Recent events unfolding in Uttar Pradesh have left former Rajya Sabha member Mohammed Adeeb distraught.
An Independent elected for a six-year term, Adeeb's connection to the state isn't just cemented by the fact that he hails from Barabanki and went to college at Aligarh Muslim University; he has been a lifelong witness to its politics — especially when it comes to Muslim representation. Only last year he made headlines for his comment that Muslims should withdraw from the political arena to prevent themselves from becoming "a catalyst for Hindu-Muslim polarisation".
Adeeb has been receiving calls round the clock since the police in Uttar Pradesh began taking action against those who were protesting the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act. People tell him that they did not take to violence on the streets, so how did it break out? They're not sure who the miscreants were; they suspect it was the work of vested interests. "This is the biggest danger right now, that if you demonstrate today, you never know who will pelt a stone or start the violence. Seventeen people (at the time of writing) have died in Uttar Pradesh thus far — and each one of them is Muslim," he says to Firstpost. Fourteen of them succumbed to "firearm injuries"; one of the deceased is an eight-year-old who died in a stampede.
He recalls that those who lost their lives were ordinary people — like a 22-year-old driver and a 27-year-old daily-wage worker. He is worried that educated Muslims aren't voicing their opinions for fear that they will be attacked. But this fear — and the larger socio-political scenario it is a result of — is no new phenomenon in the state, where the faith of 19 percent of the population is Islam. It can be traced back to Independence, and in more recent history, the Babri Masjid dispute. Over the course of this conversation, Adeeb provides context to explain how Uttar Pradesh turned into a communal battleground and why the Muslim community has little to no political representation in the state.
Economic oppression after Independence
"Maulana Azad had said that Jinnah's decision would ensure that Muslims would constantly be looked at with fear and suspicion in India," says Adeeb. He speaks about how the wealth of well-to-do Muslims was targeted after Independence. "The riots that took place then were rooted in economics. The money would flow from the Muslims to the Baniya community… The idea was to financially destabilise the community. The Muslims continued to suffer economic exploitation and became poorer with time," he adds.
He is of the opinion that the country's politics — and its treatment of Muslims, by extension — changed drastically after LK Advani's Ram Janmabhoomi movement began. "It was the first time that communal tensions were being stoked… Muslims were portrayed as being animals, as people who want to take over the country," he says.
Targeting the universities that supported Muslim students — especially those who are not privileged — was key to the community's suppression at the hands of Hindus, says Adeeb, especially since these universities were producing streams of educated, smart students. "Two universities that educate and uplift the children of the poor are AMU and JNU. The children of elite Muslims do not go to AMU; the child of a farmer, daily-wage worker or peasant does. JNU has a similar significance for the underprivileged. And it was these two universities that were targeted," he says.
A leadership vacuum
"Unfortunately, my community has never chosen a Muslim as its leader since Independence. We are neither in the Assembly, nor in Parliament in Uttar Pradesh. The biggest Muslim leader to emerge in the state after 1947 was Dr Abdul Jaleel Faridi of the Muslim Majlis, and even he managed to garner only two to four percent of the votes. Muslims have never considered Muslim politicians to be their leaders," says Adeeb. The other criticism he has in the context of electoral politics is that Muslim leaders only speak about issues concerning Muslims, not national issues.
The general lack of display of dissent or solidarity is but one of the symptoms of this political vacuum, he adds. "When Article 370 was abrogated, when there was violence in Kashmir, during the Triple Talaq Bill or after the Babri Masjid verdict, the Muslim did not take to the streets. But when it was a matter related to the Constitution — our only hope in these times — and tearing it apart, then the Muslim decided to protest. He found support amid secular Hindus," he notes.
This vacuum in political representation is accompanied by a fragmentation of Muslim votes; the community is not a monolith at voting booths. In 2017, Muslims voted for the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, AIMIM and RLD.
Lack of adequate support or representation in secular parties
Adeeb says that the community has been betrayed on multiple occasions by secular parties — a factor he considers as grave as the lack of Muslim leadership. The tendency of the Congress in particular to abandon the community has caused Muslims to chase after Mulayam Singh, VP Singh and Mayawati — leaders who worked for their own communities, he says.
"I call myself a Congressi, but I’m not part of the Congress party because I think it has taken a departure from its own ideology. I wrote to Sonia Gandhi recently about how Rahul Gandhi was the first from his family to directly attack the RSS. But why did he have to call himself a janeudhari Brahmin? This means that you're accepting Hindu ideology," he points out.
Betrayal at the hands of secular parties and a lack of Muslim leaders resulted in many gravitating towards maulvis, which greatly damaged the community, he adds.
Adeeb says that the police force has been communalised such that it metes out unwarranted violence against Muslims. "Not only is the police unprincipled, it is also communal. When they hit Muslims, they use the worst expletives and ask, 'Why are you here? You're a traitor, go to Pakistan'. They did exactly this in Aligarh and Jamia Millia Islamia. What should we do as Muslims, considering these factors? Whenever the police is deployed in Muslim-dominated areas, their goal is always to "teach a lesson" — whether in Uttar Pradesh or even in Delhi, as we saw recently," he says.
Communal forces and fear at the grassroots level
Earlier this year, Reuters reported that in the Nayabans village of Uttar Pradesh, Muslims were moving out, as the divide between them and Hindus was only widening. The community was accused of slaughtering cows and was disallowed from using a microphone at a madrassa, which also functions as a mosque. Uttar Pradesh is also the state that witnessed the Muzaffarnagar violence of 2013 and last week.
Adeeb says that overt discrimination has been emboldened over the past couple of years. "I am from Barabanki, which is 50 kilometres away from Ayodhya. I have never seen Uttar Pradesh so communalised. Hatred has grown so much that I was forced to sell the land I owned in the village and move out to Gurgaon. Communalism has become entrenched in the villages," he says.
The villainisation of Muslims before 2014... and after
The strategy of the RSS is to create an environment where Muslims have to constantly defend themselves, Adeeb offers. "We've constantly been asked why we live here despite the existence of Pakistan next door. We were asked to constantly defend ourselves — and this has been the RSS' game since the start — because they want to weaken us and make us slaves."
Apart from the Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath government machinery, he holds the media responsible for drumming up hate against the community. "The RSS was not able to divide hearts the way the pliant media has been able to… A new, young class of people has been created that outright hates Muslims — this hate has trumped all issues like the economy, unemployment etc. The idea that Muslims must be 'fixed' has turned into the ultimate goal," he says. Vitriolic messages on WhatsApp have contributed greatly to this problem, he adds.
Adeeb does not recommend that Muslims should create a religion-centric party in Uttar Pradesh to ensure better representation. But he is hopeful about the movement that is underway, because Muslims have the support of the secular Hindus, and because inquilab is being led by the young.
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Updated Date: Dec 25, 2019 13:34:03 IST