Irfan Engineer | 20 NOVEMBER, 2014

Political Mobilisation of Muslims in India-Changing Patterns

AIMIM Chief Asaduddin Owaisi addressing a rally in Aurangabad


In the previous part (Muslims in the Hindutva Electoral Campaign, The Citizen Nov 5,2014), we discussed that after independence, the Muslim leaders within the Congress Party mobilized the Muslims initially on the trope of religio-cultural space. However, as the country had been partitioned along communal lines, Hindu nationalists would raise the spectre of India turning into an Islamic state even with minor attempts to secure cultural space for Muslims. Securing religio-cultural space for Muslims was proclaimed as encroachment on “Hindu” cultural space and threat to existence of Hindu culture itself. This led to unprecedented escalation in communal violence in the 1980s. Congress’s failure to protect Babri Masjid signified that even the religio-cultural space was not secure and Muslims drifted away from the Congress. The regional parties mobilized the community on the trope of security; however they too did not see the community as diverse interests and diverse culture. Security meant preventing future outbreaks of communal violence, but not reparations to ensure justice to the victims of communal violence and guarantee of non-repetition of the violence. This was largely the scenario in the western and northern regions, also referred to as the cow belt of India. In the cow belt, Muslim population is rather spread out thinly.

After the demolition of Babri Masjid, Muslim religio-cultural entrepreneurs moved away from Congress as it failed to secure that space. The community started focussing on education and livelihood issues more than ever before. That seemed to be the way ahead. However, after the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, concern for security once again came to the fore, particularly in the cow belt. Muslim voters were slowly returning to the Congress. If periodical spectacular riots targeting Muslims was common strategy used by the Hindu nationalists till the year 2002, in the first decade of the 21st century, intelligence agencies proved to be useful tool to target Muslims and project them as anti-nationals, terrorists and enemies of the nation. Gujarat police enjoying the political patronage would frequently bump off some Muslim youth and call them as terrorists who came to kill Hindu hero Narendra Modi. Operations by intelligence agencies led to murder of Ishrat Jehan and Javed Sheikh in 2004, Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Kauser Bano in 2005 and his friend Tulsiram Prajapati in 2006 besides Jamal Sadiq and many others. These murders which were sought to be passed off as “encounter killings” and were followed by stigmatization of Muslim community through media. There were staged encounters in the Congress regimes too – the Batla House encounter stands out among many others. Large number of innocent Muslim youth were arrested after terrorist acts, including those which targeted the Muslim community. In the cow belt, Muslim voters were slowly returning to the Congress, particularly in the states where Congress and the BJP were dominant political force with bipolar polity prevailing. The Congress won 9 parliamentary constituencies from UP in the 14th Lok Sabha election held in 2004 and 21 parliamentary constituencies in the 15th Lok Sabha election held in 2009.

Though the Congress could rally a section of the Muslims, this time, it was not largely on religio-cultural space, but on security and promises of welfare measures. The Congress Govt. appointed High Power Committee popularly called as Sachar Committee to report on the social and educational backwardness among the Muslim community. Sachar Committee found that the socio-economic condition of the Muslim community was lagging far behind the other communities. Though poorly implemented, the Congress Govt. did come out with PM’s 15 point programme for religious minorities which included giving scholarships for school students and for higher studies, small financial loans, for development of minority concentrated districts etc. The programme was so poorly implemented and the beneficiaries disproportionately from non-Muslim minorities that the community bore stigma of appeasement and gained little material benefits. The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s proclaimed that Minorities had first charge on the budget.

A section of leadership within the Muslim community demanded reservations for the entire community rather than the backward classes within the community on the plea that entire community was backward and discriminated. This was however not true as the Ashraf Muslims – the upper caste converts though small in number, like the sayyeds, pathans, bohras, memons, etc., being mercantile communities were better educated and economically better off. Besides, reservation for the entire community would amount to affirmative action based on religion and as such amount to discrimination on the ground of religion which is prohibited according to Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution. The Congress governments in AP and Maharashtra announced reservations though technically on the criteria of backwardness but practically to the entire community. Salman Rashid, the then minister of Minority Affairs announced reservations for the Muslim community during his election campaign for UP legislative assembly, which however, was declared to be in violation of code of conduct and therefore had to be withdrawn. First the AP and now the Maharashtra Govt.’s decision of reservations for Muslims was stayed by Constitutional Courts and tangible benefits denied to the community.

The Congress failed to protect the community youth from being targeted by the intelligence agencies. Not one intelligence official was brought to justice for wrongful arrests of the educated youth – whose careers were destroyed and were forced to live life with stigma of being a terrorist. Congress failed to bring to justice those police officials involved in cold blooded murders of Muslim youth by intelligence agencies in staged encounters. The fake encounters abated only after courageous individuals and human rights activists fought long battles to bring some police officials to justice for staged encounters. Anger of the youth within the community was simmering and waiting to be tapped. The Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) tapped this simmering anger, particularly among the youth. Coupled with targeting of the community was the rise of Narendra Modi on the national scenario and getting himself elected on the plank of development. Modi’s propaganda blitzkrieg may convince anyone but the community knows the real implication of election of Modi as the PM would be to push the Muslims to be second class citizens of Hindu rashtra. The Muslim presence in the Lok Sabha is getting marginalized every successive election from 13.1% in the Constituent Assembly in 1947 (a slightly higher percentage than warranted by their population, elected through separate electorates) to barely 4% (22 MPs) in the 16th Lok Sabha when they constitute about 15% of the population. As one angry youth in Delhi asked this author before the 16thLok Sabha elections and after the Muzaffarnagar riots, “blood of how many Muslims would be shed every time there are elections?”

