By Siraj Wahab
Published in Arab News on Wednesday, September 22, 2004
Delhi’s Chandni Chowk parliamentary constituency with its large Muslim population is home to the famous Jama Masjid. It was from the pulpit of this mosque that the Muslims of India were exhorted to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party in the last general elections. “It is the only party capable of ensuring communal harmony in the country,” the mosque’s prayer leader Syed Ahmed Bukhari told them in the run-up to the elections.
Yet even in Chandni Chowk, where the writ of the Bukharis was supposed to run strongest — leaving aside the rest of the country — the Congress Party’s Kapil Sibal defeated BJP’s Smruti Irani by more than 70,000 votes. Ahmed Bukhari realized, like many others before him, that the Muslim community in India has never trusted or even paid much heed to what its self-appointed and self-anointed leaders say.
In Uttar Pradesh’s Rampur parliamentary constituency, the community voted in large numbers for the Samajwadi Party’s Jaya Prada, and against Congress Party’s Begum Noor Bano because it thought — and rightly so — that Jaya Prada was in a better position to defeat the BJP candidate there. And yes, Jaya Prada won handsomely in that constituency, despite all pre-poll surveys indicating otherwise. Once again, the ordinary members of the community showed political wisdom in exercising their franchise.
While Indian Muslims have as a rule refused to patronize their own parties in the political arena, there are notable exceptions, such as the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) in Andhra Pradesh and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in Kerala. But on the whole the community has tended to synchronize its political fortunes with that of the secular parties. When they wanted to punish the Congress Party in the aftermath of the Babri Mosque demolition in 1991, they went with the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, with Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar, with Janata Dal in Karnataka, Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh, the leftists in West Bengal and the National Conference in Kashmir. All these parties did exceptionally well. In Maharashtra, they voted for the Hindu fundamentalist Shiv Sena in the 1995 assembly elections just because there was no alternative to Congress — and Congress lost power there.
Never once during the pathetic days of BJP rule did the majority of India’s Muslims endorse the fundamentalist elements in their own ranks, despite the fact that the rank communal elements continued to grab the spotlight in the national media with their rhetoric. Many within and without the community are off and on heard lamenting that there is no Muslim leadership. But there is no need for one. The community is wiser without it. The more it supports Arjun Singh, Mulayam Singh, Sharad Pawar and Rajasekhara Reddy, the closer it gets to the political mainstream.
Muslims know that their community leaders, once in power, tend to work more for other communities than their own, be it to avoid attracting negative publicity or simply to dodge the communal tag. The result is that they become a liability to the community rather than an asset. It is perhaps because of this that the community has a very poor opinion of those in power, caustically calling them “sarkari” Muslims. Can a Ghulam Nabi Azad or Muhammad Taslimuddin, for example, do more for the community than an Arjun Singh or Shivraj Patil? Hardly.
Indian Muslims have been variously described as retrograde, backward, fundamentalist and communal. But their voting record in all parliamentary elections indicates otherwise. They have consistently gone along with secular parties and defeated the fundamentalists in their own ranks. The way they vote, moreover, proves unequivocally that they are not politically naive. Yes, they are backward educationally, because successive governments, both in Delhi and the states, have missed paying proper attention to their educational needs. But things are changing. With Manmohan Singh at the helm, their schools will get their due share.
The outcome of this year’s elections has only reinforced Muslims’ faith in the country’s secular credentials, and in doing so has thankfully nipped in the bud all the talk about launching an all-India Muslim party. Even if there was one, it would have met the same fate as that of Syed Shahabuddin’s Insaf Party. The party was dissolved because, according to Shahabuddin, it was launched to protest against V.P. Singh’s behind-the-scene deal with the BJP. “As soon as the V.P. Singh government fell in 1990, the party was dissolved,” he was quoted as saying. Perhaps. Yet the fact remains that there were no takers for his party in the community.
After the 2004 elections, the fundamentalists and the self-styled community leaders have been pushed further into the background, which is where they belong. By the way, whatever happened to the members of the so-called “Support Vajpayee Committee” formed on the eve of the last elections? Who are they supporting now? It might be worth finding out.
Or, on second thoughts, maybe not.