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'The common Muslim wants the clergy in politics'

By Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow
May 23, 2006 11:05 IST
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Exactly 100 years after the formation of the Muslim League, a group of clerics in Uttar Pradesh have formed a political party to protect the rights and larger interests of the community.

The group feels the community had failed to get its due from successive governments in the state and at the Centre.

Led by prominent Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawaad, the People's Democratic Front was set up last fortnight. The 40-year-old firebrand Islamic scholar is confident of taking it a long way. He spoke of his plans in an exclusive interview with correspondent Sharat Pradhan.

What is the objective of floating a political party devoted to Muslims? Will it be something on the lines of the Muslim League?

I would like to clarify that the PDF is not a Muslim party. Our objective is not to confine the party to Muslims alone. It will incorporate other downtrodden and oppressed classes of society. But, of course, Muslims form the larger chunk of oppressed classes in India.

Would you elaborate on that?

You see, India became independent all right, but Muslims continued to remain in the clutches of one or the other political party that used them only for their own electoral gains over these 57 years. Atrocities continue to be committed on Muslims and the guilty have been allowed to get away with murder.

Even Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati talks about associating her Dalit votebank with Muslims, who she considers as much downtrodden as the Dalits.

At least I am not aware of what she has done for Muslims.

But what about Muslim leaders who have achieved prominent positions in the politics of this country?

Yes, some individuals might have acquired high offices. But they have proved to be of no good to Muslim society at large.

Can you name these leaders?

No, I would not like to take any names. But I can cite the example of a senior Congress leader who visited the Deoband Islamic School recently. Asked to comment on the United Progressive Alliance government's stand on the Iran issue, he flatly remarked, "If I say that the stand taken by the government is correct, you all will throw me out. If I disagree with the government's stand, then they will show me the door." Now what can you expect from a person who cannot even express his feelings frankly?

What about political parties and their leaders who do not tire of making claims about championing the cause of Muslims. Like Samjawadi Party leader and UP Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav?

Well, each of these parties and their leaders have only served their limited vested interests. They are only interested in grabbing Muslim votes. Once elections are over, they forget about them. They get busy with their money-making and enjoying the fruits of power.

Are you saying Mulayam Singh's overtures towards Muslims mean nothing?

I find it rather amusing whenever I find news reports suggesting Mulayam is trying to flatter Muslims. I can recall only incidents like the firing on Muslims in Aligarh and Lucknow. I wonder if that was his way of flattering Muslims.

Why have Muslims allowed themselves to be used as vote-banks?

There were historical reasons. And it was the segregation of the Islamic clergy from politics that was largely responsible for this. If you look back into the freedom movement, you will find the close involvement of the Moulvis, who fought and even laid down their lives fighting the British. They were tortured by the British simply because those rulers knew that the clergy had the capability to unite the Muslims. Unfortunately, the clerics of the day decided to confine themselves to mosques and madrassas -- that ideally suited the British.

So you wish to bring them out of the closet and make them play an active role in politics?

I am firmly of the view that some involvement of the Ulema in politics could curb the ills that have crept in over the years. I am advocating an active but not direct role in politics.

How do you qualify that?

I believe that the Ulema should play a supervisory role -- not get directly involved in politics. That would bring in a necessary check on the quality of politics. After all, Prophet Mohammed himself played both roles with a perfect balance.

Don't you think you could encounter the same hurdles as were put up by the British to thwart strong unity in the community?

Yes. The path is going to be tough. But I sincerely believe if Muslims decide to stand united under one banner, they can overcome any obstacle.

Do you think if the Ulema had continued to have some hold over politics, things would not have deteriorated to such an extent?

Absolutely. I am sure goondas would not have been ruling the roost if the Ulema had some role to play. The tragedy is rogues get to power by hook or by crook. By fuelling riots, getting innocent men, women and children slaughtered.

How is the PDF going to be different from Hindu-centric organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or for that matter even the Bharatiya Janata Party?

Well, they talk only about Hindus. I have already told you that we will have participation of all weaker and downtrodden sections of society.

Have you sought any mandate of the common Muslim before undertaking the right to represent them?

I am a religious leader, traveling across the length and breadth of the country, meeting people, addressing them and also interacting with them. I have always made it a point to take their feedback on this particular issue and only after understanding their feelings did I decide to take this step. The Muslim in the villages wants a more aggressive role for the Ulema in politics.

How long have you been working on this mission?

Five years.

So you have not been inspired by the success of a similar experiment in Assam where the newly-formed Muslim political outfit under the banner of the United Democratic Front managed to make its mark at the recent election?

The UDF success story has definitely given us a boost to try out the same experiment in UP.

The Shahi Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid Maulana Ahmed Bukhari has dissociated himself from your outfit.

I have great regard for the Shahi Imam. It was only after obtaining his consent that we decided to proceed with our plans. He promised to join me and other Maulanas representing different Muslim sects for a formal meeting after which we were to address a joint press conference in Lucknow.

However, despite his confirmation Bukharisaheb did not turn up and we had to cut a very sorry figure before the media.

What did you do then?

Well, the other founder members elected me chairman and announced my name at the press conference. But Bukharisaheb took that amiss and declared he had chosen not to come because the announcement was made in his absence. Now tell me how were we to blame for that?

Yet he flew down on the following day to have a word with you?

He did come only to impose a few conditions before he could finally give his consent. He asked me to resign from the chairman's post and also wanted two constituents to be removed. He said after I stepped down he would make an announcement of my re-nomination for the same position from New Delhi.

While I agreed to resign, I found his proposal for my re-appointment very odd. It seemed very demeaning and melodramatic. Yet I said I would put up his proposals before our executive committee that would take the final decision.

Don't you see this as the first major hurdle in your mission to rid politics of its ills? You seem to be getting bogged down by political games being played by those who are adept at such machinations?

I think these have to be faced and one must be prepared for that.

You have been stressing on the need for Muslims to get a share in power. How will you get to power on just the strength of the minority community?

When Yadavs can rule the state with just 6 per cent population, Dalits can call the shots with 15 per cent and even Jats can grab 15 seats in the UP assembly, then UP's 27 per cent Muslims can also get their share in power.

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Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow