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February 17, 1998


The Rediff Election Interview/Professor Zahoor Mohammad Khan

'Hindutva is a fascist agenda for one nation, one religion, one culture and one people'

Professor Zahoor Mohammad Khan Come elections, all the political parties queue up with folded hands before one community, the 120 million strong Muslims in India, making them one of the most sought after communities in the country. On the eve of the 12 Lok Sabha election, too, things are no different, with both the centrist Congress party and the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party projecting themselves as the true guardians of Muslim interests. However, the BJP's first-ever overtures to lure the Muslims to vote for it has not apparently cut much ice with the community.

Most Muslims in India are still adamant that they will not vote for a party that helped bring down the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, a party that wants many of them to be packed off to Pakistan, a party that treats them as enemies of Hindus.

Is the Muslim electorate a decisive swing factor in the Indian elections? Do political parties treat Muslims as a vote-bank?

A clutch of leading Muslim intellectuals met in New Delhi last week to assess the community's response to the Lok Sabha election. Its final resolution: 'The BJP cannot be trusted and should be prevented from coming to power'.

Leading the charge against the BJP is the well-known Muslim academic, Professor Zahoor Mohammad Khan, head of the social science faculty at New Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia. In an interview with George Iype, Professor Khan sets the agenda for Muslims this election.

Why do Muslim intellectuals feel that the BJP cannot be trusted and therefore Muslims in India should not vote for the party in these elections?

At this point of time, the polarisation process in the Indian politics has reached a point where two models have emerged before the electorate. The first model is represented by the BJP which is based on a communal ideology and the second is represented by a secular ideology shared by all other political parties.

I am not saying that only the BJP is communal and other parties are not communal. I am talking about the models which are available in these elections. Muslims in India as a community are now forced to select or reject one of these models.

Obviously their first duty is to fight against the communal forces because we cannot trust the propagation of a communal ideology by BJP and the Sangh Parivar. If you read their literature, their poll manifesto, I can quote a number of passages which are purely communal. What they want is a Hindu nation, what they believe is in Hindutva.

You say there is something seriously wrong with the BJP's Hindutva agenda.

Ideologically and practically, everything is wrong with the BJP's Hindutva agenda in the present political system.

Any system of democracy where the majority is trying to be permanent is fascism. Hindutva is nothing but a struggle to make 85 per cent majority Hindus the permanent majority in India. Permanent majority means no dissent, no opposition, no democracy and no competitive system. Hindutva is an instrument to make this permanent majority. Hindutva is not Hinduism. Hindutva is a mechanism to convert a dominant religious community into a permanent majority. Hindutva is an agenda to make India a fascist nation. Hindutva is a fascist agenda for one nation, one religion, one culture and one people.

But the BJP leadership claims that the Hindutva agenda is also aimed to protect the minority communities in India.

Muslim voters If it is so, well and good. But I do not really believe it. No other political party in India has got the kind of paraphernalia that the BJP has to propagate an ideology. The RSS has 35,000 branches working in India. The RSS has branches in 25 other countries. I, and Muslims in India, cannot believe that the BJP, RSS, VHP, Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal are not presenting a communal model.

From where does the Sangh Parivar get the money? The moment financial questions are raised, I think the BJP will be in trouble. They have lots of charges against petty Muslim organisations and schools getting foreign donations. I can also raise the same questions. Where do they get their money from? Communalism is an industry for the BJP. I would say that Muslims in the country are the cutting edge in terms of fighting for secularism and democratic forces.

What you are suggesting is that BJP is communal and therefore the Muslims should not vote for the party.

I cannot tell the Muslims whom to vote for and not vote for. But if the Muslims really apply their mind, then the communal model is the most harmful model in the country. Ideologically, the Muslims should not vote for the BJP. But if the Muslims believe that the BJP has shunned all its ideological orientation and is no more communal, then voting is their choice.

But which party do you think Muslims should vote for?

