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

Mulayam Singh’s Friday blues
By Rizvi Syed Haider Abbas

Mulayam Singh Yadav is ruling a state which sends the largest number of parliamentarians besides giving India over half a dozen prime ministers. Politics at the drop of a hat, changing caste lines, polorisation of voters on communal lines, minority vote-swing and the consolidation of Backward Castes power are the daily bread of the UPites. After the fall of BSP-BJP rule, political reins came to Mulayam Singh but he has not as yet changed the previous regime. Speaker in the UP Assembly is still there. Moroever, Mulayam has toed the previous government-line in not issuing a fresh notification in the case relating to the demolition of the Babri Masjid accused.

"Muslims should not question my secular credentials and I am here to tell everyone that this time both my eyes and ears are open," Mulayam repeated this five times during his speech in the convention held under the aegis of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) on 7 Dec. 2003.

Mulayam Singh was sitting pretty as his bete noir Mayawati is being probed in the Taj Corridor scam and his rainbow coalition was running smoothly until the first cracks appeared as UP former chief minister Kalyan Singh along with his two ministers decided to quit Mulayam’s government to re-join the BJP and again raise the Ayodhya temple issue. Kalyan Singh had supervised the demolition of the Babri Masjid but owing to his backward caste later came closer to Mulayam. 

Mulayam Singh is often called the messiah of Muslims and with a pseudonym “Maulana”, but he too, has come under a cloud of suspicion, because of hobnobbing with the BJP and trying to emulate Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandra Babu Naidu in the post-poll scenario.

Muslims are a formidable force in UP and account for a sizeable 18 percent of the votes and can swing the fortunes of any party. Hence, Congress, SP and BSP have their eyes set on this section. Muslims, it seems are set for a strategy of supporting the candidates most capable of defeating the BJP.

Muslims, therefore, need to be offered some sop, even if it turns out to be nothing but political gimmick. And Mulayam Singh, on Feb 18, announced a new Friday time table for schools in UP. This was to facilitate Muslim children to offer Friday prayers. The Government Order apparently did not give any reason but directed all government schools and colleges affiliated with the UP government board to conduct teaching only till 12 noon on Fridays.

As expected, the order drew reactions from all quarters and particularly from BJP. BJP UP chief Vinay Katiyar alleged the step to be politically motivated and accused Mulayam Singh of communalising education. He demanded a further relaxation on Tuesday for Hindus to offer prayers.

The resonance was felt in the UP Assembly next day and the issue dominated the proceedings of the Legislative Assmebly on 19 Feb. BJP members raised the issue and demanded an explanation from the CM. In the Legislative Council BJP members staged a walk out. The Opposition castigated Mulayam for minority wooing as the decision on the eve of polls was nothing but to garner Muslim support. Amid scenes of BJP members running to the well of the House raising slogans of Har Har Mahadev and Jai Bajrang Bali, BJP’s Ramji Singh said that it was a move to divide the society.

Mulayam Singh made a hasty retreat and withdrew his order. He issued an amended order to district magistrates to use their discretion in ordering schools in Muslim dominated areas to close at 12 noon for Friday prayers.

"We are just not impressed by Mulayam Singh’s step because instead of serving any Muslim purpose it gave a political bait to BJP," said Maulana Kalbe Jawwad. He elaborated further," The order even if taken in letter and spirit had many lacunae as there was no clause for Muslim employees in government and what would have been the status of Muslim girl students. There is no separate arrangement for Muslim women offering Juma prayers, except for Asifi Mosque in Lucknow. Kalbe Jawwad is Imam-e-Juma at Asifi mosque.

"It would have been better had the government given jobs to unemployed Muslim youth. We should be given the same reservation as Scheduled Castes and Tribes in government jobs," said Maulana Khalid Rasheed, the Naib Imam of Eidgah in Lucknow. 

Minority issues or rather minority grievances are scattered all over the state. The issue of grants to Waqf Boards is long awaited as the last time grant was given to the two Waqf (Sunni and Shia) Boards of UP was in 1984 by Congress chief minister ND Tiwari. In 1984 this grant was 6.7 million rupees and was given as a ‘casual grant.’

If now a recurring grant is given for the payment of salaries of employees of Sunni and Shia Boards the same is not likely to exceed rupees 12.5 million which is a petty amount for the government, but it would definitely improve the functioning of the two boards. It should come as no surprise that sometime the staff has even remained without salaries for nine months in a row! 

Mulayam Singh, it may be mentioned, has announced in the recent Budget Session, appointment of three thousand Urdu teachers and an Udru/Persian University in Rampur. But both remain more or less on paper. The Act to establish the university is yet to be passed.

The appointment of Urdu teachers may also remain a mirage as in 1994 when Mulayam Singh, as chief minister, had declared that he would appoint 15 thousand Urdu teachers and 15 thousand Urdu translators and as the first installment he appointed 5 thousand each of Urdu teachers and Udru translators. As such 10 thousand each are yet to be appointed out of which an announcement has been made for three thousand with no reference to Urdu translators! So, the 1994 promise of appointing seven thousand Urdu teachers and 10 thousand Urdu translators is yet to be fulfilled by Mulayam.

The issue of the recognition to minority-run educational institutions has also run aground. Moreover, it was also expected that at least one member of the minority community will be included in every selection committee for different posts, but, no such announcement has been made as yet. In 1994 every selection committee had a minority representative. ¤

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