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

ISSUES
Indian Muslims at crossroads 

It is only at election time when the existence of Muslims is felt. It is sad and disturbing about the manner in which the Muslim community is treated by all political parties in the season of elections. Each party has its own way of wooing Muslims and the community easily falls prey to these political gimmicks. In this process our own "leaders" of the community play a vital role. Once the ballot is cast their importance is reduced to nothing in every party. Radical Hindutva party BJP tried hard to woo Muslims, with two heads one for Hindus base and another for Muslims whose votes it wanted. The "secular" Congress lost Muslim sympathy by standing by while Babri Masjid fell and Bombay burned. Samajwadi party always banks upon Muslim votes but it too did little for the progress of the community. Mayawati talked big but later formed an alliance with BJP and even campaigned for Modi which betrayed her lack of commitment. 

Indian Muslims are now well aware about their problems. Any strategy would provide less advantage to any of these parties. The BJP found it difficult to contest these polls on Hindutva plank and thus began to woo Muslims by offering membership to unemployed Muslims politicians and securing the endorsement of the so-called "Shahi Imam" which proved of litte use. Above all "Vajpayee Himayat Committee" was formed to support BJP. The committee is a forum of Muslim intellectuals, ulama and scholars, some of whom were once very critical about BJP. It is clear that this committee did not represent the Muslim Ummah in India which remained by and large sceptical about Vajpayee's overtures and the committee met with protests wherever it ventured to go.

In Bengal the Vajpayee Himayat Committee faced stiff opposition. Its first state convention was shut down due to fierce opposition by a large section of the invitees and two Muslim organizations. Members of All India Minoritie’ Forum and the Association of Indian Minorities and a section of the audience raised a din asking what the committee had to say on "State-sponsored pogrom" against Muslims in Gujarat, the demolition of Babri Masjid and the "sudden pro-Muslim posturing of Mr. Vajpayee". The committee chairman had no solid answer. Protesters shouted slogans and burnt effigies of Vajpayee. 

The question is: should a communal party which is responsible for murder of thousands of innocent Indians be given another term to govern? The answer would be no. The BJP-led government did nothing to improve the living conditions of the poor and needy masses who constitute an overwhelming majority of the people of India. 

The majority of Indians look at the wooing of Muslims by BJP as an unhealthy and dangerous sign for the future, both for the country and the community. Tarique Ahmed, a Kolkata engineer, said Muslims must never join BJP, as it has time and again hurt Muslim feelings and destroyed their livelihood and properties. "They should try to build own individuality, image, and strength." he added. 

Blaming BJP or some other party for the present condition of Muslim in India is not fair enough. The blame lies with the Muslims themselves, who are disorganized and undisciplined. And our self-seeker leaders who make tall claims but end up in the BJP camp. 

More recent in the race are Syed Shahbuddin, a staunch Congress critic, joining the party he criticised for long, Arif Mohammed Khan, the arch anti-BJP, becoming an active member of that same party, "Shahi Imam" Bukhari supporting BJP which he used to curse not long ago, and so on. The country has produced so many netas but not a single leader.

"Political parties are making a mockery of democracy. And the involvement of maulvis in this game of politics is uncalled for," said Mohammad Nasim, a Kolkata bureaucrat. But the tragedy is that the common Muslim does not even give a thought to whom he/she should vote. They fail to analyse the report card of the candidates and thus become easy prey to the false promises made by these candidates. All this is due to lack of education among Muslims. What we need today is to understand our fundamental rights and duties and the importance of votes in a democracy.

In a major campaign to win Muslims votes, Advani talked about peace moves with Pakistan. Why connect Indian Muslims with that? It is good politics for any country to have friendly relations with its neighbours. Muslims are concerned with the hard facts of life, education of their children, jobs and community development. Peace with Pakistan is not the Indian Muslims' priority or issue. They are Indians and their problems are very much Indian. In another rally in Kolkata, PM Vajpayee said that without Muslim participation the country cannot progress and that they should not be afraid of BJP.

It is good that Muslim political activists are joining various political parties, but they should not bargain or harm the community’s interest. Unfortunately, these people are power-hungry. Record shows that no Muslim in BJP has ever spoken against its anti-Muslim agenda. Muslims in other parties like Congress, BSP or SP, have done little for the development of their community. These leaders are after their own personal interests. Indian Muslims should come out of the ghettos constructed by these parties and should act as a potent force in the social mainstream.

In these circumstances, what real choice do Indian Muslims have? Who really cares about their interests? And who will do anything to rid the community of its poverty and backwardness? Sadly, there are no good answers to these questions. The community is in a fix and confused at this crossroad.

Md .Shahid Rafique,
Kolkata

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