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The Rediff Election Interview/Syed Ahmed Bukhari
April 16, 2004
There was widespread surprise, indeed incomprehension, when the Shahi Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, recently said the Bharatiya Janata Party was no longer a political untouchable. This was the first time perhaps a kind word for the BJP had come out of the Jama Masjid.
In an exclusive interview with Chief Correspondent Tara Shankar Sahay, the Shahi Imam explained why the Muslims must shed their distrust for the BJP.
The first of a three-part series of interviews with wellknown Muslim opinion-makers.
Could you explain the statement which you made recently pertaining to the BJP?
Let me give you the background before I talk about my statement and its basis. The first thing is that in these last 50 years after Independence, the Muslim community has been looted, exploited, brutalised and suppressed by successive governments. They made promises to Muslims, but did not live up to them. So in the last five decades, the Musalman has found himself standing alone.
Whenever elections arrive, Muslims are told to strengthen the hands of secular parties. My question is, where do these secular parties disappear when Muslims perish across India, whether in Moradabad, Meerut or Bhagalpur.
My point is, for the last 50 years the Musalman has voted to strengthen secular forces, from the time of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to Vishwanath Pratap Singh. Even today he is alive in the name of secularism. He did not regard any of his community members as his leader, whether it was Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Mohammed Ali Jauhar or Rafi Ahmed Kidwai...he put his trust in other leaders -- Nehru to V P Singh.
I ask you, what did these so-called secular parties led by the Congress give the Muslims? Today, a Muslim is the greatest secularist in this country. We have had support from the majority community, there is proof of that. Hindu-Muslim communal amity existed, but the Congress built a wall of hatred between them.
You believe the Congress used Muslims, even engineered situations, to enhance their insecurity?
Most certainly. Just go through the Congress' 45 years of rule and see for yourself where it has not caused the killings of Muslims and dealt them sheer injustice? Occasionally, it brought some Muslim chief ministers, but let the Congress take out its election manifestos from 1952 onwards and tell Muslims how many of the promises it has kept. Let the Congress tell the Muslim community what it has done for us.
You can compare the percentage of Muslims who had jobs under the British rule with today's scenario. Not even 1 percent of the Muslim population have got government jobs in the country today.
Muslims also suffered during the Emergency and the people booted out the Congress. The Janata Party government assumed power in 1977. It was representative in character, had people from Jan Sangh, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and many who are in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government now and others who are out of it. The Janata Party government did not last long. The Muslims again went with the Congress. But in 1989, the shilanyas (foundation stone-laying for temple in Ayodhya) was announced and the Muslims were again subjected to lies and deceit.
V P Singh came as the messiah of Muslims, but he arrived at an understanding with the BJP despite coming to this very Jama Masjid and promising Muslims that he would never do so.
Are you sure?
V P Singh gave it in writing to my father [Syed Abdullah Bukhari] and then caused the BJP, which had won just two Lok Sabha seats in the 1984 general election, to win 86 seats in 1989. You must note that it was not Muslims who enabled this but V P Singh. His government went within a year and the BJP's rise began.
What happened then?
Then began the subsequent political processions of secularists, the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav. Tell me, what has he done for the Muslims? He is responsible for fanning communal hatred in Uttar Pradesh. Today, Mulayam Singh Yadav is the BJP's biggest, albeit, indirect well-wisher. His UP government has been formed with the BJP's help.
I have just learnt that Mulayam Singh met a few BJP leaders recently and has agreed to help the party win 30 seats in UP. He will do it by putting up weak Samajwadi Party candidates against the BJP. I am telling you it is with Mulayam Singh's help that the NDA government will be formed after this election.
How do you perceive the Bahujan Samaj Party?
It was with the BJP in the not-too-distant past and will be with the BJP tomorrow also. Now take the case of those parties who swear by secularism. You have the great secularist Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party. Where did he go? He went to the NDA. He wants everybody to believe that he left the NDA pained by Gujarat. He told Muslims he stood by them in their hour of crisis. But everybody knows he left the NDA out of anger because Mayawati (with the NDA's help) had become the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Similarly, the great trumpet-blower of secularism, Nara Chandrababu Naidu, is with the NDA.
Therefore, I came to the conclusion that for Indian Muslims nobody is secular. It is just a mask which has slipped off many faces.
