support him. In urban areas and educated Muslims he hardly has any support. He may again join Congress when his grievances are addressed.
Mr. Ajmal was present when question was being discussed by Maharashtra Muslim leaders to float a separate outfit and was egging them on to do so. I feel Muslims should not fall into this trap and instead develop well thought out strategy so that their grievances are addressed. Ultimately wisdom rather than knee jerk reactions or worse, emotions, should prevail.
The Muslims should use the system wisely, even if it takes longer time. Such steps which seem obvious to some prove very costly and even harmful. It would undoubtedly lead to polarization and only communal forces would benefit. In Maharashtra it is even more dangerous as Shiv Sena-BJP alliance is waiting to seize that opportunity. Today they are on back foot and any such move can give them an issue, an emotional one at that, to use in forthcoming election.
Firstly, let us remember India is too diverse and what happens in one state should not be and cannot be imitated in another state. Even if one model succeeds in one state it may fail in another. One should learn a lesson from Republican party also. It has been divided today in several factions and different factions ally with different parties, some even hobnobbing with Shiv Sena.
These days every one is talking about Barack Obama. Even these Muslim leaders can learn a lesson or two from him. Before him in late eighties J.C. Jackson, also an African American leader formed a separate Rainbow Coalition and contested presidential election and lost very badly. Today Obama, contested from mainstream Democratic party and won hands down. Though he is also African American but the white population of America backed him up against another white candidate because of his balanced and wise approach addressing problems of whole country rather than only African Americans.
He acted wisely rather than using mere rhetoric which alienates majority population which is what J.C. Jackson did and failed. In sixties African Americans were facing severe discrimination and Martin King Jr. fought for human rights and made famous speech ‘I have a dream’. Obama could realize his dream successfully, not through minority rhetoric but addressing majority grievances.
Indian Muslims have much to learn from Barack Obama and his wisdom. Maulana Azad had displayed such wisdom before partition but educated Muslims were infatuated by Muslim League rhetoric and suffered. His speech from steps of Jama Masjid after partition bloodbath when Indian Muslims were going through severe crisis, was full of wisdom and restored confidence among them.
Rhetoric is very infatuating and that is why communal forces, using high pitched rhetoric succeed temporarily but ultimately prove highly destructive. Majority community too tested this at the time of Ayodhya controversy and experienced the disaster. Minorities and marginalized forces are more tempted to be infatuated such rhetoric. This rhetoric tends to become an alternative for concrete action.
In democracy various forces contend with each other and it is for a wise leadership to understand various trends and choose one which would be beneficial not only to minority, or any one section of society but for all. This is precisely what Obama did and convinced of it to the entire nation. No one can rule out a Muslim becoming a prime minister one day if she/he rises to that stature.
May be country is passing through great political crisis and one does not see any chance today of any Muslim or Dalit becoming chief executive of the country. But who thought until yesterday that a Sikh could become Prime Minister. First he was thought to be mere puppet but he proved through his action and wisdom (though one may differ from him on many things) to be a leader in his own right.
Muslims have often been victims of their own rhetoric, now they should learn to carry whole nation with them and with welfare of whole nation in their heart. They will have to face complex forces and learn to successfully use democracy with wisdom and benefit of all. Today there is no political leader among Indian Muslims who commands respect of all sections of Muslims.
And in order to rise to highest status one has to command respect not only of the community but of the whole nation. Could Obama rise up to become President of USA had he represented or commanded respect of only African Americans? African Americans are roughly 12 per cent of American population and Muslims are 15 per cent of Indian population. Like African Americans they are poor and backward. Yet Obama managed to rise up to national stature.
Indian Muslims have all along been victims of political rhetoric be it of Muslim League before partition or of leaders of small stature after post-independence. Leaders like Maulana Azad or Zakir Husain did not live long to guide Muslims. Both of them were leaders of great stature who had good of the nation as a whole at heart. Both were good and most sincere Muslims but they avoided reducing Islam to a mere rhetoric and instead practiced its teachings and values.
There cannot be any contradiction in being good Muslim and good Indian. In fact both are quite complementary. However, some selfish political leaders for their own short-term gain make Muslims feel as if two are somehow antagonistic. We should guard against such rhetoric. Muslims in particular and country in general benefit only by developing complementarities of both. This needs great vision.
Communal forces have done great harm to our country. They generate sense of insecurity and inferiority among Muslims. Again, Muslim leaders try to fight this only with minority rhetoric and this further inflames majority communalism. Muslims have to decisively come out of this trap with the help of people of India and developing concrete secular action plan for the nation as a whole. The secular parties also have to shed their fear of communal forces by boldly developing strategies to fight communalism by taking minorities and marginalized sections with them rather than getting paralyzed by communal rhetoric.
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism