'Which path should Muslims take politically as they have been completely marginalised?'
Last Tuesday, June 18, as Asaduddin Owaisi, president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, and other members of the 17th Lok Sabha took the oath in Parliament, it was amidst loud chants of 'Jai Shri Ram' by Bharatiya Janata Party members from the treasury benches.
The incident made many experts question the need for these chants inside Parliament, with many calling it unparliamentary and non-secular.
The Firstpost Web site posted a column (external link), saying the chants smacked of an age-old idea of muscular, divisive Hindutva.
Many Muslims have also written about the fears the community faces with the Narendra Damodardas Modi-led BJP's thumping victory in the 2019 election.
Shahid Siddiqui, below, editor of the Urdu daily newspaper Nai Duniya, tweeted about the need for a Muslim National Front -- to protect Muslims from aggressive majoritarian politics.
"If there is some kind of Muslim front for the protection of Muslims, it will be good, but it has to be secular and nationalist just like any other national party of India," Siddiqui, president of the Minority Vikas Manch -- which runs programmes for minorities -- tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com.
You tweeted recently: 'Should Indian Muslims form a national front of all Muslim parties and groups to protect their constitutional, democratic rights, in the light of aggressive BJP majoritarianism and failure of so-called secular parties? I always opposed a Muslim pol (political) party but think time to reassess'.
Could you elaborate further on your tweet and the reasoning behind it?
It is not that I am in favour of some kind of a Muslim national front. I just wanted to get a public opinion as Muslims are now at a crossroads, post Prime Minister Modi's victory, as they they always invested themselves in secular parties or social justice parties like the Samajwadi Party or the Rashtriya Janata Dal or even the Congress.
These parties, however, did not succeed in taking them forward in life or giving them protection.
The question for Muslims is now 'jaayein to jaayein kahaan? (if we do go, where do we go from here?)'
The BJP has closed its doors for Muslims. Even if they (Muslims) want to go, they do not have a respectable position. And the other secular parties have taken them for granted. They are not even using the word secular now.
So, the question for Muslims is whether they should make their own party now?
I have personally opposed this idea of a separate political party and I feel in India no religion needs a separate party. But the reality today is that the upper caste Hindu vote is going to the BJP.
And they are not voting for the BJP for protection of Hindu society, but they are voting for them because the BJP is anti-Muslim. This is a worry.
Therefore, I want a discussion and debate on this issue -- where I feel all Muslim parties come together and make a front.
I am not saying it should be a political party, but there should be some confederation of Muslim parties so that they can fight for their rights.
Are Indian secular institutions like the police and judiciary so weak in Modi's India that Muslims need to come together to protect themselves and fight for their rights?
The Constitution is there, but the Constitution has been sabotaged in the last five years and institutions have been weakened.
And the weakening of institutions is not only a threat to Muslims, but also a threat to democracy.
Be it the Election Commission, the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) or the courts, they all have been weakened.
As far as Muslims are concerned, they were discriminated earlier too.
In a state like West Bengal where the Left Front government ruled for 37 years, Muslims in the police force are only 4 per cent whereas the Muslim population is 26 per cent.
In the last 37 years, there has been no improvement in the job percentage of Muslims in the police.
In this scenario, people like us who opposed the two-nation theory and Partition have to guide common Muslims to show them the path.
The common Muslim wants a path that needs to be followed now. I have no idea what that path should be.
We want secularism in this country, but secular parties have abandoned Muslims now.
Let me clarify, I am talking about political parties and not India as a country.
We have faith in India and in the Constitution of India, but the question here is which path should Muslims take politically as they have been completely marginalised.
Asaduddin Owaisi says Muslims have become coolies of Indian secularism.
I have been the Congress party's minority cell chairman and also been part of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. I have said this earlier too -- Muslims have become bonded labourers of secular parties.
These secular parties take jaziya (tax traditionally levied on non-Muslim subjects) from Muslims and frighten them by stating that if Muslims don't vote for them, then the BJP will come and establish a Hindu Rashtra.
Give these secular parties a vote and they will then ensure they do nothing for Muslims.
Now I am saying that the BJP is here in full strength, so why should we vote for these secular parties?
If these parties are not empowering Muslims on a socio-economic front, then how do we contribute to nation-building? These are the questions I am asking.
I do not agree with Owaisi Sahab on many things, but I do agree with him that Muslims have become coolies of secularism.
I feel if there is some kind of Muslim front for the protection of Muslims it will be good, but it has to be secular and nationalist just like any other national party of India.
When you talk of a Muslim front someone will come up with the idea of a Hindu front too.
The Hindu front already exists in the name of the BJP. The BJP is not winning elections on secularism.
I feel sad because the BJP is not winning votes on Hindu issues, but winning votes on an anti-Muslim issue.
There is a Sikh party in India called the Akali Dal. There are many Muslim parties too. Hindus have parties like the Hindu Mahasabha.
The Congress is a centrist party and the BJP was a pro-Hindu centrist party.
Now, instead of being a pro-Hindu party, the BJP has become an anti-Muslim party. So what can one do?
The Hindu front already exists as the BJP is getting 50 per cent votes in many states like Uttar Pradesh and even Assam.
In Assam, where the population of Muslims is 36 per cent, the BJP is so strong that the Muslim vote has been marginalised and become zero.
What would Maulana Azad have said after Modi's victory in 2019?
Maulana Azad would have cried to see Modi's victory in 2019. He would have cried if he saw 'Jai Shri Ram' slogans being chanted in Parliament.
I have been a member of Parliament and I know the oath-taking ceremony is always sober and decent.
In Parliament, people are divided on the Hindu-Muslim issue today.
If Pandit Nehru was alive, he too would have cried. Even Mahatma Gandhi would have cried.
As of now, there is a discussion going on in Muslim society that they must hold onto the Congress party only, but there is a small percentage of Muslims who say it does not make any sense to be with the Congress, but be with the BJP only.
There is also a debate that we should keep away from active politics. Muslims must concentrate more on education and economic development just like the Jews did in Europe and America -- they voted for parties, but were never seen at the forefront of politics.
Sadly, today in India votes are being sought in the name of Muslims. Secular parties are asking Muslims to vote for them and the BJP tells Hindu voters that Muslims will eat them if they don't come to power.
Muslims are being grinded between these two parties.
I visit villages in Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur and Bijnore where Muslims say what would they have got had Rahul Gandhi become prime minister?
Why should they then become a target from both sides when development in Muslim localities hasn't taken place?
Muslims are without social leadership, economic leadership and political leadership, therefore they must focus on socio-economic development.
Don't you feel Modi acquired votes on development? Or was it only a Hindu vote?
This is not a black and white answer. There are shades.
Lalu Yadav too had the development vote, but he had the Yadav vote too.
Even Mamata won the development vote. Development goes on and it was going on for the last 70 years.
But the focus of the 2019 elections was Sadhvi Pragya.
The 2014 election vote was for development and in 2019 development was in the background.
And if the 2019 vote was in the name of development, then rural India would not have voted for the BJP as the rural economy is in shambles.
GDP has fallen badly and the rural economy is in its worst state in the last 45 years.
When such is the situation you cannot say that the vote in 2019 was for development.
The election focus for 2019 (from the BJP side) was Sadhvi Pragya, Yogi Adityanath and aggressive nationalism.
What is your personal opinion about Modi?
I stood by Modi in 2012 when no one was willing to speak to him. I felt he must enter mainstream politics as it is not democratic make him an outcaste in politics.
I felt he would build bridges with different communities. And I personally feel Muslims must be present in all political parties.
But I felt very sad when Yogi Adityanath was made CM out of the blue. I realised the intentions were not good.
I felt the economic development of India will pick up under Modi as that had stopped in the last two years of Dr Manmohan Singh's rule as there was no centre of power.
There was policy paralysis and unfortunately that policy paralysis is still continuing.
Unfortunately, economic development has not happened in the last five years and on the other hand, Muslims have been pushed to a corner.
So, therefore I am saying this question arises; 'Jaayein to jaayein kahaan?
There is no one to speak for Muslims today as the Muslim leadership is over in secular parties.
The only person to speak now is Owaisi Sahab though I don't agree with him all the time.
What does the common Muslim say about Modi's victory?
Muslims do not have fear after Modi's victory, but there is disillusionment and disappointment.
Now they realise there is no one in India to help them. They are feeling a sense of helplessness. Therefore, they say they will have to find their own ways.
Now either the BJP brings Muslims into their fold as they are very upset with secular parties, as they have only worked for their own family.
And what about the Ganga Jamuna tehzeeb, the synchronisation of Hindu-Muslim culture post 2019?
Nobody wants to talk about that. The Ganga has become polluted so is the Yamuna, therefore even tehzeeb (manners) of the Ganga-Yamuna has become polluted.
Tehzeeb is now taking its last breath.
The only tehzeeb you see today is what you see on TV channels; that is the new tehzeeb.
Nobody wants to hear 'aap janaab (respectful language)' anymore. Who wants to listen to that?