Confronted with the politics of militant Hindu nationalism, Muslims in India appear to be moving out of mainstream politics and (being driven) into a shell of their own. At a gathering of about 75,000 Muslims drawn form several northern Indian states, Muslim leaders decided to from a political party of their own.

The moving spirit behind the meeting was Imam Ahmad Bukhari of Delhi’s jama Masjid, closely supported by Maulana Asad Madni, one-time head of the famed Dar ul Uloom of Deoband, the leading Muslim seminary of the subcontinent.

The Deoband Darul Uloom has been a nursery of traditional Muslim clerics and the fountain-head of a large number of conservative madrassahs functioning in the subcontinent. Earlier, Maulana Asad Mandi was strongly supportive of the nationalist policies of the Congress led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and later his daughter, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. However, he distanced himself from Mrs. Gandhi following the forced family planning strategy of her son, Sanjay Gandhi, and his attempt to clear a part of old Delhi of its Muslim slums by use of force.

This marked the beginning of the Indian Muslims estrangement from the Congress. Maulana Asad Madni, then head of the Deoband seminary, withdrew his support to Mrs. Gandhi’s government. Imam Bukhari’s father, Imam Abdullah Bukhari, even prevented municipal services being extended to the environs of Jama Masjid while the Congress was in power. This inevitably resulted in a certain amount of confusion and uncertainty in the politics of Indian Muslims. A large number of them began to identify themselves with the leadership of what the conservative Hindus regarded as lower-caste Hindu leaders such as Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh.

The demolition of the historic Babri Masjid in December 1992 by a mob of Hindu zealots, when a Congress Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimah Rao, headed the government in New Delhi, worsened the communal situation. The director-general of police in Madhya Pradhesh at the time spoke of the “partisan attitude” of the police force at a recent seminar. Denying that the entire police force was “contaminated”, he conceded that there was “an increasing loss of faith of the people belonging to the minority community in the impartiality of the police forces.”

The blatantly anti-Muslim policies of the Vajpayee government have pushed the Indian Muslims to the wall and have virtually forced them to set up a political party of their own. Two recent developments have also contributed to the growing estrangement of the Indian Muslims from the mainstream politics. Firstly, the judicial verdict not to hand over the site of the demolishe Babri Masjid to Muslims and to have the site excavated to determined whether a Hindu temple existed there.

The report by a Canadian survey team, commissioned by the Allahabad High Court last December, has disclosed that buried below the site were “pillars, walls, a floor and broken walls below the floor”, but does not date the structure. Nor does it indicate whether the excavated ruins are those of a palace, or a temple or a hall.

On top of the curious verdict of the Allahabad High Court has come the hanging in the parliament of a portrait of the staunch Hindu fundamentalist leader, the late V.D. Savarkar, who died in 1966.

Savarkar was fanatically anti-Muslim and was tried but acquitted as an accused in the murder of the Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.

Incidentally, Congress president Sonia Gandhi boycotted the function marking the hanging of Savarkar’s portrait in the parliament. According to India Today she did this apparently under the influence of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and “ a group of Delhi historians.” The historian had “dubbed” the hanging of Savarkar’s portrait as “a disgrace” and described the deceased Hindu leader as “anti-national.”

Be that as it may, New Delhi cannot be indifferent to the implications of the estrangement of the Indian Muslims from the mainstream politics, seeking to set up a political party of their own. Significantly, speakers at the Delhi conclave stressed that the proposed Muslim political party will be “entirely secular” and its membership would also be open to lower-caste Hindus.

The Delhi meeting was attended among others by the veteran Congress leader Arjun Singh, besides former Union ministers Arif Mohammad Khan and Ram Vilas Paswan and Mir Waiz Omar Farooq of Kashmir’s All Parties Hurriyat Conference.

Imam Ahmad Bukhari, speaking on the occasion, maintained that the past secular and regional parties had come to power with the help of Muslims but “they used Muslims only to gain power; we cannot accept their leadership.”

The blatantly anti-Muslim policies of the Vajpayee government have pushed the Indian Muslims to the wall and have virtually forced them to set up a political party of their own.

By M. H. Askari
The Dawn, Karachi
March 18, 2003