So what is your perception of the BJP and the Congress?
I have been saying that there is no difference between the Congress and BJP and between Mulayam Singh and the BJP. But Muslims are told that beware, vote for the secular parties otherwise, the BJP will come to power and secularism in the country will be endangered.
It is these so-called secular outfits which are squarely responsible for the BJP coming to power. But we have not lived in this country in fear of the BJP or the Vishwa Hindu Parishad because if we had done so, we would not have focused on Gujarat. Muslims were killed in Gujarat not only by BJP and VHP personnel, but also by Congress people. Proof of this are the Muslims of the state themselves. The Congress gave tickets to 'Muslim killers' during the Gujarat assembly election.
How do Muslims feel about the BJP?
Let me tell you clearly -- Muslims are not scared of the BJP or VHP. Our hearts are crying because the so-called secular parties have deceived and tricked us and we want to show them their place.
Please answer my question.
Our anger with the BJP is in its own place. History will never forgive it for what it did to us in Gujarat. We can never forget it. But in the last few months we have begun noticing that there is a change in the BJP's approach.
What kind of change?
I cannot say if there is an ideological shift, that will be clear only after the polls. But its leadership believes that what happened in Gujarat was a blot on the nation as underlined by Prime Minister Vajpayee. Deputy Prime Minister Advani just said the demolition of the Babri Masjid had hurt him and the BJP. He said Mathura and Varanasi (mosques) are not in his party's agenda. He said Hindu-Muslim communal harmony is his first priority.
It is apparent that this could not have come about without consultations with the RSS. The BJP is the political arm of the RSS and it realises there should be congenial relations between Hindus and Muslims. But the practical aspect -- where and how this changed approach translates into action on the ground -- will become clear only after the election.
So you will wait till after the election?
Naturally, I cannot just go by promises, whether it is the Congress, Mulayam Singh Yadav's party or the BJP. But the change in the BJP's approach has come after almost 20 years.
What are you telling your Muslim brethren?
Mind you, I am not telling them to go and vote for the BJP. But I am reminding them that we are not anybody's enemy and that the rulers' mindset is not always the same.
I am telling my people that because we were captives of the so-called secular entities' deceit, at least hear what the BJP has to say now.
I am telling them if somebody is prepared to go four steps forward, we must also take a step and see what is what. If some party is willing to give a better deal to us, provide us jobs and enable us to live respectable lives, I say, demolish this artificially created wall of hatred between our two communities. After all, this is what we have always wanted.
In such confusing circumstances, to which leader should the ordinary Muslim look to?
Look, leaders don't fall from the sky, they are born among the people. The person who can get us our rights, who can raise his voice against injustice, oppression and deceit, he can be the leader. It is time to vote according to one's understanding and conscience. I believe that today's generation will not heed any appeal to vote for so and so, it will vote going by its savvy.
When I became the imam of Jama Masjid, I decided I would not speak in favour of any party, I would go to my people for the party which works for the Muslim community. I am convinced that until and unless Muslims form their own party, they will continue to be a weak political force.
If Muslims are able to create their own party, who do you think will suffer the most?
These so-called secular parties will suffer the most because they are alive in the name of Muslims. But they don't have the strength to give Muslim candidates votes from their reserves. Muslims vote for Mulayam Singh Yadav but Yadavs don't vote for Muslims. So Muslims will have to do something on their own otherwise they will be used like a football being kicked from one net to another.
Please clarify what you mean by 'do something on their own'?
Muslims should cast away the crutches of other political parties. No more crutches of the Congress, Mulayam or V P Singh.
But some Muslims are still joining the Congress.
If your indication is towards Syed Shahabuddin, the less said about him, the better. Shahabuddin has taken the Congress harmonium to sing its tune. When the Babri Masjid was demolished, Shahabuddin was sitting at home. He is a sick elephant. He cannot be ridden and its owner will become tired of feeding him. He will become a liability for the party which makes him a member and he will ensure that that the party is buried along with him.
He formed the Insaaf Party but he went about meting injustice to our people. Today, Shahabuddin is demanding justice from the party which is responsible for the massacre of numerous Muslims.
Photographs: AFP/Getty Images
Image: Rahil Sheikh
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