The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) is in the process of spreading its wings across the nation. Significant success in the recent Bihar elections (five MLAs from Seemanchal region) have given the party so far confined to the old quarters of Hyderabad city a shot in the arm. The party has increased its strength in the Lok Sabha from one to two, the second one coming from Aurangabad in Maharashtra, a State with two Majlis MLAs in its Assembly. The Majlis retained its strength in Hyderabad Municipal elections. Now the tiny political outfit is poised to enter the poll fray in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
The familiar plea from a section of scribes and other opinion leaders is that why not a Muslim party be experimented in Uttar Pradesh?
As a journalist for the last four decades (of which around nine years were spent in Delhi), I have observed from close quarters the bankruptcy of the Muslim political thinking and attempts to mount spectacles without any hard work. The community has oscillated from unflinching support for the Congress in the post-1947 years to Lok Dal (part of SVD government in Uttar Pradesh in 1967) to Janata Party/Dal, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. Finding itself in the wilderness after the advent of the BJP in Lucknow Vidhana Sabha, there is a babble of voice plumping for Owaisi and MIM in the State with the largest population of Muslims.
Any such endeavour would be fraught with grave risks. This would however not be the first time the Muslims are toying with the idea of supporting a Muslim party, this time, of course, one trying to make a foray from the Deccan. No doubt, disenchantment among UP Muslims is high and all-pervasive. But no one is keen to raise the question of what the Majlis stands for and how has it contributed to the development of the community in its primary bastion i.e., Hyderabad’s old quarters. Has there been a cogent plan to develop the community in Majlis’ charter of objectives?
Political empowerment or to be plainer, the legislative numbers that propel a party or organization into the seat of power, does not come merely through the ability to mobilize voters. Substantial work lies behind that stage. The BJP has not come to power only through propaganda and publicity (and some would like to say fakery, gimmickry and skullduggery). Thousands of their leaders have been engaged in groundwork for nearly seven decades. Remember, Nanaji Deshmukh, Govindacharya and scores of others! It has taken them seven decades of hard work in a country with 80% Hindu majority. Yes, of course, their ideology has a strong element of negativism vis-à-vis Muslim and Christian minorities. Yet, one should not be dismissive about their hard work in campuses, among farmers, youth, women, advocates and other professionals.
Poor state of education
All serious-minded people should focus their efforts towards the educational development of Muslims in UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam (and of course their splinter states) where live 60% of India’s Muslims. Modern education holds key to all-round development of any people. Madrassas abound in UP. A survey by the Institute of Objective Studies in the early 1990s of Muslim educational institutions in Basti, Gonda and Bahraich—three districts skirting Nepal—had revealed that there exist 370 large-sized madrassas (of the sort of Kashiful Uloom, Bahrul Uloom, Rauzautul Ulooms etc) but have only six primary schools run by Muslims. Author Mukhtar Ahmed Makki’s book “Educational Trends and Development of Muslims in India” reveals that Bihar Madrasa Examination Board has 1,200 registered madrassas (teachers there receive salaries as applicable to Government teachers). But Muslims run 70 and odd high schools. The book was published in 2008 and the figures pertained to an era prior to Jharkhand’s creation in the year 2000. These make it evident that identity (its preservation) is the priority of the community in these states while development takes a backseat.
Madrassas and more madrassas
An advertisement in an Urdu daily revealed that Mazahirul Uloom of Saharanpur had nearly 550 affiliated madrassas, and more curiously over 200 of them are located within the Saharanpur dist itself. One, therefore, could (and should) question if these many of seminaries are at all needed for safeguarding the identity of the community or are they serving as avenues for livelihood for the maulvis who find it more lucrative to run madrassas rather than getting employed as mudarris, waiz, muftis, khateebs and muezzins. A recent news item in some of the portals informed that the population of Muslims in Uttarakhand has come down by two lakh. What happened? The Uttarakhand Government ordered a survey of registered madrassas in the nascent State and came to realise that several hundreds of them merely existed on paper. It, therefore, deleted the names of these students from official rolls and records.
Abyss of hopelessness
These are basic elements of the Muslim psyche in those states. A community obsessed with identity, a religious leadership which does not feels qualms in fleecing the poor and the wretched (in the name of sadaqat, zakath, fitrah and sacrificial skins) members in the name of religion, an Urdu media which fans fears and fosters phobias (Islam in danger is an old cry) cannot think of anything higher in lives and times of a community, carries a surer guarantee of leading it to the abyss of despondency and irrelevance.
Political empowerment does not come by the consolidation of votes. And mind it, every single moulvi is a saleable commodity in these states, such is the miserable state of the Muslims. Only an educated (I mean modern education), people with some character and values, community which is aware of the complexity of the political dynamics in a socially diverse society like ours, and decades of cadre-building and ideological training can lead to the emergence of a cogent plan for political consolidation. These are not low-hanging fruits to be picked up instantly. But has there been any cogent movement and struggle to impart modern education to the community?
Identity-related issues have kept the political cauldron simmering during the last 45 years. It started from Shahbano case and picked up issues such as banning of books by Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen, Babri Masjid, Triple Talaaq along its path. Every single of them lent a handle to the Sangh Parivar to counter polarise the majority until the power came to them. It is time we chose new goals, charted out a new trajectory, abandoned the emotional issues, and resist being impatient on missing instant fruits. It took the Jews (now 3%) in the US to reach a stage where they can call shots in US politics. Most of them entered America from New York Harbour between 1820 and 1870 (read Arthur Hertzberg’s History of Jews and America), fleeing persecution in Europe. It is today the most educated and financially capable community which knows how to assert and where to assert and in what measure, to draw leverage. Have we heard them indulging in emotional campaigns for the preservation of their identity?
It is time the Muslims in these four key states to wake up from the slumbers and opt for objectives that would lend them weight rather than being viewed as an incendiary staff ready to blow up from time to time. We need to turn to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Maulana Azad, Zakir Hussain etc to find new objectives. One single Aligarh Muslim University has empowered the community more than thousands of religious seminaries. The work of Ajmal Foundation in Assam, Nurul Islam Mission in Kolkata, Integral University near Lucknow, Rahmani-30 in Patna show some light at the end of the tunnel. More of their kind in these states would begin to make a difference. May their tribe increase! Yet let us bear in mind that political empowerment is not low-hanging fruit. Our “sin and stigma” of partitioning the subcontinent is difficult to be rubbed off in near future. (Lamhon ki khataen, sadiyon ki sazaaon ki shakal mein namoodar hoti hain). We are very much responsible for the state in which we find ourselves. It is where we need to change the narrative. One MIM or an Owaisi will not bring instantaneous results.
M A Siraj is senior journalist based in Bengaluru. He writes for several publications in the country.