Let me elaborate. Firstly, the Muslims in India should not be treated as one votebank going for voting for one single party or opposing another party. I feel that Muslims act more emotionally rather than politically. The tragedy with the Muslims in India is that they become very emotional in political situations. And all forces encourage them to create an emotional situation for them.

I think during this election, the Muslims are thinking in terms of assessing their political positions quite differently. They will not vote in one similar, uniform fashion this time. They will opt for different strategies in different states. Their voting pattern in Karnataka will be different from the pattern in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. And their strategy this time will be to strengthen the democratic, secular forces in the country. Personally I think the Congress has also improved a bit its position towards Muslims in India. I mean the Muslim community now is slightly inclined towards the Congress.

For 50 years, the Congress has claimed to be the champion of Muslims. Do you think the party has not done much to uplift the community, economically and educationally?

I agree. The Congress party has been largely responsible for the marginalisation and alienation of Muslims from the political process. Partly, the Muslims themselves are responsible for their backwardness. The political culture prevalent in the country is also certainly responsible for their marginalisation. I am not accusing the Congress party alone for the present state of Muslims. I would also say that the Congress party tried to give opportunities to the Muslim community to enjoy the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Today, the Muslims in India are the best protectors of the Constitution. But the charge against the Congress is that it has not tried to calm the Muslim community. As a matter of negligence and wilful neglect, the party and its successive governments committed mistakes against Muslim community.

Therefore, the Muslims in India do not want to support the Congress any more?

That is not it. Muslims in India have a little bit of sympathy for the Congress rather than the BJP. It is their choice, not their liking. It is not a matter of commitment to any party. You are put in a situation wherein you cannot shy away from voting. Then you go by your preference. In that way, the Congress is the first choice of Muslims. But what I very much doubt is whether the Muslims will go for voting this time at all. Muslims are confused. Last time, their percentage of voting was not at all impressive.

You said the Congress party has been showing wilful neglect towards Muslims in India. Was the party's failure to protect the Ayodhya mosque an instance of this wilful neglect?

Certainly yes. Because the Congress government failed to take pragmatic steps to overrule the ideology of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar.

So you blame the Congress government for the mosque destruction.

Not wholly. The Congress was responsible to a very large extent in the sense that they were in the government. It was their responsibility to protect the mosque. Muslims cannot believe that the Congress prime minister was not in the know when the Hindus were demolishing the mosque.

Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray has proposed to build a memorial for the Muslims and Hindus at the demolished mosque site in Ayodhya.

This is an election stunt from Thackeray. It is a proposal to get the Muslim votes. It is a temporary electioneering technique from Thackeray. He knows that in the last assembly elections in Maharashtra, Muslims supported the Shiv Sena. Let Muslims be not carried away by the statements of people like Thackeray.

Is Ayodhya still an election issue for Muslims?

Muslim Voters The Muslim community is now becoming conscious of the fact that they should not get carried away by issues like the Babri mosque anymore. The destruction of the Babri mosque was a timely jolt to the Muslims in 1992. But now you build a mosque, mandir or a memorial, it does not have much effect on the Muslim psyche. Ayodhya is not an issue for them. They are now more bothered about their employment status, their educational qualifications and their economic conditions. Can you believe that Muslims are 65 per cent in most of the slums in this country? Can you believe that Muslims are not figuring more than two per cent in the educational, economic and service sectors?

Suppose a BJP-led government comes to power, do you think building a temple at Ayodhya will be their priority?

I do not think any government, whether it is the BJP, Congress or the United Front will be capable of building a temple at Ayodhya. The BJP when it comes to power, its first priority will not be to build a temple but to always worry about the politics of numbers in the country. It cannot avoid the 120 million Muslims in India. So a responsible BJP government will have to care for the sentiments of the Muslim population. The Congress has paid the price for not caring for the sentiments of the Muslims. As long as democratic processes are operative in India, the Muslim community is not in danger in the country.

