Photograph of Anil Chawla

Author - Anil Chawla

Article about the relationship between Indian political parties and Muslims over the past eight decades starting from Khilafat Movement to date.

Relations between political parties and Muslims in India are more sentimental than rational. Instead of a healthy relation, one sees a relationship based on mutual exploitation, mistrust and blackmail. On one hand, political parties just want to use the Muslims for their immediate interests and on the other hand Muslims are content to be playing the role of pawns in political games.

After the First World War, Britain reduced the power of the Caliph of Turkey by splitting the empire of Caliph into small independent countries. This disturbed some Indian Muslims who protested by starting a Khilafat Movement. This struggle to help a ruler of alien lands located thousands of miles away from India was strongly supported by Mahatma Gandhi who launched his famous non-cooperation movement in support of Khilafat. The supporters of Khilafat lost their great cause when the people of Turkey abolished the post of Caliph, a few years later.

Khilafat movement was an attempt to incite the sentiments of Indian Muslims for a cause that did not in any way benefit them, socially or economically or in any other manner. The fact is that the movement had nothing to do with even Islam. Caliph was a political post and Caliph could not be considered as equivalent of an incarnation of God or even supreme religious teacher / preacher. There was no possibility that the fall of Caliph would lead to the end of Islam in the world or in India. In spite of all this a handful of Muslims used this as an opportunity to incite Indian Muslims and proclaim themselves to be leaders of Indian Muslims. Congress and Mahatma Gandhi sanctified their proclamation by recognizing them as the true representatives of Indian Muslims.

From Khilafat movement to Babri Masjid, the story has seen many editions and versions without any basic change. Like the Bollywood potboilers, the story has a very simple formula. A handful of self-proclaimed protectors of the faith use some ridiculous, meaningless, baseless issue to stir the sentiments of Muslims; it is declared that Islam is in danger; irrespective of the fact whether these self-proclaimed protectors of the faith have any popular support among Muslim community and intelligence, some Hindu leaders come forward and support them declaring noble intentions of strengthening communal harmony and secularism - the net result is that the self-proclaimed protectors of faith become recognized leaders of Indian Muslims and Hindu leaders who support them get their status elevated to the level of universally accepted national leaders. This formula has been tried and tested with great success a number of times during the past eight decades. The original inventor of this formula, Mahatma Gandhi passed the patent to Congress, who exercised monopoly rights on the formula till very recently. However, during the recent past, some other political parties have encroached on the monopoly rights of Congress and have used the formula to gain significant political mileage.

This eight decades old formula for gaining political mileage has immensely helped its proponents to build their status politically, socially and even financially. However, it has been an unmitigated disaster for Indian Muslims. During the past eight decades, Indian Muslims have been steadily falling behind other countrymen. In every sphere of life - education, financial strength, social development - the rate of progress of Indian Muslim has been significantly lower than his brethren from other faiths.

The support and recognition extended by leaders of majority community of Indian society to the conservative and extremist elements of the minority community has killed all possibilities of the emergence of a moderate Muslim leadership in India. The reason for this can be best understood by an illustration. If there are just a few conservative and extremist persons in any minority community and an equal number of moderate persons in the same community, the support from the majority community will be the deciding factor in a trial of strength between the two. The group that is seen to be having the blessings of leaders from majority community will suddenly see its strength jump up manifold. This is the reason for the fact that support to meaningless movements like Khilafat by Mahatma Gandhi led to the elimination of the leaders among Muslims who talked of development, growth and modernisation. In due course, this led to the rise of two-nation theory and also led to obstacles being created in the path of an amicable solution of Babri dispute.

After independence, the Congress formula for gaining political mileage was criticized by Jansangh and subsequently by Bharatiya Janata Party as policy of appeasement of Muslims. The word "appeasement" gives the impression that some dole is being handed over. The noises made by Jansangh and BJP about appeasement helped Congress strengthen its base among Muslims, who started believing that Congress is trying to give them something while BJP wants to stop Congress from doing so. On one hand, this laid the foundations of a love affair between Congress and Indian Muslims. On the other hand Indian Muslims developed a hatred for BJP.

