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A Wake Up Call to Muslim Leaders
Thursday, June 03, 2010 10:26:39 AM, Navaid Hamid
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For last several years, I have been cautioning “Muslim leaders” to be more realistic, visionary and attentive to the pulse of the Muslim youth which constitute around sixty percent of the total Muslim population in India, before it’s too late.
On the morning of 31st May 2010, I was aghast to see contents of the letter, as reported by the Indian Express, of Sahabuddin Ahmed, one of the accused and acquitted in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks by courts in Mumbai who is still in the Arthur Road Mumbai Jail waiting to be shifted to Uttar Pradesh, the northern province of India, in another terror-related trial. Sahabuddin was highly critical of the Muslim leadership for the poor condition of Muslims in India beside attacking the state machinery and highlighting the conditions of the other inmates in Arthur Road Jail.
In his communique, Sahabuddin writes, “It has been nearly two years since I was brought to Mumbai. I live with hundred other inmates like me. They wait forever, hoping their trail will also begin some day. They hope they will have a lawyer to represent them before the court and help them prove their innocence……I never cared for politics until my arrest. But the year long stint in Arthur Road Jail has made me sceptical. I read in the newspapers that the Muslim leaders make a statement or two about how innocent men like him are implicated in false cases. But what do they really do to help us………The community (Muslims) feels targeted because there is no one to take up our cases………”
By a quick overview it seems to be a general reaction of an accused who has found no help from his community leaders but if we go deeper into the contents we can easily find anger, anguish and frustration of the Muslim youth against the leadership. In spite of finding difficulty in agreeing to contents of his letter in totality, my conscience can not resist to lend my support to some of the points he had raised in his letter.
I personally know that most of the accused acquitted by the courts in Hyderabad terror cases got legal assistance from the Majlis-e-Ittahadul Muslimeen (MIM) and Tameer-e- Millat. In Hyderabad terror attack cases around 100 arrested and accused young Muslims were acquitted by the courts because of the legal help extended by MIM, Tameer-e-Millat and civil society to the families of the accused. Andhra Pradesh Unit of Jamiat Ulama Hind (Usman-Mehmood Madani group) have assisted 16 accused in Mecca Masjid terror attacks and they got acquitted from the courts. Advocate Shafiq Mahajir, who had represented a good number of accused in the courts told me that MIM had submitted sureties of number of accused in the court for their release.
Accused No. 2 in 26/11 Mumbai attack, Faheem Ansari got assistance from Maharashtra unit of Jamiat Ulama Hind (Arshad Madani group) through Advocate Shahid Azmi (who was shot dead during trail) and later Advocate R. B. Mokashi, senior counsel Mumbai High Court and got acquitted. Incidentally Sabahuddin Ahmed was Accused No. 3 in 26/11 attack and was being represented by an advocate arranged by designated court for Mumbai attacks. Jamait Ulama Hind (Arshad Madani group) is also fighting 64 cases of terror accused purportedly of Indian Mujahideen in Ahmadabad, 52 in Surat and 16 in Mumbai. JUH (Arshad) is also extending legal help to Aftab Ansari, convicted for attack on American Centre by the courts in West Bengal and is being represented by Shanti Bhushan there.
Also I have read, some time back, that Abu Asim Azmi, a firebrand leader of Mumbai, who himself was accused of terror acts and was jailed too have assisted a good number of accused in Mumbai train blast (some of them got acquitted too), in Malegaon blast case and at some other places.
In Jaipur terror attack case, one of the four accused arrested, Engineer Azmi, is being represented by Advocate Paker Farooque who is incharge, Legal Cell Rajasthan Chapter of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind. I understand that Jamaat-e- Islami Rajasthan Chapter is also actively involved in providing legal assistance to 13 of the arrested for unlawful activities after Jaipur blast.
After putting the records straight, I now want to turn on the depth of the pain of the youth who is part of the pan-Indian Muslim community.
