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INTERVIEW: GM Banatwala
Anxiety writ large on Muslims' faces

The president of the Indian Union Muslim League, Ghulam Mehmood Banatwala, has been in the active politics for the last four decades. From a member of assembly in Maharshtra to the member of Lok Sabha, he has come a long way. Whether it is a national or international issue, he always spoke of his heart. He is very much concerned over the issues related to minorities, particularly Muslims. In Parliament or outside it, he never hesitates to raise their issues. Banatwala spoke to Andalib Akhter on the current political scenario, and the status of the Muslims in the country. Excerpts:

 

How do you see the current political scenario in the country? 
Its a very critical situation; communal violence, inefficiency of the government, a hate campaign against Muslims, corruption, unemployment and lack of accountability are almost eating up our nation. 

How do you see Gujarat pogroms?
We are very distressed and anguished at what has been happening in Gujarat for almost three months. Muslims are being killed, burnt alive mercilessly. Women are gang-raped. The naked dance of inhumanity is being played in Gujarat. Instead of checking the violence the government has become part of it. It is very shameful. Really it is a blot on India's face. 

It is learnt that you have written a letter to the prime minister suggesting measures to check violence in Gujarat?
Yes; I have sent a detailed letter to the Prime Minister Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee listing several specific orders needed to be given to the Gujarat government in the direction to be issued under article 355 of the Constitution as recommended by the Rajya Sabha. 

What are these suggestions?
First of all, the Muslim League has demanded the dismissal of Gujarat government under article 356 of the Constitution and imposition of Presidentís rule in the state. The Rajya Sabha has adopted a motion which inter alia recommends issue of direction to the government of Gujarat under article 355. In this connection, I urged upon him that the said constitutional direction which should be issued at the earliest needs to include among others, the following specific instructions (1) the violence must be brought to an end and peace restored without any further delay (2) the relief camps should not be closed down till peace and normalcy is restored and security and accommodation is ensured to those refugees returning from the camps (3) the army is not withdrawn and is effectively deployed till normalcy is restored (4) relief grants, compensation and rehabilitation are provided to the victims on the scale on which the same was provided at the time of carnage against Sikhs in Delhi in 1984(5) All incidents of communal violence including complaints of dereliction of duty by and partial attitude of the police and administration, be investigated by the CBI(6)the Judicial enquiry into Godhra incident and Gujarat carnage be entrusted to a sitting Judge of the supreme court (7) stern action be taken against the culprits responsible for violence and carnage and distribution of objectionable leaflets and the repairs and restoration of mosques, Dargahs and other religious places be taken up immediately and that the recommendations of the national human rights commission and the minorities commission be implemented without delay. 

In recent days we have seen that the government has become anti Muslim particularly the prime minister has been issuing statements against Muslims and Islam. How do you see this change?
It is most deplorable that the prime minister Vajpayee has taken political somersault under Hindutva pressure of the party by ascribing in his Goa public speech, the responsibility of the inhuman criminal incident at Godhra to the entire Muslim community in posing the question as to 'who lit the fire'. The prime ministerís pro active speech and fascist attitude already endorsed by the BJP in its Goa session are grave threats to democracy. The BJP allies in NDA too can not ignore this threat in national as well as their own interest. We should avoid controversial matters and look forward towards the national unity and integrity. It is very bad that terrorism and militancy are being associated with Islam.

Why Muslims are targeted?
It is very unfortunate that Muslims are being treated as soft fodder for the political gains. Government should ensure that in guise of combating terrorism the minorities and the Muslims of the country are not harassed. I can clearly say, anxiety is writ large on the faces of the Muslims and the minorities. We remember all the past experiences. We also know the people who are in power and believe in the idea of fascism. The pre-dominant elements in the ruling coalition consist of those who believe in communal fascist raj -. Whether it is POTA, Ayodhaya, insurgency or Madrasas, Muslims are targeted.

It is being propagated that madrasas are the breeding grounds of militancy and the number of madrasas is increasing in border areas. Is it true? 
We are told that terrorists are hiding in madrasas. They are breeding grounds for militancy. It is said but no one has given even a single example to prove this allegation. If there is a list of such madrasas it should be put in the parliament, and also be kept before the world. But no concrete evidence is presented. It is a propaganda which can lead to a miserable situation. They say that near Indo-Nepal border a large number of madrasas are coming up. I can recall; in the consultative committee of the Home ministry data were presented about madrasas - there was no significant increase in the number of mosques or madrasas in the border areas. According to the data along the 800 KM Indo-Nepal border there are no madrasas or mosques for even 10 -15 KM. For the last 30 years the population has increased but the number of mosques has increased from 74 to 146 and madrasas from 61 to 123. This is not even in proportion to the increase in the population.
When I raised the issue in consultative committee of the home ministry the home secretary told me that when we talk about the increase in the number of Madrasas on Indo-Nepal border we mean that it is on the Nepal side of the border. It is very strange.

What about educational and economic conditions of the Muslims?
The educational and economic conditions of Muslims are very miserable. We have demanded that a plan should be made for the upliftment of the minorities particularly the Muslims in educational and economical fields. During the discussion on the budget I focused on this issue. The per capita income among Muslims is Rs. 3678 while in case of SC/ST, it is Rs. 4485 and in case of Hindus it is Rs. 4514. There is a step-motherly treatment towards the minorities financial institutions particularly towards the Maulana Azad Foundation and Minorities Financial Development Corporation. Government had promised a grant of Rs. 500 crore to Minorities Financial Development Corporation but the promise has not yet being fulfilled. There is urgent need for the measures to be taken for the upliftment of the community. Bank should provide capital to the minorities.

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