Given this scenario, where innocent Muslim youth were being targeted and crumbs of welfare shown and not implemented, coupled with rise of aggressive Hindu Nationalism, there was disillusionment among Muslims with all the ‘secular’ parties. Maulana Madani and Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind – an organisation favourable to Congress started propagating that the only plank on which the Congress mobilized votes of Muslim community was fear of Hindu Nationalism. They held several meetings throughout India and gave one message – it was not enough to scare the Muslims in order to get their votes. Their votes could be mobilized only on affirmative action. What these actions would be was left open and negotiable. The minimum demand propagated in these meetings was – discharge of Muslim men falsely implicated in the 2006 bomb blast in Malegaon as the NIA investigations did not find any evidence against them and confessional statement of Swami Aseemanand nails the Hindu nationalists. The other demands included bringing the intelligence officials targeting innocent Muslim youth to justice and reservations in jobs and education for Muslims. Imam Bukhari backed the Congress but his influence on Muslims is more of a myth that has been demolished every successive elections.

As the ‘secular’ parties failed and Muslims were getting disillusioned, there was increasing urge for a Muslim dominated party. The Peace Party in UP was founded in 2008 by a Muslim surgeon Mohammed Ayub and won four seats in UP Assembly in 2012. In short span, it quickly spread to Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh. Peace Party attracted chunk of Muslim votes. In Kerala, the Indian Union Muslim League enjoyed popularity among the Muslims in Kozhikode. The stable political equation between Hindus, Christians and Muslims in the state with 24% Muslim population concentrated in Ponani, Manjeri and Kozhikode forming 60%, 61% and 52% of the population respectively. Maulana Badruddin Ajmal fell out with the Assam State Congress leader Tarun Gogoi over choice of candidates and founded his own party – All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in 2005. Assam has 30% Muslims. With 18 MLAs, AIUDF is the main opposition party in Assam. In the 16th Lok Sabha, AIUDF candidates succeeded in 3 constituencies though their vote share dipped from 17% to 15%, they gained one extra seat.

In Malegaon Mufti Ismail gained popularity after the blast. There was widespread outrage among the community as Muslim youngsters from Malegaon were allegedly falsely implicated in the case. The Teesri Mahaj or Third Front, formed ahead of the local civic body election in 2007, came to power in the corporation riding on the anti-Congress and anti-NCP wave. Mufti fought the 2009 Assembly election on the ticket of Jansurajya Shakti Party by defeating sitting Congress candidate Shaikh Rashid. However, he later joined NCP but maintained that the youth were still angry with the ruling dispensation as they had not got justice. In the last Assembly elections, Mufti Ismail was defeated by Congress candidate Shaikh Rashid by over 16,000 votes as Mufti failed to deliver on his promise and his attendance in the previous Assembly was poor. The MIM candidate was far behind polling little over 21,000 votes. Malegaon had its dose of Muslim dominated politics with election of Nihal Ahmed whose communal appeal led to polarization and invited targeting of Muslim youth by state and development deficit.

It is in this context that rise of MIM in Maharashtra should be seen. Majlis-i Ittihad al-Muslimeen (or council of Muslim unity) was founded in 1927 as a federation of Muslim sects and communities to support and advice the then ruler of Hyderabad. After the defeat of razakars and merger of Hyderabad into Indian Union, the MIM remained dormant till about 1957 when it was revived by Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi “to back up your (Muslim) argument with political muscle.” In 1960, the MIM got 19 out of 30 seats it contested in the Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad (MCH) and in 1967 three MIM candidates were elected to the state Assembly and in 1986 MIM was elected as the single largest party in MCH. With the rise of Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh, MIM predicted division of Non-Muslim votes in Hyderabad between TDP and Congress. Through its rabble rousing, it aimed at polling chunk of 35% Muslim votes in the 1984 general elections and has repeated its victory since 1984 till date. Muslims could be rallied behind MIM due to perception of insecurity among the community due to a series of communal riots in the 1980s in the cow belt along with the campaign against Babri Masjid. Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi participated in the Babri Masjid Movement. Slowly, the MIM has also been able to mobilize Dalit votes by giving the slogan of MIM-Bheem unity.

MIM gained its first significant victory outside Telangana during Nanded Municipal Corporation elections. Nanded has 30% Muslim population and MIM won 11 out of 81 seats in the Corporation in the elections held in the year 2012. That was a reaction to arrest of innocent Muslim youth from Aurangabad, Malegaon and other places and implicating them in terror cases. Election of Imtiyaz Jaleel from Aurangabad Central and Warris Pathan from Byculla Constituency in Mumbai for Maharashtra Legislative Assembly is the continuation of the same trend.

A Muslim youth told this author after MIM’s elections in two constituencies in Maharashtra, “We are not scared of rise of Hindu nationalists and ready to face all the consequences. Nothing worse can happen. We must now have our (Muslim) community’s demand. MIM’s expansion on aggressive assertion and rabble rousing should be seen as a failure of all ‘secular’ parties in safeguarding rule of law and checking Hindu nationalization of the state. MIM is the mirror image of Modi-ised BJP. As Modi is catering to aspirations of youth from the majority community, MIM is catering to aspirations of Muslim youth. The disillusionment with MIM too will set in sooner rather later, as there was disillusionment with Nihal Ahmed’s politics in Malegaon. MIM fills the youth with false pride of “glorious history of Muslim rulers”. Media tries to tell Indians that Modi no longer talks of the communal agenda. He need not! His brand is understood and his minions do – Yogi Adityanath and other gurus who are nominated as campaign managers of UP elections as a badge of honour. However, the consequences of competitive communalism would ultimately devour Indian Constitutional democracy.

Those committed to the Indian Constitution, rule of law, liberal values and secularism have the task of convincing the people of India and building a healthy civil society movement that would secure the minorities and value diversity and pluralism.

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