Ironically the Muslim leadership is not ready to feel the under-current in the upcoming Muslim generation. If we minutely scrutinize the number of the “leaders” in the community, we would not find more than 60 names which are controlling affairs of all Muslim organizations and representing them politically. Most of these leaders have got access, by sheer manipulations and support from each other, in number of Muslim organizations and even many of them are related to each other.
Muslims have been facing the crisis for long and have been harvesting the results of the visionless approach of its leaders.
I remember an incident of 22nd January 1993, when Muslim intelligentsia had convened a “Muslim Intelligentsia Meet” at the City Centre of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) at Mandi House in New Delhi. I got an invitation to attend the event. There was a surcharged atmosphere against the Muslim leadership and the ultra secularists were spewing venom on the pre-Babri Masjid demolition leadership. Incidentally some of the top most leaders of Babri Masjid Movement were also sitting quietly in the audience. Some of the youth were too hostile and were angry with them.
During the lunch break, Prof Mohammad Hashim Qureshi of JNU and Dr Salahuddin of Delhi University persuaded me to be part of a five-member Subject Committee which would finalize the declaration of the meet. After much hesitation, I agreed and attended the Subject Committee meeting. As I along with Prof Hashim Qureshi have disagreed to two of the resolutions to be presented in the post-lunch session of the meet and have registered a dissent note in writing—on the Common Civil Code and Babri Masjid (which did not found support of the majority of the open House of the meet), I was given a chance to express my point before a larger audience. I argued that I am willing to support the anger and anguish of the Muslim intelligentsia and secular tribe of the Muslim community against the leadership only if the larger audience is shared about the steps, the Muslim intelligentsia has taken to counter the stand of the Babri Masjid Movement leadership practically. I have cautioned that the post 1992-leadership would be weak and much more vision-less than that of pre-1992 era. Ironically my fear has come true to some extent.
In March 1994, I wrote a letter to around 100 Muslim leaders as Secretary, Markazi Jamiat Ulama Hind for enlisting their support to start a campaign for reservation for Muslims in Public Employment and Education, I got written responses from 25 luminaries, including that of Janab Saiyid Hamid, former Vice Chancellor, AMU; Mr. Syed Shahabuddin; Mr. Fazal Mohammad, former Member Planning Commision (who joined BJP and became Governor in late nineties); Maulana Ali Mohammad Sher-e-Mewat; KM Arifuddin, Secretary, Medina Education Society Hyderabad; Dr. Mumtaz Ahmed Khan, founder, Al Ameen Education Movement Bangalore; Maulana Shafi Moonis, Vice President of Jamaat e Islami Hind and Dr. Ishaque Jamkhanawala, President, Anjuman-e-Islam, Mumbai and subsequently the group agreed to form “Association for Promoting Education & Employment of Muslim Indians” and organized the first ever National Convention for Muslim Reservation in Education and Public Employment on 9th October 1994.
As soon as the dates of the convention was announced, a number of the leaders of the Muslim community joined hands and persuaded Dr Mumtaz Ahmed Khan not to attend the convention and also went in a delegation to Giani Zail Singh, former President of India to plead and successfully persuaded him not to inaugurate the convention. The organizing committee requested Sita Ram Kesri, the then Minister for Social Justice to inaugurate the convention at the eleventh hour and he was kind to oblige.
Because of the stiff opposition of the leadership on the issue of reservation for Muslims, I decided to resign from the post of the Secretary, Markazi Jamait Ulam e Hind. After the convention, for three consecutive years, there was a sustained campaign to oppose the demand and the campaign was financed by two influential leaders of the ruling party. Many articles of ultra secularists got prominence in all leading newspapers and statements against the Muslim reservation and some influential names of the Muslim leadership decried the demand. It got around 6 years for broad spectrum of Muslim leadership to understand the importance of the reservation for Muslims.
