Is “Aggravation” a Muslim word?

The Indian Muslim situation suggests that it is, writes MOHAMMAD ZEYAUL HAQUE

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Novelist Philip Roth thinks that aggravation is a Jewish word. He also admits that he has a “Masada complex, and a Hitler complex.” Aggravation, in simple English, is getting bad to worse.

A man like that, haunted by a sense of persecution, may not be accurate in his judgment. However, there has been little in the Jewish situation after 1945 that can be described as getting bad to worse.

Yours Truly suspects that aggravation is a Muslim word. Is it not true that our situation has been getting steadily bad to worse, especially the quality of our leadership and the politics they choose to do?

This suspicion is confirmed after reading an announcement by the lawyer Zafaryab Jeelani in Lucknow that the All India Muslim Personal Law Board would take up a countrywide march after Ramadan to highlight the Union government’s putative neglect of Muslim issues, particularly the issue of Muslim endowments (awqaf).

The first reaction after reading this piece of information is a horrified, “Oh no. Not again, please.” Imagine the cost to Muslims in terms of time, money, energy and a huge emotional investment in an ill-advised project. At the end, the futility of it and the inevitable frustration that is bound to follow the exercise would surely bring the Muslim collective mood crashing down to the ground.

And the sorry spectacle it would present: Muslims working themselves into a frenzy, staging protest marches all over Bharat, making our countrymen and women with whom we do not share our faith wonder sympathetically: “What has happened to our Musalman bhai behen log? Why do they get so upset every now and then that they have to undertake an akhil-Bharat virodh pradarshan yatra?”

Our compatriots who do not share our faith with us and are not necessarily sympathetic to such jamborees would say: “Look at these people. They can never be appeased. All this is happening because of six decades of appeasement. Appease them and they would ask for more, right away. Give them an inch and they would demand a metre.” Or, something to the effect.

The plan announced by Mr. Jeelani is bothersome for other reasons as well. So far we knew that Mr. Jeelani had been on the committee of Personal Law Board for the Babri Masjid. In the long course of the Babri Masjid legal proceedings Mr Jeelani’s professional competence as a lawyer was seen to have left a lot to be desired.

Now that the Lucknow-based leadership of All India Muslim Personal Law Board announces another marathon protest march, we take it with a lot of trepidation. Even today, more than two decades after the first all-India rallies of the Personal Law Board over Shah Bano judgment, we are not sure whether it was the wisest of steps.

Although the Personal Law Board would be the last to admit it, its first all-India march was, at least obliquely, responsible for the opening of the Babri Masjid gate to public worship of the Shri Ramlalla idol. The Board does not see the obvious connection, but it is public knowledge that Rajiv Gandhi balanced the gift of Muslim Women’s (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, hurriedly legislated under the Board’s pressure with a similar gift for Hindus which was opening of the Babri Masjid gate for Hindu worshippers.

The Board took exception to academic Zoya Hasan’s assertion to this effect. It said late Maulana Ali Mian, Chairman of the then newly-formed Board, had not made the Muslim Women’s Act-for-Babri Masjid unlocking bargain. Well, that much could be true, that no bargain was made. Still, the unlocking was directly related to it. In politics, there are no free lunches and the price paid for the Board’s hyperactivism had got to be the unlocking.

The Personal Law Board’s ill-considered moves have had more unpleasant results than palatable ones. Scavenging for a cause and grabbing whatever comes one’s way as reason enough to launch an ill-considered movement is a criminal waste of Muslim energies and financial resources. This is specially so as the community wallows in abysmal poverty and deprivation.

What the community needs is consistent, sustained effort at reconstruction, not agitation and demagoguery. Reconstruction and agitation are two mutually exclusive modes of operation - they do not work together. And the choice today, more than ever, is silent work to rebuild, not noisy protest.

