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Published in the 16-31 Jan 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Different paths to secularism
By Saeed Suhrawardy

tions in different sections of the community. One of them is the meeting of leaders of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind with leaders of Sangh Parivar including Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad etc. The meeting has certainly come as an unexpected political development. Both represent the section of the two communities, which are regarded as hardliners by the moderates. As for Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, the meeting does not mean a departure from the past. After all, the organization has a long history of cooperation and coordination of political activities with Indian National Congress that was the frontline of the majority community during the freedom movement of the country. It has been the shelter of the communal elements of the majority, which came out in true colours after independence. 

However, the intentions of Sangh Parivar in holding parleys with leaders of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind have to be examined closely. It has to be recalled that a leading luminary of Sangh Parivar and a member of Rajya Sabha, Mr. Balbir S.Punj described Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind as "The Trojan Horse of Secularism" in a series of articles published in Asian Age, Delhi. Both Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind and RSS have conceded that there was a meeting as reported in the press. However, there is no indication of commitment or agreement on any particular issue.

A significant fact about the meeting was that Mr. N.K. Sharma brokered it. He has the dubious reputation of being very close to the former Congress Prime Minister Mr. P.M. Narasimha Rao. He did whatever he could to wash off the dirt sticking to his master for the tragedy of Babari Mosque. He tried to recruit bearded Muslims for projecting the support of the minority for the disgraced leader. With NDA in power, it appears that Mr. N.K. Sharma is doing duty for Sangh Parivar.

The stringent criticism of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind from different quarters compelled Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind to clarify its position. The matter was taken up by the Working Committee of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind at its meeting held in Delhi on January 3, 2004 and two resolutions were adopted on the issue. The first of the two reads:

'This meting of the Working Committee of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, considers it necessary to clarify that from the very beginning, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind has accorded priority to the Babari Mosque issue. In 1934, British Government attacked Babari Mosque and damaged it. Many Muslims fell martyrs and a large number were injured. Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind took up the issue and decided to launch civil disobedience movement. The Great Mufti Maulana Kifayatullah, President, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind and Shaikh-ul-Islam Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani and other colleagues of Jamiat and Ahrar resolved to start the movement from Faizabad. The Government responded and Jamiat was assured that the mosque-temple dispute should be resolved judicially.

On midnight of December 23, 1949 after independence, in darkness idols were illegally planted at the mosque, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind adopted the legal course and moved the court. Jamiat still reserves its legal rights shall continue the struggle in that direction. 

This meeting once again reiterates the stand of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind that the issue should be resolved judicially or efforts should be made to find a solution by peaceful negotiations, that is just and honourable.' The second resolution too has more or less the same content: 'This meeting of the Working Committee of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind resolves that in the interests of peace and prosperity of the country as well as in the interests of Muslims and other minorities and for safeguarding their rights, holding dialogue with the majority and their different organizations is the duty of not only Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind but also of every citizen of the country. The process is essential for creating suitable atmosphere for peace and law and order. Any attempt to shackle the process shall not be acceptable. For creating an atmosphere free for communal virus dialogue with RSS and other organizations is a welcome step.

In view of the facts stated earlier this meeting regards dialogue with RSS and other organizations, as and when necessary, a part of its legitimate duties. It encourages every effort for finding a just, honourable and peaceful solution that respects the democratic public opinion of Muslims.'
Both resolutions justify the dialogue with RSS and Sangh Parivar. However, there is vagueness about the phrases, 'just and honourable solution' and 'democratic public opinion of Muslims.' There has been no effort to clarify what shall be the honourable solution of Babari Mosque issue that can be accepted as alternative of judicial verdict. The ambiguity in such phrases has ample scope for future dialogues between the parties. 

As for a dialogue between Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind and any other Muslim organization with any unit of Sangh Parivar, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. If they are of exploratory nature, they should be welcome. However, that should not involve surrender of commonly perceived position of the community.

A dialogue between the representatives of two organizations, although representing two communities exclusively, cannot be branded as communal. That is a process of strengthening secularism that should be encouraged. 

That comes very close to the position recommended by well-known religious leader, Maulana Waheeduddin Khan, who has been opposed to mindless confrontation between two major communities of the country. He has been for the path of dialogue and conciliation, although sometimes misunderstood by the community. But there should be clarity about the purpose and course of dialogue on contentious issues. Any misjudgment may lead to disastrous consequences. There are occasions when a dialogue is exploited for securing commitment to a particular stand. That situation must be strictly avoided.

Falling in a totally different category is the recently formed organization, 'Muslims for Secular Democracy'. The organization held its first meeting at Mumbai on October 2, 2003, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. A Declaration was issued on the occasion. It was followed by another meeting held in Delhi, on December 20,2003.

Unfortunately I have not gone through that Declaration. My point of reference is an introductory article by Hasan Abdullah, entitled, "EK TAHREEK KA AGHAZ" (The beginning of a movement) published in Qaumi Awaz, Delhi, dated January 1, 2004. According to the author, the Declaration opens with the assertion that 'Muslims for Secular Democracy is at a critical juncture when democracy and the Constitution face a threat of internal erosion for making way for a fascist government.'

However, Muslims with the exception of Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Syed Shahnawaz Hussain are not involved in that process. The logic behind the naming of the organization is not clear. It gives the wrong impression that only Muslims should come forward to defend secular democracy. Another wrong impression is created that Muslims have to be convinced about the need and value of secular democracy. Perhaps, the sponsors of the move have the wrong impression that majority of Muslims is communal. An exclusive organization of Muslims, although committed to the laudable object of safeguarding secular democracy shall be branded as 'communal'. It is not clear what is the hitch in joining hands with the groups and individuals who are committed to the same goals and ideals. There are many in India, who have been carrying the 'cross' of secularism, in spite of being accused of 'appeasement of Muslims'. 

They have been branded as pseudo-secularists, but they have not shied away from the selected path. Even if Muslims are interested in defending and strengthening secular democracy, they cannot do that alone. They have to forge alliances with others interested in that goal. The names of highly placed prominent individuals are associated with the movement. Their sincerity deserves respect and appreciation. However, there is a suspicion that those associated with the movement are keen to show that they are more secular than others. If so, the movement shall be another elitist club of paper variety. 

RSS and Jamiatul Ulama: letters

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