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INTERVIEW: M Afzal
‘Muslims need to fight for share in power and decision-making’

A distinguished Urdu journalist, a well-known politician and a social worker. It is how Mohammad Afzal or ‘Meem Afzal’ as he is known to his readers, can be described. Editor of a leading Urdu weekly, Akhbar-e-Nau, Afzal wields considerable respect among Muslims in the country.
He has always been in the forefront when it comes to airing Muslim issues in the open and has tried to project Muslim issues through his weekly. He is a former member of Rajya Sabha and chairman of the Urdu Editors Council. He was recently appointed as secretary of the Minority Department of the Congress Party. SU Rahman interviewed him recently. Excerpts:
What is the scope of the activities of the Congress Party’s Minority Department?
Minority Department’s foremost work is to project minorities’ issues and their problems and to keep the party leadership informed about such issues. In states where we have Congress governments we try to implement the promises we made regarding minorities. In states where we are not in power we try to project minority issues and establish pressure groups and insist the governments to chalk out policies about minorities and implement them. Muslims are the largest minority in the country so their interests are taken up on priority basis.
Minority department is not a safety valve. We are expected to react on whatever happens in the community. But we do not react to each and every issue. We brief the party leadership on issues concerning minorities and then party’s media department reacts on these issues.
Unfortunately ‘reaction’ has become the most glaring aspect of the Muslim identity in our country. They are perceived to be the reactors. And the history of the last fifty years is the history of Muslim reaction in this country. They have never acted on positive issues. So far they have merely reacted on some issues raised by the community’s enemies. When everyone is taking the path to development on the power of action we are just reacting.

Has the minority Department been able to change the policies of the Congress on minority, particularly Muslim, issues?
Congress is a very huge party with a history spread over more than a century. It rules more than a dozen states today. So it is not possible for anyone to change its policies in a short period.
I am new to the Congress culture. But I have seen the difference between the Congress and other parties. Here several Muslims are part of the highest decision-making body. They influence decisions and policies of the party. Ever since I joined the party and was appointed secretary of the minority department, I have met party president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, several times. I have come to the conclusion that she is honest in getting minority issues solved. She has shown great interest in their issues and problems.
A number of so-called secular parties have cobbled with saffron parties and have associated with the RSS and its other affiliates. This is taking place despite their full knowledge that the Prime Minister is misleading the nation. They are playing in the hands of fascist powers and are not ashamed. In this distressing scenario I find no other party except the Congress which can save the country from the clutches of fascist powers. People like Mulayam Singh and Laloo Yadav, who have been claiming to have saved the Muslim community, have actually killed Muslim leadership. Though Mulayam plays the politics on Muslim power, there exists no Muslim leadership even in his party.

Does any Muslim leadership exist in the country?
Leadership does exist, but it is weak. And Muslims’ approach and some of their leaders are responsible for the scenario. In-fighting has become a hall-mark of the Muslim character. They do not fight others, but fight their own people. It is said that people get the sort of leadership they deserve. So Muslims themselves are responsible for this mess.
I have been of the opinion that a Muslim should not live merely for himself and his family. He should live for the whole community. But Muslims do not care for even themselves and their families. It seems that the community is going through a phase of political, economic and educational decline. We will have to reverse this trend.

There is a talk these days of establishing a Muslim political party?
A section among UP Muslims feel that Muslims should have their own political party. This thinking is derived from the success of the BSP. BSP went on to form the government in UP on the power of only 69 MLAs in an assembly of more than four hundred members. So they too want to adopt the same strategy. But this is wishful thinking. There was no leadership among Dalits. Mayawati and Kanshi Ram were people who created opportunities for themselves. And they were largely followed by the whole community. Muslims, on the other hand, have surplus leadership. In every corner we can find a couple of leaders who claim to be the saviors of Muslims.
Though there were some news that there is talk of establishing a Muslim political party but it seems parleys failed to bring any fruitful results in the initial stage itself.

What should be Muslims’ attitude in such circumstances?
Power is the only solution for Muslims in the country. During the last fifty years what we have talked about is only survival. We have been fearful of survival in the country and everyone has tried to scare us. Despite having a large number of population in the country we have no senior minister in the central cabinet. This has happened for the first time since Independence. But even those who were in the government wielded not much power. We will have to struggle to get a fair share in power. We will have to struggle for a share in the decision-making process. Parties care for leaders who have mass base. Parties are forced to listen to the views of those who have mass following. We will have to think in these terms. We will have to create leadership ourselves. There is no alternative.
Mulayam Singh ruled in UP on the strength of Muslim votes. Despite being the bigger partner in numbers (Muslims are 18 percent and Yadavs 7 percent in U.P.), no Muslim was given any important ministry when he ruled the state. What they are given are qabristan affairs and other silly portfolios of the sort. We need to fight for power in the country.
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