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Modi, Madni, the media and Muslims

October 24, 2013 15:23 IST

There is a churning going on among Muslims, and Mehmood Madni should be credited for breaking the silence. He has initiated a debate on the options before Muslims to look beyond the Congress yoke and fear of the BJP, says Ehtasham Khan.

He has been campaigning against terrorism for the last 10 years. But never did Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind general secretary Mahmood Madni get so much media coverage as he did last week.

His “controversial” statement, first reported in a national daily, was later picked up by the television. So much so that both English and Hindi news channels gave preference to Madni over the Central Bureau of Investigation registering an FIR against one of India’s leading businessmen in the coal scam. A case which not only disturbed India Inc, but also pointed fingers at the prime minister no less.

Madni got all the limelight just because his statement remotely touched the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Or, an over-zealous media thought it necessary to zoom in on Modi to sell the story and to flog Maulana Madni.

It was at a small gathering in Jaipur that Madni said the Congress party has been scaring Muslims in the name of Modi. Madni tried to focus attention on the inability of the Congress government to improve the socio-economic condition of Muslims as has been revealed by many recent studies. While it is difficult for Muslims to forget the Gujarat riots, the Congress party should not becomes the only choice, Madni emphasised.

Madni’s statement was in the context of the run-up to the assembly elections in Rajasthan. He referred to the anti-Muslim riots in Gopalgarh, a small town in the state not very far from New Delhi, in 2011. Many Muslims, including Madni’s Jamiat, believe that the Congress government in Rajasthan not only became a mute spectator but tacitly helped those accused in the crime. Cases have been lodged mainly against Muslims. A Muslim policeman was burnt alive but no action has been taken so far.

Trust the media to draw its own rule: Either you are with us or with them. Madni was also subject to this treatment. The nation wants to know -- are you then with Modi? Is the BJP no longer untouchable for Muslims? Hour-long discussions had political commentators and politicians, each presenting his own perspective on Madni’s out-of-context and selectively chosen statement. The focus now was on Modi and Muslims. Will the Muslims vote for Modi?

Nowhere did the learned panelists and seasoned editors seem to have taken into account Madni’s background. His flirtation with different political parties to get a Rajya Sabha berth, or his limited appeal in small pockets of western Uttar Pradesh. Madni is neither a strong politician nor is he considered a religious leader. However, the media projected Madni’s criticism of the Congress party as his acceptance of Modi’s leadership in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and that the Muslims as a whole will follow his command.

For the media most things come in black and white, which makes it easy for the narrator to explain the story to his audience. Or simply mould the public opinion in a given direction. Unfortunately, social and political systems are made up of grey areas which can’t be ignored. Madni’s view on the Congress party has been echoed by many in the past few months.

The Social Development Report 2012: Minorities at the Margins prepared by scholars such as Zoya Hasan, Mushirul Hasan, Tanweer Fazal, Javed Alam Khan and Abusaleh Sharif shows schemes for minorities being cornered by non-Muslims. Noted academic and Planning Commission member Abhijit Sen went on to question the relevance and very existence of the ministry of minority affairs due to its non-performance.

There is a general feeling among Muslim opinion-makers and ordinary folk that Congress governments have done little to uplift the community -- both at the national as well as the regional levels. It also failed to provide security to the people when communal riots broke out in Gopalgarh in Rajasthan and Dhule in Maharashtra. The party and the government did nothing to give shape to the Anti-Communal Violence Bill to instill confidence in the public.

But with the general elections coming up, what is Madni trying to suggest? If the Congress has to be taught a lesson, what options do Muslims have? Arshad Madni, Mahmood Madni’s arch-rival and president of the same outfit Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, says the Congress stands for a secular nation. On the other hand Modi, who has an infamous history of Gujarat riots, will not do justice to the minorities if he becomes the prime minister.

This fear is hounding ordinary Muslims and their leaders alike, and it is this fear that the Congress party is banking on. It is this fear that Mahmood Madni tried to address.

The recent anti-Muslim riots in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh have further strengthened this fear. It is hard to accept Mulayam Singh Yadav’s continuous indifference to the sufferings of the community. There is a churning going on among Muslims, and Madni should be credited for breaking the silence.

He has initiated a debate on the options before Muslims to look beyond the Congress yoke and fear of the BJP.

Ehtasham Khan is a special correspondent with a television news channel in New Delhi

Ehtasham Khan