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|February 13, 2002||
The Election Interview/Hamid Ansari
In the chair for almost two years now, he spoke to Basharat Peer about the prevailing mood before the assembly election in Uttar Pradesh, and stressed that AMU was not a den of criminals. Excerpts:
Do you see Indians Muslims as a tense, uneasy community after the military buildup following the December 13 attack on Parliament?
In tense conditions, everyone feels tense. Muslims as a community in India have neither been targeted nor have they felt uneasy or tense after the warmongering began.
Do you think Muslims are being subjected to special surveillance?
I do not think so. Security has been high ever since September 11 and has been further tightened after the attack on Parliament. I do not think Muslims have been subjected to any specific or extra surveillance. Individuals who were Muslims have been identified, but it is not against the community.
How do you see the link between Islam and terrorism, if there is any?
It is puerile and absurd to suggest such a thing. Muslims are being stereotyped by the Western media as terrorists and, unfortunately, the Indian press has been blatantly copying it.
Stereotyping of any kind and in any place is wrong. If you start saying everyone who is taller than 6 feet is an idiot or all whites are racists or all blacks are mean, you are falling into the stereotype trap. If Muslims are terrorists or Islam promotes terrorism then why are not the LTTE and the northeastern insurgents Muslims? What about the terrorists in Punjab?
Are you ruling out that Muslims have been involved?
At a particular place, at a particular time, a particular set of people, who belong to a particular religion, might be involved in a terrorist act. But that does not mean you start relating their religion to that act.
So do you think sections of the media were exaggerating the situation?
Yes. There have been misleading reports, which are harmful to society. Indian society is an integrated society and no responsible citizen should mess with its balance. Nobody, small or big, has a right to disturb the balance. Turbulent phases come and go. But they should not be exaggerated.
Certain sections consider Indian Muslims less patriotic. Please comment.
Nobody has the sole claim to patriotism in this country. And nobody has the right to level charges of lack of patriotism on anyone. You can only pronounce a man guilty once [charges are] proved in a court of law.
How do you see the events of late 2001 affecting Muslim participation in the state elections? Will they be voting as a bloc?
I do not think their participation will be any different from [that of] other sections of society. No, the Muslims of UP will not be voting as a bloc. No such thing as a Muslim bloc exists. The Muslim votes have always been distributed among three or four parties.
On what particular basis do Muslims choose the parties they are going to vote for?
It varies from constituency to constituency. Elections are not anyway a religious issue. It is an issue essentially more concerned with day-to-day life. I believe class and regional factors matter more than religion.
Then why did the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have to raise the Ram temple issue again just before the UP election?
The VHP is trying to fool the people. But you can fool some people sometimes, but not all the people all the time. Although they raised this issue, the people are not responding. These are non-issues; they do not always work. And the Indian people do not see the election as based on religion.
The Students Islamic Movement of India, a radical Muslim organisation, has been banned for its alleged links with militants. Certain quarters are arguing that the VHP and the RSS should also be banned then. Comment?
There are no two thoughts about banning the VHP, RSS and Bajrang Dal. That has to be done. SIMI, however, has not been banned because of its ideology. It is because some of its members have been found on the wrong side of the law. But they are yet to be proved guilty in a court of law.
Shadows of doubts have been cast on AMU as well. In the last year a few of your students have been arrested for alleged links with militants.
AMU has 25,000 students. A couple of them have been arrested and people tried to dub AMU as a den of criminals or a terrorist hideout. But when scores of students from the Presidency (college in Kolkata) and St Stephen's (in New Delhi) were arrested for being Naxalites, why did not anyone say all this? You may find a murderer or a dacoit within the student community, but that does not make a campus a criminals' den.
Photograph: Basharat Peer
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