Remember Muslims are not in the thousands, but in millions in India. Their intelligence level is not that low. Their expectancy level is not that low. Their connections with all other communities in the country are not all that bad. And Muslims are an international community too. There are other Muslim countries outside India.

Do you think the Muslims will be safe under a BJP government?

If a BJP government rules within the same democratic system in the country, then the Muslims are safe here. My faith is in the system, not in the party. But if there is a party that undermines the democratic system, then it can do anything against the Muslims.

A section of hardliners in the BJP leadership reportedly say they can solve the problems of the country if the 120 million Muslims are packed off from India.

I really feel very sorry for these BJP leaders. We are not living in the times of Hitler. Let me tell you that the BJP system is so fragile that it can not really bear any element of violence, terrorism or disruption by any community. Suppose, if one million out of the 120 million Muslims become terrorists, what will the BJP do? Can this country afford this kind of a situation? Today, political scientists are writing on borderless states, regional states, global village, international community and civilisational polarisation.

If the BJP ideologues are talking in terms of packing off Muslims from India and drowning them in the Arabian sea, I would say that they are still living in the 18th century. They are not understanding what political changes and discourses are happening across the world.

The BJP accuses Muslims of being responsible for the population explosion in the country.

The BJP is famous for raising slogans. What is the population explosion and its Muslim percentage in the country? They should compare it scientifically. Population has nothing to do with religion, but it has everything to do with your economic status. The world over it is recognised that poor sections of the society will produce more children, whether they are Hindus, Muslims or Christians.

Is Hindutva a threat to Muslims?

Hindutva is not just a threat to Muslims alone in the country. It is a threat to our national ideology. It is a threat to all other communities. Sadly, it is a threat to Hinduism itself because the moment you say one nation and one culture, it is against Hinduism. Hindutva is being played against Hinduism, against socialism, against democracy, against liberalism and against minority protection.

Some Muslim leaders have joined the BJP recently. What is your reaction?

I do not know their personal reasons for joining the BJP. But I tell you they are not being guided by the Muslim community. It is their personal likes and dislikes. No Muslim organisation has asked them to join the BJP. If these Muslims leaders can change the BJP ideology, we will be very happy.

What is the present state of Muslims in the country?

The tragedy is that Muslims in India do not have figures. In the census, we do not show figures according to the community. The tragedy is that nobody knows the exact number of Muslims in India. It is anything between 120 to 200 million. Muslims have tremendous potential in industries, business etc. But they are not being protected by the government and by the community itself. The government has created funds for minorities, but it never reaches them. Muslims in India have reached a state of the scheduled castes and tribes, economically and educationally.

Don't you think one reason for the backwardness of Muslims in India is that there is no able leadership within the community?

Yes, Muslims in India are in a pathetic situation because there is no leadership. An able leadership is yet to emerge in the community. After Partition, the leadership in the community swiftly passed on to the clergy. This religious leadership was then misused by the political parties. Political parties always portray Muslims as an emotional community. It is sad that neither the government nor the clergy today talks about the employment and education of Muslims. If you go by percentage, Muslims should have at least 24 universities in India. But there are only two Muslims universities -- Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University. A genuine Muslim leadership has to emerge to look after the interests and welfare of the community.

It is a complex situation in India. All marginalised people -- Dalits, Muslims, Scheduled Castes, Tribes etc --in the country are beginning to join hands, irrespective of their religious identities. The moot question is whether you are hungry or not, and not whether you are a Hindu or a Muslim. There is an uprising happening in India. Now you are having lots of faces in the crowd. Laloo Prasad Yadav is one such face. So are Kanshi Ram and Mayawati. Lots more will emerge soon. What are these new faces suggesting: 'look I am marginalised and I am not ready to be marginalised any more. I also have a share in the national cake. Give me my share.' Therefore, there is no future for communalism in India.

What do you think the agenda for Muslims in 21st century India should be?

Muslims in India should try very hard to come up educationally, economically and strive to create a liberal, secular, democratic system of society. They should continue to have full respect in the democratic system in India.

The Rediff Election Interviews

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