Generally speaking, Indian Muslim realizes today that he is falling back in the race of progress, though for the past five decades almost every Government at the centre as well as in the states has been paying lip service to issues that are supposed to concern Muslims. This has led Indian Muslim to be disillusioned with Congress. As a result, he has tried out other political parties who follow the same old formula and are modified versions of Congress. After trying all such versions, he is now getting disillusioned with the political process itself.

After coming to power in Delhi, BJP has stopped making its usual noises about appeasement and has tried to make some inroads into Muslims. It faces two major obstacles. The first obstacle is the five decades old accumulated hatred against BJP and all its affiliates. The other obstacle is BJP leaders' lack of knowledge about Muslims and Islam. Some BJP leaders are so ignorant that they do not even know whether Moharram is observed as a day of mourning by Shias or Sunnis or both. There can be no wisdom in the absence of knowledge and information. It is no surprise that during the past two-three years it has appeared that BJP is trying to adopt the Congress formula for establishing relations with Muslims. Instead of befriending and starting a dialogue with moderate, reformist, modern leaders of Indian Muslims, BJP seems to be prostrating before the same traditional, conservative, extremist elements who used to be the focus of attention of Congress.

A clear example of this was seen recently in Bhopal. Bohras are a small sect of Muslims. Head of Bohra community is Syedna who keeps a tight-fisted control on all aspects of the life of Bohras and almost runs a parallel Government. For the past two decades, Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer has been leading a revolt against the Syedna in Bohra community. Dr. Asghar Ali is known across the world as a proponent of moderate Islam. He is opposed to the two-nation theory and condemns all so-called Islamic violence and terrorism as non-Islamic. He believes that religious conversions by use of force are against the true spirit of Islam. He opposes calling Hindus as Kafir and prefers to call them as "AHLE-KITAB" which broadly translates as followers of a book and has a tone of acceptance of such persons. He says that the idol worship of Hindus is different from the idol worship of Arabs since Hindus look at an idol as a means to reach the Almighty and do not treat the idol itself as Almighty. He finds a commonality between Allah and the Hindu concept of God. He says that in Koran the word jihad is not used in the sense of war and hence he refuses to grant any religious sanction to the so-called jihad declared by Pakistan in Kashmir.

The diametrically opposite personalities of Syedna and Dr. Asghar Ali had a chance meeting at Indore. Indian Airlines Bhopal-Mumbai flight has a stop at Indore. On 13th February, Dr. Asghar Ali had boarded the flight at Bhopal and Syedna was scheduled to board it at Indore. Syedna failed to reach the airport in time. His supporters pressurized the authorities to hold the flight till the arrival of Syedna. Dr. Asghar Ali protested against the delay. This infuriated the supporters of Syedna and as a result, Dr. Asghar Ali was beaten up brutally on arrival at Mumbai airport and his house was vandalized extensively.

The surprise was that the next day, State President of BJP, Madhya Pradesh issued a written press statement condemning Dr. Asghar Ali using all the choicest abuses and even mis-spelling his name to "Ajgar" which translates to python. BJP even went to the extent of demanding that a criminal case be registered against Dr. Asghar Ali. A leader of BJP's women wing, who proclaims herself to be a historian, criticized Dr. Asghar Ali as a supporter of Gazni & Gauri (Barbaric Muslim Invaders) based purely on press reports without verifying the facts. For a couple of days it seemed that there was a competition going on between Congress and BJP to please Syedna by condemning Dr. Asghar Ali.

It seems that BJP has now joined Congress, Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal and such other political parties in the game of supporting conservative, extremist, traditional elements in Muslim society on the one hand and of abusing moderate, modern, reformist Muslim leaders on the other. There can be no greater tragedy for India and Indian Muslims than the fact that the political parties of India are competing to keep the poor, uneducated Indian Muslim blindfolded rather than attempt at his awakening. Having learnt nothing from history, they are destined to repeat the saddest and ugliest episodes of Indian history of past eight decades. One can only pray - O God! O Allah! Give the politicians of India good sense to look beyond their immediate petty interests! Bless the Indian Muslims to understand the reality of the political games! Bless the Indian Muslims so that they can rise beyond sentiments to act rationally for their own growth and prosperity!


26 February, 2000

Please write to me your comments about the above article.

ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.

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