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'How can some exercise be taken as a test of nationalism?'

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf
July 10, 2015 10:06 IST
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi performed a variety of asanas on Yoga Day at Rajpath in New Delhi. Photograph: @PIB/Twitter

 

'I don't practise yoga. How am I less of a nationalist than the person who practises it? Is it a crime if I don't practice it?'

In the concluding part of Asaduddin Owaisi's interview with Rediff.com, the Hyderabad MP, left, below, discusses the yoga nationalism test, the Bihar and UP assembly elections and more with Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

Is the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) crippling the Muslim community economically, like with Maharashtra's beef ban and now derecognising madrasas?

This is the consistent behaviour of the BJP in Maharashtra. Be it the beef ban or denying reservations in education; making yoga compulsory and then making it optional after protests. And now this survey (to get a headcount of 'out-of-school' children in Maharashtra).

The BJP says Muslims should join the mainstream.

Let us assume that I am completely wrong and they are right. But where is the bright spot? Where is the development happening to the Muslim community?

They are contradicting themselves; the Maharashtra government has a scheme for supporting madrasas. They are contradicting their own government in New Delhi which allocated Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion) to madrasas last year. So this is a deliberate contradiction.

They say that all madrasa-going students are backward; they don't know anything. Arre, what are these people saying? It was the madrasas that gave a fatwa in the 1850s that Muslims must wage jihad against the British.

M J Akbar, the journalist and BJP MP, asked in an article, 'Who is afraid of Owaisi? Congress, Lalu, Mulayam, Mamata.' Do you think the secular brigade is scared of your entry into politics in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal?

I don't require a certificate from anyone from the BJP. I am doing my own work. And Inshallah, if Allah wills, I will succeed and if people want to accept our party, they will do so.

Do you think the secular parties are afraid of your party?

I don't know who they are afraid of. I am only afraid of Allah Subhallah Tallah (the sacred and the mighty).

You are accused of being the BJP's 'B' team. How do you handle allegations that your party is helping the BJP, that you are indirectly supporting Narendra Modi's party?

I can tell you the answer if you can be specific about who is accusing me of this.

Aren't you helping the BJP indirectly by splitting the Muslim vote, which makes the BJP win elections?

Those who claim this are ensuring that the BJP-RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) combine wins 42 out of (Maharashtra's)48 seats in Parliament, I (his All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen party) did not contest a single Lok Sabha seat there (in Maharashtra).

Former Union minister Sushil Kumar Shinde's daughter Praniti Shinde accused you of dividing votes.

I don't want a certificate of secularism from anyone. Neither do I want a certificate of nationalism from the BJP.

I am as nationalist and secular as anyone else.

The Akhilesh Yadav government in Uttar Pradesh is not allowing you to hold rallies in the state. Is it because they fear that you may win Muslim support, the ruling Samajwadi Party's vote bank?

Yeah, but for how long can they do that? UP is not the personal fiefdom of the Yadav clan. It is a part and parcel of our great nation called India.

It is really pitiful that I can speak in Parliament but I cannot speak in UP against the Samajwadi Party's communalism.

They cannot stop me because it is my democratic right. I will definitely go to UP and put forward my views. Whether people like me or not is up to them.

Do you have any plans for the Bihar assembly elections?

As of now, I don't want to comment on it.

What about the UP assembly elections of 2017? Do you plan to contest those elections?

Most definitely.

Do you think you can form a government there with BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) chief Mayawati?

I don't want to speculate on this. Let me go there and win the people's confidence. These are big questions.

Many fear that the Muslim community, by refusing to engage with the mainstream and by clinging to their religion (like with the recent opposition to yoga), is digging itself into a deeper hole, and thus has itself to blame. Do you agree?

I don't practise yoga. How am I less of a nationalist than the person who practises it? Is it a crime if I don't practise it?

How can some sort of exercise be taken as a test of nationalism?

I will not do yoga, to hell with anyone!

