Press Statements

Babri Masjid and the murky politics of UP - ii

By Haider Abbas

(Continued from the previous issue)

Will Azam Khan make a new beginning?: The political posturing of Azam Khan has to be understood in his own past, in context to his role in the Babri Masjid campaign. The debate, no doubt, encompasses, various political issues, including the question of secularism _ the bedrock of Indian constitution.

Mulayam in the heart of heart was scared of Azam's popularity. He brought alternatives. Rasheed Masood, Shafiq-ur-Rehman Barq, Ahmed Hasan etc. to replace Azam. He was ably guided by Amar Singh — the newly inducted national general secretary of his party. Remember, Mulayam Singh had stalled the Women's Reservation Bill in parliament and demanded that there ought to be a 'quota within the quota for Muslim women' in the bill. Azam organised a dharna at Jantar Mantar, Delhi to press his demand but Amar Singh saw to it that no national newspaper reported it. The seeds of future showdown between Amar and Azam were thus laid. It took more than a decade to surface.

Meanwhile, there were twice non-SP governments in UP. Both being the BSP-BJP combine from 1995 onwards. The Feb 2002 assembly elections were the most communally polarised contest. AB Vajpayee had said that he did not want Muslim votes, meaning that he wanted just Hindu votes. The BJP, ended with less than a three digits mark in UP. BSP came to the rescue and Mayawati became CM for the third time.

This was the time when Gujarat massacre took place, supervised by BJP from the center. Congress had brought a no-confidence motion against BJP but the BSP abstained from voting. The BJP could sail past 2004 when it got drubbed under the 'feel good factor'. The La Martiniere Grounds in Lucknow still resonate with "LK Advani zindabad" —at the behest of Naseem-ud-Din Siddiqui (in 2003)-the blue eyed boy of Mayawati as it was construed that BSP-BJP alliance was to go for polls together in 2004. But it could not take place.

Azam was badly broken. He was traumatised by the Gujarat massacre. He lamented the helplessness. Perhaps, no words can entail the emotion he espoused for Muslims of Gujarat, as he contemplated the idea of rehabilitating them to UP. That was just a night before he boarded the Lucknow Mail for Delhi to tender his resignation from Rajya Sabha  as he had been elected MLA from Rampur. The story from then on was in for a murky turn.

Mistaken Identity?: The results of 2002 in UP found SP to be the largest party. But, UP Governor did not seem to know mathematics. Mulayam Singh along with his entire flock of MLAs and his party-men had laid siege of the Governor House. There were thousands of SP workers on the road opposite to it. Entire police and security apparatus was present when suddenly a boy enquired about Azam Khan. One SP MLA, Mehboob Ahmed, in his flamboyance said that he was Azam. The boy took out a revolver and shot  him dead! This happened in broad daylight! How come the boy reached the nucleus of MLAs inside the best security zone of the state? Why was the conspiracy not unearthed? The answers are not available. "He had come to kill me. I was sitting next to Mehboob Sahib. I just pray: May his soul rest in peace," Azam told later. Why did not Mulayam make an issue the assassination of one of his MLAs in broad daylight? The silence is incomprehensible. Azam, thereafter, became the leader of opposition in UP as Governor invited Mayawati to form the government.

Mayawati government fell in 2003 but not before she rescued LK Advani from being exonerated of the charge of being involved in the Babri Masjid demolition. She did not issue a fresh notification to club the two, Crime No.s 197/92 and 198/92, lodged after the demolition of Babri Masjid. The need had arisen out of a technical lacunae which was left, in 1993, and could have been amended by virtue of a fresh notification. Azam had stood in the well of the House to protest every move of Mayawati in UP and Mulayam stalled the Parliament over the same. But, instead, Mayawati was unrelenting. She helped Narender Modi to gain power in Dec 2002 Gujarat elections.

Mulayam Singh, however, after taking over UP in 2003 was a changed man. He did not care that Azam has had strained his age old friends over him. Well, in 2002 All India Milli Council (AIMC) had supported SP, BSP and Congress on various seats in order to pulverize BJP. But, BSP went with BJP for the third time. Azam argued to find out as to why AIMC supported BSP in the first place. It led to a heated exchange of words. Fortunately Zafaryab (also of AIMC) was not present. But, the damage had been done.

The first time when Azam and Jilani were not seen on the same platform was on Dec 7, 2003. That was on the occasion of 12th anniversary of Babri Masjid demolition. Syed Shahbuddin, one of the leaders of the Babri Masjid movement along with All India Muslim Personal Law Board —  the highest Muslim body in the country, chief Rabe Hasani Nadvi were present at Ganga Prasad Memorial Hall, Lucknow. The issue was that Mulayam issue a fresh notification, something which Mayawati didn't do, but Mulayam did not comply. His stand in the Parliament was a forgotten story. He did not do it until his government lasted in 2007. Mulayam Singh had by that time completely reversed his stand on the question of Babri Masjid demolition accused.

