Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind general secretary Mehmood Madani has hit Congress where it hurts most - its claim that it is the principal custodian of secular fabric of Indian society and polity. The cleric's rude jolt to the grand old party was that Muslims must not be seen as captive voters or just as a vote bank when it comes to an electoral face off in the upcoming five assembly elections and subsequent parliamentary polls.
This effectively means that Congress’s hopes of painting the Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi contest as a secularism versus communalism one, which would allow it to be the natural beneficiary of what is called hostile voting by the minority community, has been dented.
Madani’s statement that caught the Congress completely off guard, is important for various reasons – Founded in 1919, Jamait is India's biggest Muslim organization with around 125 lakh active members in various parts of the country. The members pay Rs 1 per month as subscription, and the organization has a formidable track record in social, religious and educational activities. Therefore it commands enormous political clout in the community and outside. The Madani family also controls Deoband, which is the largest and most revered Islamic seminary in Asia.
The official Jamait website has so far been happily displaying pictures of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh engaged in close conversation with Maulana Mehmood Madani and his uncle Maulana Arshad Madani. That is indicative of the strength of relationship that he and Jamait have had with the Congress top brass. The same is true of their relationship with the Samajwadi Party and some other regional parties.
The clerics statement, where he said, “Congress should not try to get Muslim votes by creating fear about somebody. These so called secular parties should look at possibilities of community welfare which they have not done so far", will not however only unnerve the Congress. It will also hurt other other secularists such as Nitish Kumar, Mulayam Singh Yadav, the CPI and CPM who are planning a joint convention against communalism (read Narendra Modi), on October 30 in New Delhi.
Madani is undoubtedly a leader and Islamic scholar of great stature and what he says needs to be taken seriously by those concerned. He is effectively generating a debate on the prevailing politics of negativity and telling the Muslim community that it is the members of the community who should decide on who is secular and who is not, instead of being told by Congress or other secularist parties.
His speech in Jaipur two days ago stirred the political class. He is angry because the Congress and other 'secular' parties take Muslims for granted, currently even more by engaging only in “negative” politics, and raising a bogey of Narendra Modi to garner minority community votes.
He didn’t stop with that. He slammed Rajashthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, calling him a name which has so far been passionately used against Modi by his hard boiled critics – a mass murderer. “Rajasthan chief minister has got Muslims killed and has done nothing other than getting them killed. He has failed 100 percent. People were looted killed and the killers are at large. Close relatives of those who died were booked as accused in these cases”, he said in a series of interviews after landing in Delhi on Tuesday.
The sum and substance of his message was that there is no need for Muslims to unnecessarily fear Modi.
"What I said was that the Congress must not take the Muslims for granted and hope that out of fear of Modi, the community will have no alternative but to vote for the Congress. They will have to work for welfare and spell out what they plan to do for the welfare of the minorities instead of creating this bogey of fear. They must say what promises to the Muslims they have already fulfilled and what they propose to do for us going forward. Congress should not try to get Muslim votes by creating fear about somebody. The party should look at possibilities of community welfare which they have not done so far. Muslims were at the receiving end during the riots at Muzaffarnagar in UP and Gopalgarh in Rajasthan. The respective governments failed to read the communal undercurrents and act", he said.
Madani’s words are shock therapy for the Congress and music to the ears for the BJP. But given the sensitivity of the subject, spokespersons of both the parties have been slightly restrained – Congress in criticism and BJP in praise.
Interestingly, the Congress fielded its lesser known Muslim face, Meem Afzal to counter the influential cleric’s arguments. "Madani's remarks that the Muslims would cast their votes out of fear for someone amounts to insulting them. Muslims are not scared of anyone. Madani belongs to a secular outfit and must not say such things," Afzal said. The Congress spokesperson's insinuations however, brought stronger counter attacks form Madni.
Not everyone is surprised by Madani’s frontal charge against the Congress and other secular parties. He is said to be deeply disturbed by the Muzaffarnagar riots, in his core influence zone of Deoband and is doing a great deal of social work for relief and rehabilitation among displaced Muslims. Even in other parts of the country, like in affected areas of Rajasthan Jamait through its vast network has been reaching out to the community members in times of distress.
Businessman and staunch Modi supporter, Zafar Sareshwala says Madani knows Gujarat best. "Jamait has been here to help the victims of 1985, 1987, 1990, 1992 and 2002 riots. They were here even after earthquake and did some wonderful work in Anjar. He, however, did give a clue on whether there was some track II diplomacy in progress with Madni."
He added that the cleric's statement had vindicated his stand on Modi vis-a-vis Congress.
Madani for his part is cautious on saying anything about Modi in clear terms. But the fact that he is leaving it open ended is indicative of his softening of stance. Though he was instrumental in Ghulam Vastanvl’s ouster as vice chancellor of Deoband for making some positive comments about Modi, Madani himself had spoken favourably of conditions of Muslims in Modi’s Gujarat as compared to their position in other states.
"I won't say anything about him now. My focus is solely on secular parties' way of gaining Muslim votes."
Not the most difficult words to analyse in terms of what he wants to suggest on his perception of Modi. He has served his purpose, unnerving Congress, and forcing them to question their tactics.
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Updated Date: Oct 16, 2013 10:23:36 IST