August 20, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/Syed Ahmed Bukhari 'Muslims have lived on empty promises since Independence'

A few months back, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid, declared that Muslims must form their own political party. Although the party is yet to come into existence, the cleric has iterated that wish several times.

In this interview with Ramesh Menon, the imam says all political parties have only used the Muslims as a vote bank to ride into power. While Muslims continue to be backward, none of their dreams have been addressed since Independence. Excerpts:

Why have you called upon Muslims to launch their own political party?

Muslims were actively involved in the freedom struggle with ulemas, muftis and students from madrassas [religious schools] joining in. The common dream was that the injustice we all suffered at the hands of the British would end. Muslims were made to feel that a new deal would come their way in areas like education and employment.

But no political party in the last 54 years has meted out justice to Muslims. They have only used them as vote banks.

Muslims can become strong only if they can show their political strength. For this, they need political power. They will now have to unite and vote together for their own candidates. They have no future if they are not united. If Muslims are united, many political parties will die.

You told a congregation of Muslims not to walk with crutches...

Muslims have been walking with crutches since Independence. I am just asking the Muslims in India to realise their strength and walk on their own. Now, we must show political parties that we can even defeat their designs. Until now, they used Muslims to win elections. Now, Muslims must become instrumental in making them lose [elections]. Political parties have forced us to think in this direction.

What will it such a party achieve?

We are not forming a party that is against the Hindus or anyone else. We only want our due share. We may keep the entry open even to the backward castes, as they have also suffered. But we want to first heal our wounds and then heal others'.

Will not an exclusive Muslim party communalise politics further?

Yes, people are saying that it will be a communal party of Muslims. But, the Sikhs have the Akali Dal. The dalits have the Bahujan Samaj Party. The Yadavs have their Samajwadi Party. Then there are other regional parties. Why should anyone suspect that it would become communal? It will become communal only if we allow it to.

'Muslims need political power. If Muslims are united, many political parties will die'
Can political parties declare how Muslims will be treated henceforth? How can we trust them? Muslims have lived on empty promises for the last 53 years. Will they be ready to give us reservation in educational institutes and employment? No one will be ready for this.

If we form a party, we will show our Hindu brethren that we did it only to secure justice.

There is a strong fear that the party will foment communal feeling.

The BJP and the RSS are not saying that. They will only stand to gain with a Muslim party.

The so-called secular parties, who are worried of losing the Muslim vote, will stop breathing if Muslims desert them. That is why they are drumming up the possibility of an increase in communalism if a Muslim party is formed. How can we call them secular?

Mulayam Singh Yadav was supposed to be close to the Muslims.

In his election speeches, Mulayam used to scream saying Muslims should be in the army. Then, he became the defence minister. How many Muslims got recruited into the army during his term? Let him tell us. S R Bommai in his election speeches said that Muslims must be educated. He then became HRD minister. Let him now tell us what he did to help Muslims get into educational institutions.

Everyone talks six months before elections. And once they win, they forget the Muslims on whose vote they won.

Muslims gave their vote to Mulayam Singh Yadav and his party. But for the three Rajya Sabha seats from Uttar Pradesh, he chose Sakshi Maharaj, who has a criminal background.

There were many Muslim leaders...

But none of them cared for Muslims. Since Independence, Muslims never considered any Muslim their leader. You see, right from the time of Jawaharlal Nehru to Inder Kumar Gujral, it was always a non-Muslim who was seen as their leader. But no leader lived up to their trust.

No Muslim leader did anything for Muslims. We even had a Muslim President and many ministers. But Muslim leaders hesitated to do anything for Muslims fearing that they would be branded communal. That is why Muslims need their own political party.

Why did the Muslims support the Congress for so many years?

We hoped they would carry out their promises of uplifting the Muslim society. The tragedy is that after 45 years of Congress rule, we got nothing. Then, various governments of the Janata Party, Janata Dal, United Front and now the National Democratic Alliance headed by the BJP also did nothing for us.