Kalyan Singh, had by then deserted the BJP and formed his own, the Bhartiya Kranti Party. He openly canvassed for BJP's defeat before the elections of 2002. He helped SP. Mulayam Singh had already, before that, inducted Sakshi Maharaj — a Backward Caste leader and Babri Masjid demolition accused and rewarded him by Rajya Sabha seat. Both Azam Khan and Sakshi were SP colleagues in Rajya Sabha! Azam protested the induction of Sakhshi Maharaj, in all internal meetings of the party. But, Mulayam had already set his political priorities, and was, uncared about the Babri Masjid issue. Inevitably, Azam, just forced himself to stick to his dream project, which was still  Muhammad Ali Jauhar University at Rampur.

In 2003, Mulayam Singh was a changed man. He sent a very senior bureaucrat to Azam with a message: Abstain from criticising LK Advani. It has been very often debated that the government had come to power with the blessings of LK Advani. The convenor of NDA, George Fernandes, was present at the oath taking ceremony. Azam did not raise stakes. Mulayam was, to an extent, apparently though, seemed still in his earlier mould. He got it passed through the assembly the bill on Muhammad Ali Jauhar University despite every hiccup posed by BJP, BSP and Congress alike. Thereafter we find Azam Khan totally immersed in the work of the University. He would return home at 3 am in the night and be back to work early next day. He wanted it to be completed as early as possible. And he succeeded in his mission to a great extent. Notwithstanding the BSP-2007 government gunning to get it closed and Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) sitting on the letter of authorisation! But, why did Mulayam Singh not issue a 'No Objection Certificate' to it? Was Mulayam Singh working on the counsel of Amar Singh to make it remain hanging-halfway as the Babri Masjid litigation! The line was simple. Leave or subscribe. Azam neither left nor subscribed.

Shouldn't it be also reiterated that Azam, was once, openly humiliated by his own party men when he had landed to inaugurate a Hajj House in Ghaziabad after the 2003 government. He was frisked and his mobile phone was snatched by a small time police officer, known to have been close to Shivpal Yadav — the younger brother of Mulayam. Things inside had by then found an outside way! Shivpal and Amar Singh colluded with the same objective. Azam threatened to resign from the ministry. Mulayam Singh suspended some policemen. The officer, however was reinstated later.

The last three and-a-half years of Mulayam in office had also found one Yaqub Qureshi - a BSP MLA becoming a turncoat to SP, heaping virtually every possible expletive on Azam. Who was the patron: Amar Singh. "Mehboob Ali MLA of SP had once expressed his displeasure to Amar Singh of not pushing him against Azam or else he would have chased Azam, kicked in public! " The meeting was held in the presence of Ram Gopal Yadav — brother of Mulayam. RG Yadav had not protested," said the source inside SP on condition of anonymity. So, was Azam just being made into an adornment like Maulana Azad in Indian National Congress!

No, for he would not make a will (as was done by Maulana) to be opened after 30 years of his death in order to get to know the real inside of India Wins Freedom. He would become a vocal opponent of Mulayam Singh over his gesture to Kalyan Singh! Mulayam Singh would then sneer more. He inducted Pawan Pandey in SP — just as a sequel to Kalyan, with an alibi to defeat BJP. Pandey is also a Babri Masjid demolition accused. Very soon, and particularly, the Muslim candidates of SP like Nafisa Ali Sodhi and Rasheed Masood (both lost) were more than willing to forgive Kalyan Singh! Under the new avtar of SP. Secularism was in for sale for 100% discount!  Azam would mince no words to condemn the initiative. Mulayam had not spoken to him. Party heads, after all, have become greater than dictators. This is due to the anti-defection law. Until one-third of party MLAs deflect they cannot be recognised. This was done with the prime motive of killing all the small time and regional parties, who often come up with one or two MLAs or MPs, and hence, are very easy to be co-opted. Larger parties can therefore have a field day with absolute dictatorship within!

But, Azam would not remain mute. He raised questions of the former Union Minister of Minority Affairs AR Antulay on the veracity of the killing of Hemant Karkare — Chief Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) in the wake of 26 November, 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, and register his democratic right to dissociate himself from his party line. Something unprecedented in the history of politics in India.

But, why did not he come out of SP? He would gaze at his joint picture with Mulayam. His emotion well carved on his face. "I cannot belittle Mulayam's contribution to Jauhar University," came the resplendent reply. This despite what happened on 14 February. On that night his Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) was badly damaged in an accident, but Azam Khan survived. Wait for the surprise! Mulayam Singh did not visit him. He did not even call him. So much for a friendship of 25 years! Mulayam cared a fig for Azam's accident. He had already made it public about his reservation for taking Azam into the canvassing arena, as after all, Muslims were his personal fiefdom.