Will you brand me as an anti-national? I am equal to anyone who does or does not practise yoga.

But it is just exercise; you can ignore it if you don't want to do it...

I will not do it. That is what I am saying. How I am digging a hole?

Earlier, the same thing was said about Vande Mataram -- that if you don't sing Vande Mataram you were not a nationalist.

I respect people who sing Vande Mataram, but I won't (sing it).

Is it a crime not to sing Vande Mataram?

But it is the national song.

Jana Gana Mana is our national anthem. So is Saare Jahan Se Achcha. Every Indian must take pride in Jana Gana Mana, should stand up and pay respect to the national anthem.

You have been very vocal against Islamic State.

What the prime minister said in the interview with (CNN anchor) Fareed Zakaria last year -- that Indian Muslims are not part of any international terrorist organisation -- is enough.

Muslims pray at Hyderabad's Mecca Masjid. Photograph: SnapsIndia

 

I once asked M J Akbar why no Indian Muslim had joined Al Qaeda or any international terrorist organisation, and his answer was, 'because they have democracy.' What do you think?

Democracy... (pauses). When the Constitution was made, our forefathers aspired and dreamt that India would be a participative form of democracy. But we now have a majoritarian form of democracy.

Also, even during peak militant activity in Jammu and Kashmir, Indian Muslims were not a part of it.

Was it because they believed in a participative form of democracy?

In an ideal situation, it should be a participative form of democracy. Overall, Indian Muslims have never joined all these violent activities. There have been some instances, but the majority of Indian Muslims don't believe in violence.

Why does the rest of the world think like that Muslims are illiterate, violent or backward?

I don't know about the rest of the world. As far as my country is concerned, I can proudly say that we are not violent. We want our rights. We want justice, security. We want to be treated as equal citizens. This is our fight.

A century ago Allama Iqbal wrote, 'Barq girti hai toh becharay Musalmanon par (lighting only strikes poor Muslims). Looking at the sorry condition of the Muslim world, don't you agree that India, home to the second largest Muslim population in the world, is the safest home for the community?

I don't want to answer all these questions. I am not an international relations expert. You ask me questions related to India.

Would you say that Indian Muslims are much safer than those in Pakistan?

Why do you people always have to juxtapose Pakistan with Indian Muslims? As a community we rejected the two-nation theory. We did not go to Pakistan because India is our country.

Why do you have to always bring Pakistan into the equation?

Because it was felt in 1947 that Pakistan was a safe haven for Muslims of the subcontinent. That was not the case. Therefore, a comparison is inevitable as the conditions in Pakistan are terrible, unlike in India.

It is for those people to reflect because they took a decision. My forefathers took a decision that they would not accept (Mohammed Ali) Jinnah, they would not go to Pakistan.

Once the Muslim world was at the forefront of science, architecture and fine arts. Today it is known more for terrorism. When and what do you think went wrong?

We have to have more centres of learning and education throughout the Islamic world. If you see the period when Muslims were experts in every field, we had centres of learning whether in Andalusia or Baghdad.

We require more Ghazalis (Al Ghazali, a Muslim theologian and mystic from the 10th century) and more philosophers. We will have to focus towards education; and for that, you require more centres of learning.

Do you think Muslims failed as a society because they could not establish more centres of learning?

I am sure things can change. We have to be positive and I am sure that the Muslim community will realise that we require education, that they need scientists and philosophers.

The religion we practise demands that its followers become educated because the first verse revealed to Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) was Iqra (read, or recite).

That was the message, that Muslims have to get educated. And only by becoming good human beings can we become good Muslims.

Images: Top: Prime Minister Narendra Modi performed a variety of asanas on Yoga Day at Rajpath in New Delhi. Photograph: @PIB/Twitter
Bottom: Muslims pray at Hyderabad's Mecca Masjid. Photograph: SnapsIndia

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf / Rediff.com in Mumbai
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