The Muslims brought the Congress into power after the Emergency. But the Congress dumped their secular slogan and started playing the Hindu card. The Congress was in the forefront of the shilanyas in Ayodhya so that the slogan for Ram Rajya could begin. In a way, they ensured that the BJP came into power.

The Congress is responsible for the sorry state of Muslims today. The Muslims ultimately rejected the Congress and moved closer to other parties that mouthed secular slogans. We even voted for coalitions that had the BJP and RSS in it. In 1989, V P Singh reached an understanding with the BJP, but we continued to support him as he portrayed himself as a messiah of the Muslims.

What upset you about the Union group of ministers' report of February 2001? Was it the recommendation that madrassas be banned as they are becoming a danger to national security?

There is a Group of Ministers' report, which was headed by Home Minister L K Advani. It said that Muslims and madrassas were a security risk as they got funds from countries like Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan and other Muslim countries.

We are told that students in madrassas get terrorist training. Let them show us where it is so. We cannot compromise on the security of our country. We will not permit the division of this country again. We fought for Independence and will fight for India again.

You wanted L K Advani to come out with a list of names of those arrested from madrassas.

The government must tell us which students caught from madrassas were terrorists. If they are involved, they should be punished. Why should we be against our country? We do not want terrorism to spread. But the NDA government has insulted the entire Muslim community by branding them terrorists.

So you asked for a list of names of spies and terrorists arrested from madrassas?

I did. If they have names, we want a list. On May 1 last year, L K Advani said in Parliament that no terrorist activity has been found in any religious institution. On the one hand, there is such a serious charge against Muslims. This is not the Liberhan Commission where one can appear seven times and give seven different statements.

Will madrassas be banned on the charge that they are stoking fundamentalism?

'We do not want terrorism to spread. The NDA government has insulted the entire Muslim community by branding them terrorists'
The report says action should be taken against madrassas. How can they close them? What about the shishu vidyalayas run by the RSS? Will they openly tell us what is happening within? The Bajrang Dal openly says that they are going to train millions of people to use arms. What is this? Are they setting up another army? They can do this openly?

Will you call the terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir a jihad (holy war)?

I have openly said that what is happening in Kashmir is not a jihad.

What is the definition of jihad? Islam says green fields and trees should not be destroyed. Children and women should not be troubled and fight back only when the enemy is attacking you. When innocents are lined up and killed, it is not jihad. It is devilish.

Terrorism in the Kashmir valley has increased after the Agra summit.

There are two types of terrorism there. Security forces are also involved in terrorism. Who killed the people in Chattisinghpora? Then there is what they call jihad. Islam is against terrorism. If innocents are killed, what kind of jihad is this?

You met General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan in May to discuss Kashmir and other issues. What transpired at the meeting?

Personally, I feel he was interested in peace. I made him understand that because of terrorism, Muslims in India were losing out and were not happy with the activities of the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence].

If he was so interested in peace, why did the summit fail?

The summit failed only because the media discussed cross-border terrorism. General Musharraf had to go back to Pakistan and deal with the people there. If talks were done behind closed doors and not discussed in the media, it would have resulted in success. If Pakistan agreed it was involved in cross-border terrorism, the United States would have slapped it as a terrorist state.

Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani recently said that Kashmir should be merged with Pakistan.

Those who want to break India cannot get the support of the young. Two generations have suffered because of Partition. Why should the third generation pay the price? Kashmiris did not suffer from the pain of Partition. Many of us went through it.

We will not allow another Partition. Geelani is free to go to Pakistan. He said he is not bothered what the Muslims of India feel. I told him that if a question of referendum is raised, all the Muslims should also have a say [in whether Kashmir should go to Pakistan]. It cannot be just Kashmiri Muslims who should decide.

Geelani told me that a jihad is going on in Kashmir. I asked him why millions of Muslims in India did not recognise it as a jihad. He should have left for Pakistan and got himself a Pakistani passport.

You suddenly have a lot of security around you.

After my tiff with Geelani, the Lashkar-e-Tayiba threatened to attack me. I am not afraid. God has already decided when I should die.

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