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UP's Muslim parties don't talk of social justice

February 07, 2012 21:29 IST

The urge of democratisation among Muslim communities remains unaddressed by the newly emerging Muslim outfits.

Do they wish to pursue the emotive identity politics of religious exclusivism which may degenerate into the politics of religious reaction, asks Mohammad Sajjad.

A significant aspect of the Uttar Pradesh assembly election 2012 is the mushrooming of Muslim political outfits, something unusual in the political history of north Indian Muslims in the post-Independence period. These outfits, however, seem to be out of touch with the ground social realities.

With relative non-occurrence of communal violence in the recent past, the heterogeneities within Muslim societies have got the opportunities to manifest themselves.

Of all these heterogeneities, caste (biradri) is the biggest practised social reality, besides the maslaki (sub-sectarian, most importantly intra-Sunni, Barelwi-Deobandi divide) ones.

Ever since the selective implementation of the Mandal report in the 1990s, the debate over social justice has attained centre-stage and no political party, howsoever some of them having their core support among the upper castes, can afford to oppose it anymore.

The Muslim outfits of UP seem to be conveniently sidestepping this vital factor. During the colonial period, at least the Ansaris were politically mobilised and their organisational headquarters, founded in 1925, was located in Kanpur. It was, however, stronger in Bihar under the leadership of Abdul Qaiyum Ansari (1905 to 1974). This legacy continued in post-Independence Bihar.

With the weakening of the ruling Congress due to (upper) caste-based factionalism and the rise of anti-Congress politics, more particularly the socialists, the hegemony of the upper castes came to be challenged.

The Karpoori Thakur-led government (1977 to 1980) of Bihar implemented the Mungerilal report (1971 to 1975) which also made a relatively more judicious arrangement of splitting the cake of reservation in public employment and educational institutions along upper and lower Other Backward Classes (OBCs): 12 per cent for the lower and 8% for the upper OBCs; in the 1990s, (after Mandal's 27%), 17% for the lower and 10% for the upper OBCs.

This pre-empted the chunk of the cake being taken away by the upper OBCs.

Out of the 41 'castes' of Muslims in Bihar, 37 are included as OBCs. Moreover, this practice of splitting the cake was extended by the Nitish Kumar-led administration in Bihar in Panchayati Raj institutions not only for the OBCs, but also for the scheduled castes (Dalits and Maha Dalits).

In the 1990s, the movement gained strength in Bihar under the leadership of Dr Ejaz Ali and Ali Anwar Ansari. They demanded the inclusion of Dalit Muslims into the list of scheduled castes. As of now this facility remains confined only to Hindus, a blatant case of religious discrimination in the secular Constitution.

Both UP, with over 18% of the electorate being Muslims, as well as West Bengal, with over 25% of them being Muslims (and ruled by the Left Front for more than three decades), have kept large number of Muslim groups (castes) out of the list of OBCs.

In UP, out of more than 65 such groups, only less than 40 are included as OBCs.

This inclusion with segregation and splitting up of the lower and upper OBC quota (the Bihar model) will no longer need any religion exclusive sub-quota.

Surprisingly, hardly any Muslim outfit in UP is showing any degree of concern with these kinds of legitimate aspirations of the Pasmanda-Dalit Muslims. Consequently, the under-representation of the Muslims in public employment and education is proportionately far more in West Bengal and UP than in Bihar.

The drop-out rate of the Muslim students is higher in the two provinces in contrast with Bihar. This is pretty clear from the Sachar Report (2005).

In short, the urge of democratisation among the Muslim communities remains unaddressed even by these newly emerging Muslim outfits. Do they wish to pursue the emotive identity politics of religious exclusivism which may degenerate into the politics of religious reaction?

Even the Peace Party of Dr Mohammad Aiyub, a Gorakhpur-based surgeon, who is said to be from a Pasmanda caste, refrains from identifying himself with this politics of social justice.

In UP, the feudal character of Muslim politics hampered the cause of Urdu, unlike Bihar where the Constitutional politics of democratic mobiliation informed by liberal-secular ideas during 1951 to 1989, succeeded in extracting considerable State favours for Urdu, which provided government jobs as teachers and translators.

As to the political assertion of the Barelwis (Sufi shrines), they have the largest following among the occupational castes, but almost all the Sufi shrines with huge (unaccounted) money, are under the control of the Ashrafs.

The Muslim-owned media, mostly Urdu, hardly pay any attention to such issues. Most often, they censor even the irregularities of the Waqf and minority educational institutions.

By choosing to ignore the issue of Pasmanda-Dalit Muslims, the Muslim outfits are most likely to suffer from other weaknesses. There are unmistakable signs of personality clashes between the leaders of different Muslim outfits, as also among the leaders within a particular Muslim outfit. They are therefore unlikely to succeed in stitching together a united front.

Even if they do, such a united front of Muslims will have to strike either a pre-poll coalition or seat adjustment with any one of the dominant parties (the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress; none of these parties has got a Pasmanda Muslim face among its high leadership).

Failing which, they will prove to be mere spoilers, and in that case even the Bharatiya Janata Party may emerge as a beneficiary/dark horse in many seats.

These Muslim outfits are wilfully suffering from other big limitation: Woeful lack of any promising futuristic, sustainable, concrete economic programmes for specific sectors. Most of the Muslim caste-groups survive as artisans and craftsmen.

Studies and surveys have testified that these craftsmen in Bhadohi (carpet), Lucknow (chikan cloth embroidery), Moradabad (brass wares) and Aligarh (lock industry) don't have sufficient State facilities helping them to improve their economic status.

Credit facilities through public finance and other necessary help are not forthcoming from the State. Health and education facilities are denied to Muslims whereas the State is too prompt in installing police thanas in Muslim settlements, where hospitals, schools, nationalised banks branches are to be found very rarely.

The agenda of rural distress, and unemployment, flood control, and industrialisation-food-processing and agro-based (more particularly in eastern UP) are a few such issues which are waiting to be pursued by these Muslim political outfits. They have hardly been raising any such issue with the adequate force of people's mobilisation.

All these symptoms indicate only one thing: Selected individuals are desperate to grab power for their absolute self-promotion, rather than promote genuine and concrete issues of the common people in the liberal, secular, inclusive language of politics through democratic mobilisation of the masses.

Please check out Rediff Realtime News for updates on the Uttar Pradesh assembly election

Mohammad Sajjad