Now, regarding the state largesse and Azam's hangover about Jauhar University  Wasn't it then the same Mulayam who had given Rs. 36 crore to a small school run by his brother! What's the big deal then! Moreover, he had given more than 100 crore for the facilitation of Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in 2007. Gave pension to RSS seniors, under the garb of emergency (1975-77) prisoners. His government had opened up state exchequer to host BJP executive meet. Gave state-guest honour to Uma Bharti  nother Babri Masjid prime accused! Mulayam Singh, thus, had shown no scruples while flirting with the Hindu right lavishly in spending state finances on ostensibly haters of SP!

Coming back now to the age-old principle. Is not Mulayam doing  the same to Azam what Nehru did to Azad? The only difference being that Azam just refuses to be a poster boy. The Azam factor boomeranged SP's fortunes as none of SP's 11 Muslim candidates could find a place in parliament! In 2004 seven had made it from SP. Notwithstanding the fact that Azam had also to glean his teeth as SP candidate Jaya Prada who had won from Rampur. BJP shifted its votes in her favour. Plus, Abu Asim Azmi of SP, a multi-millionaire from Mumbai was brought to see the job done. Azam has no money. It is after all money which runs politics! Stupid! Thus, it leaves us all, with a pertinent question: has India gone into a corporate democracy -inclusive of all divisionist/communalist and secularist politics? The answer is unquestionable, though unfortunate — yes!

Shoddy Secularism: Muslim politics in UP, as well as, in India is at its historical juncture. Phony secularism of Congress, BSP, SP, RJD, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and even BJP, which is a claimant too, has shown again and again that all want Muslim votes, and all are unanimous too, that none want Muslims to have a secular party of their own. Not to lament the grand breed of secular Muslim politicians. Najma Hebaitullah — one who was traditionally in the Congress and who has held high positions, had deserted the Congress in 2004, and joined the BJP. She, ironically, presented a copy of the Holy Qur'an (sic) to AB Vajpayee! Glory to be self-style secularism. And, wasn't Babri Masjid, after all, artfully demolished, at the alter of the same secularism! Everyone expected Congress government at the center, to have acted (sic) on Dec 6, 1992. The massive para-military force present there mutely witnessed the demolition and did nothing to stop it. Instead, Congress got it stamped through parliament, in January 1993 that the makeshift structure, built over the demolished site of Babri Masjid-for 36 hours, would remain as a status-quo!

As the Sachar Commission report has shown, the condition  of Muslim is no better - in comparison with that of the communalist Gujarat —  in West Bengal ruled by the CPI (M), the most vocal proponent of secularism. The electoral defeat suffered by the party recently, for the first time in three decades, was one due to the incidents at Nandigram where Muslims were killed and raped. Not a single Muslim candidate contesting on the Party Ticket won this time, unlike in the past.  The historic lines of Abdul Bari Firangimahli, therefore, deserve a mention. He had said it in Persian with reference to Mahatma Gandhi: Umray ke ba-aayato ahadees guzasht/rafti wa nisar-e-but parasti kardi (The life I had devoted on Quran and Hadees / I volunteered it on an idol worshipper). So, all that Muslims can do is to help Hindus win! And, get the bitterest experiences (of six decades) in return!

Coming on Azam again. What is the most destable moment of your political life and how do you relate to Pakistan? "Well, I found blood in the eyes of BJP MPs (particularly Arun Jaitley) as they stared at me in Rajya Sabha, when Parliament was attacked on Dec 11, 2001. It was Kuldip Nayar who had framed the document condemning the attack. As for Pakistan "I have my elder sister married there. But, I have never made a phone call to Pakistan," he said.

Undeterred: Azam today is still undeterred. He had sent his resignation from the parliamentary board and general-secretary-ship to Mulayam much before he was expelled from the primary membership of the party. Would now Azam be able to take the gauntlet in his stride? Or would he make a shift to Congress or BSP! In either case it would be his Waterloo. So far he has resisted the offers of Minister for State and Rajya Sabha membership, offered by the UPA government II. He has also not responded to Mayawati who offered him a cabinet rank in her ministry along with the much needed NOC to his university, provided he joins the BSP.

He being a seasoned politician-whose activism is all chiseled in bronze  _  deserves to make a new beginning. Though, the path for Muslim political emancipation is no doubt strewn with extreme hardships. As, Muslims, over the years, have been reduced to insignificance. They are rudderless, anchorless and directionless. Are Muslims ready to break the jinx? Success, of course, has not eluded them for always, as it was once when Muslim Majlis, founded by AJ Faridi in 1968, had eight MLAs and two MPs (in 1977)  in UP.  

Would Azam try and lead this new beginning for it is only he who has a pan-UP image and also a track record of impeccable character. His unblemished three decades of involvement in politics is without a single charge of corruption. Or would he just look after his university and sit back to run his Hamsafar Lodge, inside his ancestral orchard in Rampur? Is only time would tell.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 December 2009 on page no. 6

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