This uncalled for posturing is echoed in other ongoing programmes initiated by at least two other individuals. One is led by the former bureaucrat Zafar Mahmood, who has emerged over the last few years as an educationist and a sensitive, disciplined and focused social activist. His extraordinary effort to help out the victims of Gujarat 2002 violence touched many hearts.

Going beyond temporary relief or helping with housing and rehabilitation, he chose to save and build vital human resource. He brought several children orphaned by the state-sponsored pogrom to Delhi, put them in a home (not merely a house), gave the traumatised children hope and reason to believe in human goodness and a reasonably good education to sustain them in future.

Several years later, most of them have grown up as humane, forgiving youth, virtually shorn of bitterness, even though the memories of the murderous mobs and the killing of their dear ones still haunt them every now and then. Minus Zafar Mahmood they would have been lost to society, living on the periphery of law, enraged youth smarting under the wounds inflicted by a state that had turned from protector to predator. Mahmood’s role in the education of many of Jamia Nagar’s middle class children and the preparation of Sachar Committee report is well-appreciated.

The programme initiated recently by him (referred to above) seems to be a little out of step with what he has done so far. This programme is regarding amendment to the Wakf Act which, quite uncharacteristically, seems to be turning into a campaign, using the hype, hoopla and hyperbole of our colourful MLA from Okhla constituency (New Delhi), Asif Mohammad Khan, identified with his theatrics and penchant for Iqbal’s rhetoric. That is a shocking development.

Zafar Mahmood has been a typical bureaucrat, trained in the fine tradition of British Public Service, left behind by the Raj, a tradition that demands consistency, hard work, low profile, discipline and focus. The Asif Mohammad Khan school of social service is diametrically opposed to what Mahmood has stood for. No sir, please lay it off. This does not suit you. What is nectar for Mr Khan is poison for you.

Also, some of the best NGOs in the world are known for their non-adversarial, non-judgmental stance vis-à-vis governments. Mahmood’s latest stance seems to be obsessed with what is wrong with the Minorities Affairs Ministry.

A third initiative on Wakf (rather, waqf) has come from none other than the hugely popular (especially in the national capital’s Muslim circles) K Rahman Khan, Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha. Within days of the last Union cabinet reshuffle, Khan called a meeting of leaders of Muslim organisations to discuss issues of concern that fell largely within the purview of Minority Affairs Ministry, especially Wakf.

Interestingly, Khan’s supporters were sure that he would get Minorities Affairs portfolio in the cabinet reshuffle. Several Muslim leaders of Delhi had canvassed support for him, writing to Mrs Sonia Gandhi to make him Minister of Minority Affairs. The general impression among Muslims was that Mr Khan’s undue concern was prompted by his dejection over the Minority Affairs Ministry eluding him.

That may or may not be right, but the coincidence is there. Even the Mahmood initiative smacks of a similar Minority Affairs Ministry fixation.

Yours Truly thinks Khan is a more warm, people-friendly and accessible person than the Oxford-educated Khursheed, a pedigreed gent who sees only the Gandhis and Ambanis as his social equals. After all, this Union Law Minister, who is the son of a former Governor and grandson of a former President of India, cannot be expected to stoop to the level of common Muslims (or, ordinary Indians, for that matter).  On the contrary, warm and friendly Khan, beaming from ear to ear, is always ready to meet whoever seeks a meeting.

Muslim leaders are not far off the mark in backing Khan. Quite clearly, they want an accessible person as their minister rather than an Oxonion Englishman in brown skin. However, the other view is that Khan is not half as popular in his native Bangalore as in Delhi. Additionally, he is mired in a Rs. 100 crore bank scam involving the deposits of common Muslims. Until his name is cleared by a court of law, he would not make a clean, convincing Minority Affairs Minister. We would better wait till things clear up on that front.

Looking at all this brouhaha, much of which is politically motivated, how do we see the Indian Muslim public affairs? I would say, “not very encouraging.” Here is a lot of movement without going forward. Is not “aggravation” a Muslim word, then?