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Published in the 16-30 Nov 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Naxalites and Muslims

By Ayub Khan

The recently concluded first round of talks between the Andhra Pradesh government and the Naxalites have received widespread (if sometimes cautionary) approval from all sections of the society and polity with the understandable exception of the Sangh Parivar affiliates. The merger of the People's War and the Maoist Communist Centre of India into a new outfit called the Communist Party of India (Maoist) is also being watched with great interest by observers as it will determine their future strategy in accomplishing their goal of creating a classless society. Naxalite leaders who emerged out of their hideouts for the talks also focused on some issues relating to Indian Muslims. This is significant because for quite some time they have been accused of being indifferent to Muslim issues. 

Naxalite leaders with Siasat editor Zahid Ali Khan

Naxalite leaders with Siasat 
editor Zahid Ali Khan

Writing in the November 1, 2003 issue of Economic and Political Weekly Suman Banerjee blasted them for being "inert" during the past decade in fighting communalism.

"During the last decade which saw the emergence and rise of the Sangh parivar in its most demoniacal form under which some of the worst cases of genocide of Muslims were carried out, the various Naxalite outfits - ranging from the armed to the parliamentary groups - were found to be totally inert. Beyond issuing fiery statements (and these also few and far between) condemning the Sangh parivar, none of these outfits came out on the streets to actively resist Advani's rath-yatra, or deploy their armed squads to oppose the marauding gangs of the RSS-Bajrang Dal. I have not yet found any report of such acts of protest in any of their various publications and reports. Are they scared? Or is it because communal riots are considered lowest in the list of their priorities of intervention? Or - let me hazard a dangerous guess - is it because all these various Naxalite groups are still dominated by Hindu upper and middle castes and the Hinduised tribal poor (for whom the plight of the minority Muslims remains an invisible issue)?"

Naxalite leader Rama Krishna welcomes Maulana Naseeruddin and Lateef Khan

Naxalite leader Rama Krishna welcomes Maulana 
Naseeruddin and Lateef Khan

Naxalite leaders have obviously taken such criticism to heart. Ramakrishna (People' War State secretary) addressing a press conference while meeting Dalit and minority representatives vowed to target "the fascist and communal forces'' in the country and reiterated their decision to "physically eliminate'' the forces which were out to disturb communal harmony and perpetrated atrocities against the Dalits."

Their interaction with Muslim leaders was however limited to fringe elements with the notable exception of Lateef Khan of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee and Zahid Ali Khan (Editor of Siasat Daily) . 

They met with Mehboob Ali of Darsgah-e-Jehad-o-Shahadat and Maulana Naseeruddin of Tehreek Tahaffuz-e-Shair-e-Islam, who complained to them about the increasing harrasment of Muslim youth in Hyderabad. The Naxalite leaders reportedly assured them that protecting the minorities is their obligation. Later on when Naseeruddin was arrested by Gujarat police for allegedly having links with ISI and terrorist organizations, Ramakrishna issued an open letter to the state government calling for his unconditional release. He demanded the suspension of officers who permitted the arrest, filing of a criminal case against Gujarat police, public condemnation of its action and a public apology. He also wanted the state to issue a blanket order to prevent police from entering Muslim houses or areas without permission.

Their only interaction with a mainstream Muslim leader was that with Zahid Ali Khan on October 19th when they arrived unannounced at Siasat's offices. Ramakrishna, Sudhakar, Ganesh and Jan Shakti's Amar and Riyaz attended the meeting along with legendary balladeer Gadar. In their interaction with the staff of Siasat, the Naxalite leaders reiterated that their fight is against five forms of injustices:

  1. 1. Class divisions

  2. Oppression against women

  3. Injustices against and harassment of Muslims

  4. Backwardness of the tribals

  5. Lack of development of backward areas

Ramakrishna said that Muslims are being treated like outsiders in their own country and blamed the Hindutva forces for creating divisions in the citizenry which have led to tragedies like Gujarat. He further claimed that Maoist forces have "always supported Muslims" and said that Naxalites support an eleven percent reservation policy for Muslims. He said the "revolutionary forces" are totally committed to secularism and are the only ones who can effectively combat the Hindutva organizations. His appeal for the Muslim community was to join their struggle and work unitedly on a single platform.

While the Naxalites' sentiments and concerns need to be appreciated, it would be suicidal for Muslims or anyone else to join an armed struggle. Whatever grievances there might be they should be addressed within the democratic framework of the country in ways that are legitimate and non-violent and which do not violate the sovereignty and integrity of India. Naxalites have already proven their point and highlighted the exploitation and oppression that is rampant in the country. Now is the time for them to hang in their guns, join the mainstream and bring in the desired change through democratic and non-violent means. They are disciplined and committed and can make ideal politicians. However, this scenario seems highly unlikely at least in the near future. This does not mean that there is no scope for Naxal-Muslim cooperation. Muslims can still work and cooperate with "overground" Naxalites like Gadar. He routinely attends Muslim events and was instrumental in Jamiatul Ulema's Dalit-Muslim communal meal programs which were designed to foster brotherhood between Muslims and other communities. Efforts should be made to increase the occurrence of such constructive social justice and equality campaigns.

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