In this Idea Exchange moderated by Assistant Editor Abantika Ghosh, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind general secretary and former Rajya Sabha MP Maulana Mahmood Madani says he sees no harm in religious leaders expressing political views, explains why Priyanka would have done a better job for the Congress, stands by his remark on the Gujarat CM refusing to wear the skull cap, and questions the tag stuck on him of being pro-Modi
Abantika Ghosh: You have said that the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind is a religious organisation, but its workers can support political parties. You have decided to go to Varanasi. Is the Jamiat involved in this move or is it an individual’s decision?
The Jamiat is not just a religious organisation but a social one as well. Jamiat cannot support any political party. But its workers and leaders are free to support and join political parties. If I go to Varanasi and support or oppose any leader or party, it will be an individual decision and not that of the organisation. People allege that the Jamiat is the Congress’s B team because the organisation’s senior leaders have been affiliated to the Congress and have been members of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha from the party. Our leaders and workers are also in the BSP, SP, Left and other parties.
Abantika Ghosh: Earlier, you had supported Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to not wear the skull cap. How will you oppose him now?
It has been more than two years since the charge of being a Modi supporter was slapped on me. There are three instances. Last year, there were municipal elections in Gujarat. There are a few wards in Jamnagar with 100 per cent Muslim residents and the Congress and BJP had fielded Muslim candidates there. All 21 Muslim wards were won by the BJP and I had said that Muslims have voted for the BJP. But my statement was taken out of context. Secondly, when I went to Gujarat, due to threat perception, the Ministry of Home Affairs gave me Z-plus security cover. People cooked up stories saying I was a State guest. The third instance was when I was asked about Modi’s refusal to wear the skull cap. I believe that in Indian politics, the so-called secular parties — whenever I say ‘so called’, people say that I have become a Modi supporter — whatever they have done is only symbolic. They have not dealt with the real issues. The problems that have not been addressed so far are not solely those of Muslims but also that of the SCs and other groups. As far as the 2002 riots are concerned, Modi should own moral responsibility for not controlling the situation. A majority of Muslims feel that it was an act of revenge and the government planned it. I do not disagree with them. Many people say that it should be forgotten. But I say that the uproar Indians raised over the 2002 violence was more than expected; even Muslims could not have been able to cry so hard over it. This is the strength of India. Regarding the skull cap, I do not believe in any act of symbolism. Those who do that are hypocrites. They make a fool of people by wearing such caps. I do not want Muslims or anyone to be fooled.
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Maneesh Chhibber: But do you think Modi will prove to be good for the country?
How can he be good for the country? He can run a good government, but the stories he has spread about development are not hidden from people. Even if we agree with the development work that he says he has done for Gujarat, can development be complete without justice? He is a failure as a ruler and definitely not good for the country.
Maneesh Chhibber: But Modi’s men say he has been given a clean chit by the court.
There may have been lacunae due to someone failing to put up a good fight.
Coomi Kapoor: Why is there a perception that you speak for both sides — sometimes pro Modi and sometimes against Modi? The vice-chancellor of Deobandh was removed for saying that Modi has some progressive ideas.
There is a perception that I removed Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi. I am not even a member of the governing council. I am merely a student of that institute and many of its people are members of the Jamiat. I have been asking him to give me proof that I acted against him. They keep writing about it and people think it is true, but it isn’t. Recently, I was interviewed on TV and the anchor asked me about the skull cap. He asked whether I considered Modi secular, and I said that I consider him communal.
Muzamil Jaleel: If Modi becomes the prime minister, will it be dangerous for Muslims?
I do not think in terms of Muslims. We should think as Indians. Muslims are the second largest majority. For the past many years, we have been demanding equal opportunities for not just Muslims, but all Indians. Take the case of scholarships in Gujarat. He (Modi) said that it will be distributed only if it is for everyone, otherwise return it. I want to ask him, ‘Do you believe that Muslims are lagging behind in education compared to others? If yes, then why not let them get the benefit?’. There are many conditions for scholarships — marks, etc. If bright children get some money through affirmative action, they will be educated and will work for the country. The problem is not about Muslims but the country.
Manu Pubby: There are many leaders in the BJP who are doing good work. Will you support them in case the BJP is in a position to form the government?
Reasonable people should be supported for reasonable work. I do not support Modi. But if he says a right thing and you ask me a question on it, what will I say? We are talking about the country. If something’s right, it’s right.
Muzamil Jaleel: The UPA government made Batla House a political issue. Many arrests happened in Maharashtra where the Congress is in power. Why are you rallying behind the Congress?
In a press conference held at Rajasthan, I said, ‘Please do not ask for our votes by scaring us about others’. Tell us what you have done for us and take our votes. We are not batasha that will melt when water is poured on it. All the questions that you have asked me, I too have raised them and that is the reason the Congress spokesperson said that I support Modi. Whoever opposes you, you call him a Modi supporter. This is blackmailing — telling us that Modi ayega to khaa jayega.
Kumar Abhishek: You’re going to Varanasi. The environment there is already polarised — whether it’s due to the Muzaffarnagar riots or Modi’s campaigning. Don’t you think that religious leaders — be it from the Hindu community like Baba Ramdev or the Muslim community — will add to this polarisation?
We were debating the same thing — that by going to Varanasi, will we end up aiding those we’re trying to harm. I look religious. Looking religious has its pros and cons. For instance, I was going to the airport and a child told his mother, ‘Look, there is bin Laden’. However, a religious leader is also a citizen of India, and is entitled to his opinion. To snatch away a religious leader’s right to an opinion is wrong. But there is a threat that people with vested interests will use this to polarise the atmosphere. Some will say Hindutva is in threat, others will say that Islam is in threat. But the reality is that neither Islam nor Hindutva is in threat. If there is any threat, it is not from outside but from within. If Muslims truly follow Islam, 90 per cent of their problems will be solved. The same is true of the Hindus. If they follow their religion and culture based on peace and open-heartedness — I use the word culture because Hindus don’t think of Hinduism as just a religion — 90 per cent of their problems will be solved.
