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Indian Muslims must identify friends and foes
By Saeed Suhrawardy

With elections to four state assemblies coming to close, a clear picture of shape of things has yet to emerge. How Muslims conducted themselves shall come out, after the results have been analyzed? Among the four states, public attention was focussed mostly on Uttar Pradesh. Politically it is the most important state. It contributes the largest contingent of members to both the Houses of Parliament. Its substantial share in the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of the Parliament, influences the formation of the government. Among the prime ministers of the country, the largest number has come from Uttar Pradesh. 

Among the four states that went to polls, Muslim vote was of crucial importance in Uttar Pradesh and to some extent in Uttaranchal also. 

Elections to state assemblies of Punjab and Manipur interested Muslims only to the extent that they are likely to affect the future of the Government of National Democratic Alliance, at the Centre. Sri Atal Behari Vajpai, already apprehensive of adverse results, stated that the elections to the four state assemblies should not be taken as referendum on the performance of the NDA Government.

In spite of whatever he may say, the results are likely to affect the future political alignments in the country. Muslims are a minority, but a substantial minority. They have been correctly described as ‘the second largest community’ of the country. The only state where they are in a majority is Jammu & Kashmir. However the state’s future remains unpredictable. On their own strength, they are not in a position to form a regional government in any other state. 

Correct political alignment holds the key to the future of Muslims in the country.

The political scenario of the country is different from what it was just after independence of the country. After partition of the country, Muslim League shifted its activities to the newly formed state of Pakistan. Indian National Congress ruled supreme in India that is Bharat. Its position as the only national political party of the country remained unchallenged for more than three decades.

The transition from the leadership of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to the shoulders of his daughter Mrs. Indira Gandhi was smooth minus the interlude of the regime of Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri, who was a confidant of Nehru family. There was no serious challenge to the hegemony of Indian National Congress, led by Nehru dynasty, till the seventh decade of the previous century. There was opposition from the Left and from the Right, but never strong enough to dislodge it from positions of power.

Muslims remained divided in two camps within Congress and that outside. After the death of Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad and Maulana Hifzur Rahman there was none of the same stature, who could speak for Muslims within Congress with the same confidence and authority. Gradually, the secular elements within Congress got marginalized or sidelined. The communal elements of the majority community gradually started influencing political climate of the country. 

Reconstruction of Somnath Temple in Gujarat and surreptitious planting of statues of Ram in Babari Mosque are two important events that have cast their shadow on the subsequent sequence of events. Gujarat is the home state of Sardar Vallabbhai Patel, where Somnath Temple is located. It remains the political base of the communal politics of Sangh Parivar. The second axis of communal politics was in Uttar Pradesh. The planting of statues of Ram within the premises of Babari Mosque was done when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister and Pandit Govind Vallabh Pant was the Chief Minister of the state. Pandit Pant was the leader of the communal hierarchy of Congress leaders of Uttar Pradesh. Other members were Purushottam Das Tandon, Sampoornanand. The Babari Mosque-Ram Janmbhoomi dispute remains the main cause of the communal divide in the country. RSS and its Sangh Parivar for their political games have nursed the seed planted by Congress leaders. The communal virus injected in the politics of the country has Muslims and Christians as their prime targets.

In the initial stage, the impact of partition was so great that Muslims had no clear picture of their future in the country. Aspersions about their loyalty to the country further unsettled them. Only nationalist Muslim leaders stood up and spoke for them. Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, a close ally of Indian National Congress in the struggle for freedom, resolved to dissociate from the future parliamentary politics of the country. They were firmly against future politics on communal lines. However, they remained engaged in providing relief, wherever needed. 

For two decades, there was no political forum for voicing the grievances of Muslims. Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind spoke for them, but gradually became alienated from the Indian National Congress. Muslims not affiliated with Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind tried to fill that vacuum, by forming a consultative body, designated as Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat in 1967. It attracted support of a section of Muslims all over the country. The organization had no political ambitions. Mufti Atiqur Rahman acted as the president of Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, as long as he was alive. The leadership of Muslims, till that time, comprised of "Ulama" or religious leaders with the exception of Dr. Syed Mahmood and subsequently Dr. A.J. Faridi. 

Dr. A.J. Faridi broke away from the parent body and formed Muslim Majlis. The resentment of Muslims against Congress in Uttar Pradesh found an outlet. Dr.A.J. Faridi dealt a serious blow to the might of Congress Party. He was the architect of two defeats of Congress boss C.B. Gupta firstly at Lucknow and subsequently at Maudaha. The victory was not of the candidates of Muslim Majlis, but it was perceived as the victory of Dr. Faridi and Muslim Majlis.

There has been talk about a political party, exclusively of Muslims, but fortunately for Muslims, it has been wishful thinking. Muslim League in Kerala and certain pockets of Tamil Nadu and Majlis Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen in Old Hyderabad are specimens of that line of thinking. But their presence has been limited to their specific areas. They have not been able to influence national politics for securing a package of relief for their community. Among other parties, National Conference of Jammu & Kashmir belongs to a different category. It is a secular, political party of a Muslim-majority state, with a composite leadership, which is predominantly Muslim.

The pluralistic character of Indian society has been a great advantage for Muslims. Linguistic and ethnic variety has been a major obstacle to consolidation of Hindu community as desired by Rashtriya Swayam Sangh (RSS) and Sangh Parivar. By inflaming communal feelings, BJP- the political wing of RSS reaped political advantage only in Hindi-speaking states and adjoining areas of Gujarat and Maharashtra.

At present there is no national political party like Indian National Congress after independence. The ambition of RSS for providing a national alternative of the same scale has not been fulfilled. Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress, both may be described as regional parties with certain areas added or subtracted. However, Congres is the only major national opposition to the Left, Sangh Parivar as well as regional parties like Telegu Desham, DMK and AIADMK.

After more than half a century of deprivation, Muslims appear to have opted in favour of aligning with backwards represented by MY (Muslim-Yadav) factor in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and MD (Muslim-Dalit) factor as shown by their support to Bahujan Samaj Party led by Kanshi Ram and Mayawati. The tactical alliance although forged in the name of social justice, has no well-defined ideological contours. That may be called a negative approach. But the hostile and aggressive posture against Muslims adopted by BJP as the leading force of NDA, has compelled them to adopt that tactical line. We have to wait and see whether that line leads to tangible gains in national life. 

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