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Published in the 1-15 Feb 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

No separate Muslim political party: JUH
By Yoginder Sikand

In recent months, Urdu papers have carried several reports of various Muslim ‘leaders’ planning to set up a separate Muslim political party that can effectively represent the interests of the community. The Gujarat pogrom has undoubtedly led to a widely shared feeling among the Muslims that even so-called secular parties are not to be trusted. Yet, it is not simply the Hindutva threat that has occasioned talk of a separate Muslim political party. Some weeks ago the Indian press reported moves by some little-known Muslim ‘leaders’ with no standing in the community, including some members of the family of hereditary custodians of the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, to establish a separate party allegedly with BJP support. 

The proposal to set up a Muslim political party, ostensibly to promote Muslim interests, has not, however, been welcomed by many Muslims. The Jami’at ul-‘Ulama-i Hind, the oldest Muslim organization in India with a large network all over the country, has come out strongly in opposition to the move. Its official mouthpiece ‘Al-Jami’at’ (25 December 2003-1st January, 2004) describes the proposal as ‘destructive’ for both the Muslims as well as the country as a whole. In a detailed statement, the president of the Jami’at, Maulana Asad Madani, has asserted that forming a separate Muslim political party will only further strengthen, rather than help combat, Hindu chauvinism, leading inevitably to the polarization of the electorate on Hindu-Muslim lines. It would cause a further division of the Muslim vote, which would work in favour of Hindu fascist groups. It would also provoke anti-Muslim sentiments all over the country, which would only further marginalize the community. 

Yet, it is not simply the Hindutva threat that has occasioned talk of a separate Muslim political party. Some weeks ago the Indian press reported moves by some little-known Muslim ‘leaders’ with no standing in the community, including some members of the family of hereditary custodians of the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, to establish a separate party allegedly with BJP support. 

The move, Madani asserted, would lead to even more disastrous consequences for the Muslims and for India as a whole than what he called the ‘fatal policies’ of the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League in the period before the partition of the country. It would only work to weaken India, dividing its people even further on religious lines. Madani went so far as to claim that, ‘Those who want to establish a Muslim political party on communal lines are agents of anti-minority Hindu communalists’. While opposing moves to set up a separate Muslim party, Madani added that ‘One could talk about the establishing of common secular parties for religious minorities, Dalits, Backward Castes and tribals’.

The same issue of Al-Jami’at carries a report of a two-day meeting of the working committee of the Jami’at ul-‘Ulama-I Hind held in Delhi in December, 2003. According to the report, after a great deal of discussion the Jami’at’s working committee has given its consent to the setting up of a ‘secular political party’ which would ostensibly work for the cause of all marginalised communities in the country, including Muslims and Dalits. It also formed an ‘election group’ to chalk out the constitution and programme of the party and to decide on its name, which would be formalized by early March. At the same time, the working committee also gave its consent to the Jami’at to initiate dialogue with Hindu chauvinist groups ‘in order to promote a climate of brotherhood’ in the country. 

Given the Jami’at’s long history of close collaboration with the Congress, critics are asking if this latest move on the part of the Jami’at leadership is not simply a pre-election gimmick sponsored by the Congress. Given the failure of joint Dalit-Muslim political parties in the past, particularly the BSP’s record of opportunistically allying with the BJP, no one is expecting any miracles to occur from the Jami’at’s proposal. 
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