Maneesh Chhibber: You said that religious leaders have a right to express themselves. But our Constitution and our electoral laws say that the use or misuse of religion in politics is a corrupt practice and you can lose your seat because of that. What do you think of the Shahi Imam’s statement or that of Baba Ramdev?
This needs a long debate. I don’t think it’s wrong (to express your opinion). Whether it’s Ramdev or Bukhari or someone else, if they speak foul language, it’s wrong. Religious leaders should be more careful. But when it comes to supporting a political party, I don’t think it is wrong.
Vandita Mishra: If Modi becomes PM, he’ll be your PM too. What is the one thing that he can do to remove this mistrust and fear?
Justice. But it’s early to make assumptions (about who will come to power). The NDA will not get more than 206 seats. This is my guess. If he becomes the PM, we’ll sit down and think about what all we should make him do to ensure that everyone benefits. He hasn’t spoken about Hindutva too much during his campaigns and this has appealed to the moderate voters.
Krishna Uppuluri*: In Tamil Nadu, Muslims vote for either the DMK or the AIADMK and neither of these parties is driven by religion. Why is it that the rest of the country votes on communal lines?
If Muslims voted on the basis of religion, they would have formed their own party. Muslims have their political parties, but they are very few, very limited. If Muslims unite and vote for their community, they can form their government through political alliances. But Muslims aren’t ready for that. They have voted for Mulayam, Mayawati, the Nehru family. We need an honest political party that has representation from the Muslim community as well as others. In Tamil Nadu, the Muslim League ties up with either of the two main parties.
Muzamil Jaleel: You give legal support to those arrested on false charges. Tell us about your experience.
We believe that the law enforcement agencies are trying to hide their ineffectiveness. Once a king said that 16 criminals should be hanged. One convict escaped and when the king asked about him, a search was started. Soon, a very fat man was brought in. The executioner looked at him and said, ‘If you had to bring an innocent to be hung, at least look at the size of his neck.’ This is what is happening with the Muslims. In some cases, people are let off due to technical reasons — the way Modi was let off in the Zakia Jafri case. The cases we’re fighting — around 70 of them — might see them let off technically. I’d urge you to go through the cases, make a group of 10 and after going through them, if you tell me that this person is the culprit, I promise to appeal that he be punished. Ninety-nine per cent of the cases are fake. In Delhi’s Mahavir Vatika, a Kashmiri youth was arrested and the court asked the Delhi Police to arrest the officers who had fabricated the case against him. A blast takes place, 11 die, three are arrested, a story is fabricated, and media goes with that version and it is accepted as truth. Ek corrupt society mein mulzim (accused) aur mujrim (convict) mein farq nahin hota. When there’s a bomb blast, people are scared. A mother is scared that my son is going to the market, if there’s a blast only his corpse may return. But a Muslim mother has two fears — either he’ll die in the blast or he’ll be arrested. In the Ishrat Jahan case, a senior Home Ministry officer told me that I had done such a bad thing by taking her corpse to her home. I replied, saying even if we assume she’s a terrorist, what wrong have I done by sending her body home to her mother? I was told that I had shamed the Jamiat. It’s now been shown that she could be innocent. Why she was killed or who killed her is a separate story. But now Kapil Sibal says that due to political reaction, the correct decision in the matter wasn’t taken then. He and his party will have to answer for this.
Coomi Kapoor: Do you think the Muslim vote is united because of the Modi factor?
It is divided, at least in western UP.
Irena Akbar: Imam Bukhari has said that Muslims should vote for the Congress and you’re going to Varanasi. How seriously does the common Muslim take political advice from religious leaders?
The common man doesn’t take their advice seriously. I am going only for myself. I know that no one will listen to me. No one listens to others. But it’s our duty to talk to people. Otherwise, people will later turn around and say that we told them nothing.
Shubhajit Roy: Do you think Priyanka Gandhi would have been a better choice as a candidate than Rahul Gandhi?
Perhaps. Choosing candidates is a party’s internal matter. Priyanka could have been a better candidate, but the difference wouldn’t have been that significant. People are fed up with this government. Rahul speaks under pressure, speaks in a low tone. Priyanka, in comparison, has the strength to fight, is more aggressive and understands things better. Rahul is more concerned about holidaying. When I met him, I wanted to tell him, ‘You like scuba diving, so do I’.
Aleesha Matharu: Do you think that if Modi comes to power, we’d be reading some different kind of history in textbooks? In Madhya Pradesh, history textbooks were altered after the BJP came to power.
Absolutely. Muslims and some other communities, like those associated with the Naxals, feel alienated. When a young person reads such textbooks, he doesn’t find the role of Muslims in the creation of the country, in its struggle for Independence or afterwards. When he doesn’t see this in his textbooks, his interest in Muslims or his sympathy for them fades. And everyday, through the media, he only hears wrong things about Muslims. Secondly, when Muslims themselves don’t get to know about the sacrifices made by their ancestors in the making of the nation, they don’t connect with the country the way they should. Muslims should be made to feel a part of the mainstream; they should be informed about what their ancestors did and the sacrifices they made while fighting for the country. It would be better for both Muslims and Hindus if the role of Muslims isn’t altered in textbooks. The way it’s taking place in MP, you are betraying the country. Traitors don’t come from outside, but from within. The main threat is from within, not from outside.
Transcribed by Pragya Kaushika & Aniruddha Ghosal