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

INTERVIEW:  Arif Mohammad Khan 
“I will create goodwill with Sangh Parivar”

Arif Mohammad Khan Former Congressman Arif Mohammad Khan is once again in the news. This time for joining hands with the Sangh Parivar against the wishes of a large section of his community. 
Khan first was in the limelight when he resigned from Rajiv Gandhi's government in 1986 in protest against the decision of the government to overturn the Supreme Court's judgement in the Shah Bano maintenance case.
A former president of the Aligarh Muslim University Students Union, Khan became a Member of Parliament, first representing the Congress and then the Bahujan Samaj Party. He quit the BSP when that party entered into an electoral alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat in 2002. Later he had a brief alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party after Paswan quit the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Though termed by many as an 'opportunist', Khan sees himself as a principled politician who is concerned about the nation and the community as he tells Andalib Akhter in an exclusive interview. Here is the excerpts:

What led you to join the BJP?
I was part of the Congress and supported it for long but it failed. I have no option. I want to tell the parties that have created a stereotype of Muslims and used them as block votes. I want to tell them we are like any other human beings. Please try to normalise the situation because we have been used by the so called secular parties as votebanks for a long time.

The Congress thinks that this group of people cannot go to any other party. Whatever treatment the Congress gave to them. I had no option. You have not visited Gujarat. If you visit Gujarat, you will understand the pain, the situation. Then you will realise. In Islamic terminology, there is a term, 'iztarari halaat'. It means a situation when you are faced with death or great crisis and you have no way out. In such a situation, you are allowed to do things that are forbidden. If secular parties can adopt a soft Hindutva line, why can I not make friends with Hindutva?

If the BJP returns to power, don't you think it would mean the people have accepted what happened in Gujarat?
The BJP has condemned what happened in Gujarat. The party leaders used very strong words to express their pain and anguish. Not just the prime minister who said, 'I don't know what face I will show to the world.' Even the deputy prime minister said that 'for the last five years we had the cleanest government. But the Gujarat incident has cast a shadow on our work.' And then the recent statement in which the prime minister said that 'in India it is not just the government which is almighty. We have other institutions also. I am glad to say other institutions are working very hard and I am sure that the victims will get justice.' This is a very, very significant statement. I think now they also feel there should be no repetition of Gujarat.

Are you sure there will be no repetition of Gujarat?
I cant say. If you talk of the BJP, what is the track record of other parties? Bhagalpur /Malyana happened not during the BJP's time. Instead, I would like to discuss Gujarat from a different angle.

I spent nearly three months in Gujarat during the riots. And when the elections came, I opposed the BJP. I supported the Congress. But with my support what did they deliver? Why didn't they deliver? They are seen as a party which has all along flirted with minority communalism. They are seen as a party that showed no qualms in playing the Muslim card in the Shah Bano case. Or playing the Hindu card when they tried to offset the reaction which came as a reaction to the Shah Bano case. And the locks of Ayodhya were opened. They can play the Hindu card or Muslim card or Christian card. So their credibility to fight and contain communalism has been eroded.

Politicians and political parties merely reflect and articulate the trends which are prevailing in society. You can blame any individual, you can blame the BJP for whatever happened in Gujarat, but what will you say about the secular Congress and its president Sonia Gandhi when she goes to Gujarat and then under the advice of her colleagues refuses to visit the house of Ehsan Jafri to offer condolences to the victim's family? 

So which is the lesser evil for the minorities, the BJP or the Congress?
It is not a question of lesser evil. What Congress did in 1986 and the communalism that followed as its reaction. What we are discussing are merely symptoms. The disease is the communalism that has taken deep roots in the minds of the people. And the Congress has simply become impotent. By compromising on secularism it has lost its potency to fight communalism. I have not joined the BJP with a political agenda. I have come to that Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, had come to the conclusion in 1857 that it is not possible for you to fight the British because they are much superior to you in all aspects. Therefore he said instead of fighting, befriend them, learn, overcome your drawbacks, and then see if you can create goodwill. By associating with the Sangh Parivar, who in my opinion have the capability today, I want to normalise the situation.

So the Sangh Parivar wants to bridge the gap and you want to help them?
I want to persuade them. I will not disclose to you all those things that they have told me. I am convinced that there is some willingness on their part. I am convinced that if I create goodwill with them, then their offices can be used to bridge this gap. Criticising the Congress is one thing, but joining and working for the BJP is different.

Today I have no political agenda. I am convinced the Congress does not have the capability to fight those whom it describes as communal forces. I have come to the conclusion after looking at Gujarat. I want to do something. Today the only option available to me is that if I can create some goodwill with them if I can win their confidence, if I can convince them not to treat me and people of different religions differently. That is the only thing. ¤

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