There is growing disquiet in the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) over the emergence of a “proactive” group which wants to “act”, along with members of the majority community, to “safeguard” Muslim interests.
The announcement of the Majlis-e-Amal or implementation committee has been described as routine but there are several in the board — it positions itself as a spokesperson of Muslim opinion in India and the chief custodian of Muslim personal law and the Shariat — who believe it is being formed to open a channel with the Prime Minister.
At a meeting of its executive in Lucknow on June 6-7, the Majlis-e-Amal, headed by Wali Rahmani, a cleric based in Munger in Bihar who is also the board’s working general secretary, took a call to “act” with members of the majority community to “safeguard” Muslim interests.
The last time a committee was tasked with protecting the constitutional rights of Muslims was in 2010 — it was asked to deal with specific grievances with the Waqf Act and some judgments seen as intruding into Muslim personal law.
Rahmani has emerged as the face of the new “active” board — Rabey Nadwi, the board chairman, is in his 90s and age has also caught up with Maulana Nizamuddin of Biharsharif, the general secretary.
Earlier this month, Rahmani reached out directly to Muslim organisations, institutions and imams of mosques, asking them to maintain vigil against attacks on Islam’s teachings. He also alleged that the celebration of the International Day of Yoga by the government on June 21 was part of a conspiracy to link the exercise to the RSS.
Within the board, there is suspicion about the agenda of the Majlis-e-Amal. Because in March, the usually sedate meeting of the board was disrupted in Jaipur over the presence of “non-members” — Zafar Sareshwala, a businessman who is also chancellor of the Hyderabad-based Maulana Azad National Urdu University and is considered close to the Prime Minister, could not enter the meeting because several members protested.
There are some who believe the actions of the committee will find place in the run-up to the Bihar assembly elections. Qasim Sayyed, editor-in-chief of Rozanama Khabrein, said: “By appearing to be very active and pro-Muslim, the board actually wants to polarise the Bihar polls and is being used as fuel for that purpose. What is the sense in raising these things? Is this the time to raise the temperature and be hot-headed? They want to do this and also cosy up to Modi by demonstrating that they are the true Muslim representatives.”
Such has been the debate that board spokesman A R Qureshi had to issue a statement, widely quoted in Urdu papers, saying “there is no proposal to meet the Prime Minister”.
Rahmani, on his part, said: “Meeting the PM is not an issue, we will not go to just have tea with him. But when and if we need to, we will meet him like we do, and have always done, with all PMs and government representatives… we are open to the idea of meeting anyone, including the PM. Though this is not the right time, we may meet the PM either before the Bihar elections or even after it. I cannot say for sure. The meeting won’t happen without wider consultation.”
Kamal Farooqui, formerly with the SP who is expected to be part of the Majlis-e-Amal, said: “If and when it is time to meet Mr Modi, we will. We don’t think that time has come now. Given the way the government is going, they seem to be keen on only implementing the agenda of the RSS, we seem to be moving backward. So that is not the question at the moment.”
Board spokesman Qureshi described the Majli-e-Amal as a purely functional device. “The chairman and the general secretary are old now but we want them to stay and advise us. The new committee will do what we are mandated to do but it will just be a little more visible and active.”
Lucknow-based Zafaryab Jilani, a senior member of the board, said: “The Muslim Personal Law Board has never not spoken to anyone, least of all the PM, and this should not be an exception, but now is not the time. The PM has to make a gesture, show some intent to be well-meaning towards the community or receptive to its concerns.”
Asaduddin Owaisi, MP of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and a board member, said: “There is no question of trying to meet Modi. That is ruled out now. Why should we be available for that?”
Critics within the Board, like Special Invitee and senior journalist Masoom Moradabadi, say unlike the old guard, the new guard wants to fulfil its political ambitions and use the very trusted and respected label of the Muslim Board to suit the “purpose of the BJP and gain prominence by being recognised as a Muslim representative”.