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Muslim political party: necessity or hypocrisy 
By S Ubaidur Rahman

Do Muslims in India need a separate political party? No consensus has been reached on the issue notwithstanding the fact that the issue has been raised time and again during the last more than half a century after independence. It is being raised again with the installation of new imam Maulana Abdullah Bukhari, in Jama Masjid New Delhi. He after taking over the charge of Shahi Imam has announced to launch an exclusive Muslim political party. 

With Partition the lone national Muslim party that represented Muslims of the country, though partly, ceased to be of any importance, and Indian Muslims were since then left with no political party of their own. On the other hand they were made to carry the albatross of partition around their neck and are subject to same treatment even now. Muslims of the country are accused of giving undue importance to their religious affiliation than national identity and they are always forced to prove their nationalism continuously on every occasion. During cricket matches too they are required to prove their national credential more than anything.

The onslaught of Hindu fundamentalist organization has strengthened the Muslims perception that they need to have a political party of their own. The appalling marginalization of Indian Muslims in all spheres of life has also strengthened this perception. They have been left far behind in all the spheres of life, be it economic prosperity, education, development, government jobs or any other important arena. According to a report 57 percent of the Indian Muslims live below poverty line, 58 percent are illiterate. Merely three percent of Indians are Muslims who are able to finish high school, around two percent who complete their graduate courses are Muslim. Barely 2-3 of those who receive financial assistance for starting business or borrow industrial loans from the government are Muslims. The representation of Muslims in the armed forces is appallingly low. Their representation in the armed forces is only 2 percent and in the state police it is even more dismal. Their representation in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh state police is around two percent. In other states of North and South India their condition is no better on any count. Deprivation and backwardness is their fate and discrimination fit to be done with them. It is said that they deserve this. There are people among Muslims themselves who perceive that Muslims deserve this attitude. 

The perception to have a party of their own also stems from the fact that they have been used as vote bank by each and every political party, be it small or big, regional or national level. It is no different when it comes to behave Muslims as vote bank. It is unfortunate that all the political parties take Muslims as a monolithic religious entity voting for any political party en block. A misconceived idea, though, but it has got so much publicized that it seems real. The voting pattern of Muslims denies this super-imposed fact. Muslims have voted for different parties at different times and differently for different parties at the same places. Rampur parliamentary constituency in UP is a case in point where a number of Muslims contest the election and despite their majority in the constituency they have failed to get their own person elected several times. The parliamentary election of 1997 shows that Muslim votes were distributed heavily between the BJP, the Congress and Samajwadi Party. BJP won the election on the force of Muslim votes. In a number of other constituencies too they have been voting differently for different parties.

Despite the fact that they have been voting for different parties they have always been used as mere vote bank. Muslims voted in sizeable numbers for the Congress for a long time but the party did not give any attention to their real issues. Muslims became disenchanted with the Congress after a number of communal riots that caused horrific losses to the Muslim community in different places. Muslims perceived it as betraying their trust despite their unqualified support for this party. The Congress governments were seen as having failed to protect lives and properties during riots, and having denied Muslims a fair share in education and in the economy and as having deprived Urdu of its official status and having systematically sidelined Muslims in all spheres of life. Muslim activists who joined and received party tickets to contest elections at the state or national level were seen as symbol of tokenism. Muslims perceived that Congress leadership does not want Muslims to cross lower rung leadership and they were always restricted to this limit. Most of the Muslims in the Congress, it was felt by the community were reluctant to identify themselves with the hopes, aspirations and demands of the Muslim constituents as they feared they may be dubbed communal and will be refused party endorsements in the future. This was ironical because Congress patently gave nominations to some Muslims in order to attract Muslim voters especially in those constituencies where Muslims were in sizeable numbers. 

It was not only the Congress alone, other parties also followed this strategy and the same policy exists even now. Be it Janata Party, the Janata Dal, Left parties, DMK, AIDMK, TDP, BSP and SP, all these parties have maintained the same unwritten policy not to let the Muslims cross the lower rung of leadership. The Samajwadi Party that is seen as a party sympathetic to Muslims and has received unflinching support of the community in election wherever it has any presence-Maharashtra and UP, it has no national level Muslim leader in it. The same could be said of BSP, the two factions of Janata Dal - Janata Dal (secular) and Janata Dal (united) and all other big and small parties. Muslim community has been consistently pushed to the walls by all the secular parties of the country. These parties are said to be minority friendly but it has always proved that all the important issues of Muslims are cold-shouldered by them all alike.

These all are true and part of the history. But are these reason enough to prompt Muslims to launch their own exclusive political parties? Is it possible to survive for any Muslim political party in the country. Muslims already have a handful of political parties in different parts of the country. Muslim League and Majlis-e- Ittehadul Muslimeen and National Conference are three political parties that have influence in some parts of the country. But these can claim victories in the areas of Muslim's concentration only. Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) could never win outside the Hyderabad town or more precisely beyond the old city. Muslim League can never think of winning elections where Muslims have not a considerable presence. It can never think beyond Kozhikode, Mallapuram, Ponani and Manjeri. Its area of influence is only Malabar area of coastal Kerala. It can not score a win in other parts of the state on its own. National Conference can never think beyond Jammu and Kashmir. In cases when there seems a chance that Muslim candidate is capable to win the election there seems to be an unusual enthusiasm among Muslim voters. The same happens with the MIM candidates in Hyderabad. During the 1991 elections polling was around 90 percent in the four old-city segments of the constituency. More than 90 percent of the votes went in favour of the MIM. But this can not be repeated in other areas. In North India Muslim parties have not been successful to get elected in such fashion. Muslim League in constituency like Rampur with a sizeable number of Muslim voters has not been able to get more than five to ten thousand votes in any election, despite the fact that its state president Syed Shakeel Mian fights on the party ticket from here. Though Muslim parties when contested on the symbol of other parties have scored wins in north Indian cities. A good example is the election of three MIM candidates who contested on Bharatiya Lok Dal tickets in Moradabad, Bulandshahar and Sultanpur in UP in 1977 election. Though in the near past there has not been any such example too. The chances of success of an exclusive Muslim party in India in general seem quite bleak. The sharp polarization between Hindu and Muslim votes will ensure Muslim candidate's defeat. In the above situation when MIM candidates won sharp polarization between Hindus and Muslims did not take place. As Majlis and Jana Party leaders campaigned for each other's candidates under the banner of the Janata Party.

The most important question that comes now, is an exclusive Muslim political party feasible in the given circumstances? The answer is in negative. On the other hand it would be more harmful than beneficial. From its inception it will give fillip to majority extremism and the fanatical elements in the majority community may dub it as preparation for another division of the country. The Sangh Parivar can not ask for more than this. It will be a godsend opportunity for it and its work will be made easier. The Muslim leaders will consolidate the Hindu votes faster than the RSS workers will be able to consolidate. They even might not be able to influence the Muslim electorate, which is not likely to shake off its preference for secular national parties so easily. The other important thing is that the future of Indian Muslims in the country is closely linked to the future of secularism in the country. A separate Muslim political party can only feed majority fundamentalism which is in a position today to bring in fascism through the concept of Hindu Rashtra. Besides this is a time when we should direct our struggle against those who seek to mix religion with politics. Secularism is not anti religion. It is against the use of religion in the matters of state. We will have to accept that as long secularism survives in India we will be in a better condition.
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