Ironically, when a group of the most backward Muslim leaders, started demanding the inclusion of the Dalit Muslims in the Schedule Caste category, most of the Muslim leaders and organizations started deploring the demand and making fun of the demand raisers by arguing that there is no caste system in the Muslims. It took nearly 15 years for the Muslim leadership to reach a near consensus that Dalit Muslims need to be included in the Schedule Caste category. The Justice Ranganathan Commission report crystallized the consensus as there was no justification left for them to oppose the demand.
I also remember an interesting incident of 1991 soon after Narsimha Rao became Prime Minister. Mr Shahid Siddiqui, Editor of Urdu Weekly Nai Duniya, invited a group of around 12 Muslims to interact with Mr Rajesh Pilot, the then Minister of State in Narsimha Rao Government at his residence. Mr Pilot was then considered very close to Narsimha Rao. Mr. Shahid Siddiqui was very generous to invite me as a voice of young Muslims. During discussions I reminded Mr. Pilot that in the last leg of Mr Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure, as part of a group of young Muslims which have got an opportunity to meet the PM , we have pleaded for the constitution of National Minorities Financial Corporation and the PM was sympathetic to our plea and promised to sympathetically consider the idea. One of the attendants of the meeting who was a government servant and became Secretary of a Muslim organization after retirement vigorously opposed the demand and argued that there would be backlash from the Hindutva forces. That meeting ended on a sad note. However it is history that Pilot became vocal supporter of the demand and P V Narsimha Rao Government announced the formation of the National Minorities Financial Corporation with a corpus fund of around 50 lakhs, if I remembers the allocation correctly.
It was in December 1996, I discussed the implications of the Women Reservation Bill with late K.M. Khan, the Congress MP. He agreed to my fear and we decided to have an informal meeting of the Muslim leaders on the issue. In third week of December, I invited Janab Saiyid Hamid, Mr Syed Shahabuddin, Maulana Shafi Moonis and Maulana Abdul Qayyum of Jamat e Islami Hind, Dr. Majida Asad, formerly Head of the department of Hindi in Jamia Millia Islamia, Mr. M. Afzal former MP along with some others at the residence of Mr K M Khan. The group informally met and exchanged notes and agreed to meet at later date after the things are more crystallized on the proposed Women Reservation Bill.
The group met for a number of times in next one year and in February 1998 formally decided to constitute a Committee on the Women Reservation Bill to demand for a separate quota for Muslim women. Dr Sughra Mehdi, former Head of the Department of Urdu, Jamia Millia Islamia; renowned TV artist Salma Sultan; Shehzadi Nikhat Abidi of Rampur State; renowned journalist Noor Jahan Sarwat, Dr Majida Asad; Maulana Shafi Moonis of Jamat e Islami Hind; Mr. Saiyid Hamid; K.M. Khan M.P.; Mr. M. M. Afzal; Anis Durrani of Media Department of AIICC, KM Arifuddin Hyderabad; Mrs. Badr Saeed from Chennai; Mrs Zainab Khusro, wife of AM Khusro; Mrs. Husna Subhani, the then President of Janta Dal Delhi State (she is now in the Women cell of All India Congress Committee) ; Dr. Ishaq Jamkhanawala, Mumbai; Mr. Kaleemuddin Shams, Minister West Bengal; Mr. Basheeruddin Babu Khan, former Minister Andhra Pradesh and Uzma Naheed, Mumbai agreed to be founder members of “Committee for Empowerment of Muslim Women”.
As soon as the the committee was announced there were ripples and the voices of opposition started emerging from so the so-called leadership. I was told by late K.M. Khan that two of the Congress MP’s have met him and tried to dissuade him from being be part of the group. Sensing the mischief, Mr. K.M. Khan immediately requested for an audience with the Congress President and briefed her about the concern of the community.
