Saturday, September 29, 2007

Ahmed Bukhari pontiff

NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS The Pioneer : March 14, 2003
Is the 'secular' party over?
Balbir K. Punj
A youthful Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, writing in his Urdu journal Al Hilal, had advised Muslims in 1913 not to join any political party-for Islam itself was the party of Allah and its name Hizbullah. Down the centuries, Muslims instead of joining others' parties, he observed, had prepared for their own. Ninety years afterwards, the same spirit manifested itself through the words of the Shahi Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid.
The pontiff Ahmed Bukhari addressing the 27th General session of Jamait Ulema e-Hind (JUeH) at the Ramlila Grounds on March 9, 2003, said: "Muslims need their own political party for political empowerment." He said this in presence of a few illustrious 'secularists' who had come to the convention, perhaps hopeful as ever for Muslims votes. They included the Congress's Arjun Singh, the Lok Janashakti's Ram Vilas Paswan, the BSP's Arif Mohammed Khan and novice Dalit leader Udit Raj of the Justice Party. But all of them came under fire, as Imam Bukhari (Junior) dismissed their 'secular' credentials as phony. Ms Sonia Gandhi's message-"People have become emotional because the country's situation is like that ... India will always remain a secular country"-failed to mollify him. In a feverish pitch, he accused the Congress of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and the 1989 shilanyas episode at Ayodhya.
It will not be long before we discover whether JUeH President Maulana Madani's resolution of launching a Muslim party within three months will become a reality or not. If it does, its success may be dependent on several factors. It can become a peripheral phenomenon like GM Banatwala's Muslim League, or wield influence disproportionate to electoral strength like the Leftists, or it might be a blitzkrieg like MA Jinnah's Muslim League.
Ahmed Bukhari reportedly has been planning to float a new party for last few years, presumably since he took over the mantle from his father Abdullah Bukhari, who was once said to have proudly called himself "an ISI agent". As a "true Muslim", he is honest about not being a "secularist". In sharp contrast to Imam of Fatehpuri Masjid Mufti Mukarram Ahmed, he had supported the Taliban's demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas. Referring to Gujarat, he had termed the Bombay serial blasts a reaction to post-Babri riots. This shows his, albeit twisted, frankness.
This mettle is sadly lacking in the supine 'secularists', who queue up the steps of the Jama Masjid before every election to pay obeisance to the Imam. In the institution of the Shahi Imam, the dividing line between politics and religion blurs a la the Islamic Caliph. The pre-electoral custom of 'secular' parties soliciting Muslim votes through the Imam is a sad paradox. Can a pontiff exhort his folks to vote for a particular party en masse? How come this practice is resorted to by 'secularists' who advocate a clinical separation between politics and religion? Is it not funny beards, skullcaps and burqas have become the mascots of secularism?
The Shahi Imam realises 'secularists' need Muslims rather than vice versa. He must be revelling in the pleasure of blasting this spineless Hindu ilk. No doubt he has shown his "Islamic guts". Yet even after being humiliated, the 'secularists' would return to his doorstep for cheap electoral benefits. The nexus of the Imam and the 'secularists' has transformed Muslims into 'votebanks'. The pressing ills of Muslim society-poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, lack of sanitation, reproductive health, polygamy-have never been of any consequence to them. Concerns like environment, population and pollution are always kept outside the 'secular' discourse. What is projected as their crying needs are madrasas, promotion of Urdu, personal law etc.
The idea of a Muslim political party doesn't astonish me per se. Yet burdened with the collective memory of the subcontinental division, its prospect might appear catastrophic. Ironically, it is the natural outcome of the skewed version of secularism pursued in India. It has neither addressed the substantial problems of Muslims nor uncluttered their medieval mindset. Mahatma Gandhi introduced this secular conundrum in the Congress under the name of 'Hindu-Muslim unity'. He zealously involved himself in the Khilafat Movement in 1919 to pressure the British to restore the institution of Khilafat abolished by Kemal Ataturk in far-off Turkey.
Ataturk, a true secularist, had brought about the finest revolution in the Islamic world by building modern Turkey, arguably the sole surviving 'secular' Muslim country. Hence, was Gandhi's action of involving himself with Ali brothers not antithetical to secularism? His involvement with the Khilafat Movement (October 1919) predates his launching of the Non-Cooperation Movement (September 1920) by almost a year. In fact, non-cooperation with the British was originally devised as an instrument by the Khilafat Committee to redress Khilafat wrongs, and not attainment of Swaraj.
But the Mopla rebellion in Malabar, in which large number of Hindus were butchered, raped and maimed by fanatical Muslim mobs, proved the futility of Gandhi's endeavour. The end of the ill-conceived Khilafat Movement and the Non-Cooperation Move-ment widened, like nothing else did, the chasm between Hindus aspiring for Swaraj and Muslims seeking pan-Islamism.
Gandhi, with his 'secularism', could not attract more than four per cent of Muslims, the overwhelming majority of whom rallied round Jinnah with his single-point agenda of partitioning India. So the Congress's 'secularism'-a euphemism for Muslim appeasement- could not satisfy the community enough. Even though the community barely produced any freedom fighters, it felt the need to revive its own party, the Muslim League (originally founded in 1906 in Dhaka much before the ABHM in 1915). So need the 'secularists' be shocked if their 'secularism' has been found inadequate by a Shahi Imam?
The Muslim League's success was as much due to politics as to geopolitics. Muslim majority provinces were concentrated on the western and eastern peripheries of British India. This made the demarcation of Pakistan viable. The liberation of Bangladesh and secessionist insurgencies in Kashmir and India's Northeast have much to do with geography. In Independent India, though 'secular' appeasement of Muslims continued, Muslim politics bowed out for lack of legitimacy. Muslim leaders were shrewd enough to understand that any attempt to launch an independent Muslim party would go against the mood of the Hindu majority, reeling under the bitter memories of Partition. Otherwise, in West Bengal or Assam, they have enough strength to form a Muslim party and demand a plebiscite. My reading is that this is only a matter of time, if the current brand of 'secularism' continues. Geography will be a favouring factor.
What are the factors that facilitate the formation of a Muslim party? The answer is demography, geography, and Islamic fervour. Muslims do not believe Government Census figures putting their population share at merely 12 per cent in India. Former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court and former Chairman of West Bengal Minority Commission KM Yusuf has put it around 25 per cent. Muslim presence is notably high in a northern border belt that starts from UP's Bahraich district and moves through Gonda, Basti, Gorakhpur and Deoria district of the State, to Champaran, Muzzaffarapur, Darbhan-ga, Saharsa and Purnea, to West Bengal's West Dinajpur, Maldah, Birbhum and Murshidabad districts, to Assam's Goalpara, Kamrup, Darrang, and Nagaon districts. That makes a lot of votes.
Now, since it is not Hindutva forces but the Shahi Imam who has debunked the 'secularists' (including Ms Sonia Gandhi), the latter need to learn a few lessons. Are we tottering on the verge of another communal showdown? Bukhari himself has pointed out that the responsibility lies with the 'secularists', and his words must be credible for the 'secular' bandwagon. After all, did they not create a Franken-stein's monster out of the Shah Bano case?

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