The committee subsequently organized a very successful Convention of Muslim Women which was attended by a large number of educated, empowered and professional women and the meet was inaugurated and chaired by Dr Nirmala Deshpande in New Delhi on 31st May 1998. Many political heavy-weight cutting across party line attended the Convention in spite of the dirty game of some of the “Muslim leaders” to sabotage the move. They successfully persuaded Mrs. Abida Ahmed, former first lady of India not to preside not to preside the proposed Convention. On the morning of the proposed Convention, I got a call from the son of the Chairman, National Commission of Minorities who had sent a written communique to inaugurate the Convention that the Hon’ble Chairman would not be able to inaugurate the Convention because of urgent pressing official engagement (it was Sunday) and also a call from Mrs. Abida Ahmed’s home that Mrs. Ahmed would not be able to attend and preside because of some health problems. I immediately contacted renowned Gandhian Dr Nirmala Deshpande, who was supposed to be one of the speakers, to inaugurate the Convention and she obliged because of her sheer love for me.
After the Convention of Muslim Women, I personally went to each and every leader of the Muslim organization to persuade them to support the demand for the Muslim women in the proposed Women Reservation Bill. Most of them were not at all convinced and were not forthcoming to support.
The group also got a privilege to meet Mrs. Sonia Gandhi twice; Mr. Lalu Prasad thrice; Mr. Mulayam Singh and Mr. Ram Gopal Yadav; Mr. Hari Kishan Singh Surjeet of CPM; and Mr. Balayogi, the then speaker of Lok Sabha and pleaded for the case of Muslim women quota in the proposed Bill. Late Chanderjit Yadav, former Union Minister and Mr P V Shiv Shanker, former Union Law Minister were very helpful in encouraging to raise the demand along with the quota for OBC women too. When we were channelizing the support some of the “Muslim leaders” were busy in mocking us and writing articles against the move.
There are numerous cases which can be pointed as part of the proof of the lapses of the Muslim leadership. They are not ready to encourage and train new faces in the organizations. If we talk about the political leadership, one would find it difficult to mention names in double digits. Most of them became representatives of their parties the moment they got a chance to get selected from Muslim community to represent Muslims.
Recently M J Khan of National Economic Forum for Muslims told me that when he along with Mr. Ilyas Azmi M.P. went to persuade Mr. Rashid Alvi, Congress MP to sign a joint letter of Muslim MPs addressed to the PM on the implementation of Justice Rangnath Commission Report, he rudely refused in spite of the fact that four of his party MPs were signatory to the petition along with 13 others. I have little doubt to believe that because I had personally tried to convince Mr. Rashid Alvi to present the demand of a separate quota for the Muslim women and the pet reply came, “Muslims have not sent me to Rajya Sabha. It is my party which had sent me. I can not agree with the demand unless there is a party line for that.”
A good friend and just like an elder brother and Independent member of Rajya Sabha, Mr. Mohammad Adeeb, during debate on Women Reservation Bill in the upper House of Parliament voiced his concern about the proposed Women Reservation Bill without a quota for Muslim women but voted for the Bill without sub quota for Muslim Women. Many in the Muslim community are trying to understand his stand as there was no party obligation for him to vote for the Bill as presented by the government
Most Muslims selected to represent the community, because of their Muslim names, feel shy to identify with the Muslim community the moment they got chance to represent the community to which they belong.
I recall when BJP government was formed in Uttar Pradesh, one Mr. Rizvi was appointed Minister of Waqfs in the Kalyan Singh Government, Rizvi went barefooted to the site of demolished Babri Masjid with a Saffron tilak chanting “Jai Sri Ram” as an act of thanks to the BJP.
More recently reacting to his nomination to Rajya Sabha, Mr Javed Akhtar said: “He would attempt to reflect the hopes, feelings and aspirations of the people especially from Mumbai in the country’s most august democratic forum.” Muslims were just amused on his emphasis on Mumbai.
Coming back to the contents of the letter, it needs an urgent attention. It is a wake up call for all those who claims to be leaders of the Muslim community and to those who get representation in the name of the Muslims to mend their fences before it is too late. We need a constant planning to play our role for the betterment of the community and country at large. Neglecting the vocal dissent voices would take us nowhere and would harm not only the interests of the community but also the nation.
(The writer is General Secretary, Movement for Empowerment for Muslim Indians (MOEMIN) and Member, National Integration Council)
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