DURING HIS speech in Lok Sabha Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi quoted a former Congress leader as having said that it was not the duty of their party to uplift Muslims and “if they want to lie in the gutter let them be”. He did not name the leader. But soon, the phones started ringing at the residence of Arif Mohammed Khan, a former four-time MP who was a Minister of State in the Rajiv Gandhi government until 1986 when he resigned over its stand on the Shah Bano case.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Khan said he took “a minute or two” to recall that comment. “I think what he (Modi) did was right because it exposes the intention behind all those actions, which were basically meant to divide the society,” he said.
The comment, he said, was made during a TV interview “seven or eight years ago” for a programme on the Shah Bano episode. The remark the Prime Minister referred to, Khan claimed, was made by P V Narasimha Rao, then a Union minister.
Narrating the events that followed his resignation, Khan said there was an effort by the Congress leadership to persuade him to remain on board. “On the day I resigned in the evening, I did not stay at home. I went to a friend’s place so that nobody could contact me. Mobile phones were not there then. But the next morning, when I reached Parliament around 10.45 am, Arun Singh was waiting for me. He took me to the waiting room of the Prime Minister. He praised me and said, ‘Nobody can fault you, but can you reconsider your decision to resign?’,” Khan recalled.
“Many people met me that day. And I gave the same argument. First Arun Singh, then Arun Nehru, then (M L) Fotedar, then three senior ministers under whom I had worked as a junior minister. They showed a lot of affection and tried to persuade me. And finally Narasimha Rao came. Rao told me, ‘You are so young, bright, such a good speaker, your career is ahead of you, how can you resign?’ Then, he told me that even Shah Bano has changed her stance, which was right as she had issued a statement.”
At the time, Singh and Nehru were also Union ministers, and Fotedar a party leader.
“I said I am not fighting for Shah Bano. I am fighting for my personal integrity. For 55 minutes, I spoke in Parliament defending the judgment of the Supreme Court (on the Shah Bano case) after Prime Minister (Rajiv Gandhi) asked me to. Now when the Bill was introduced, the Law Minister said that the purpose of the Bill is to reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court given in the Shah Bano case. I said I am not Akbar’s Birbal. Then, he (Rao) told me that you are being foolhardy. He was not being rough or crude with me, he was very gentle. But then, he told me, ‘Try to understand. We are not a party of social reformers. If the Muslims want to remain in the gutter, let them be. Why you should resign?’,” Khan said.
In its landmark judgment of 1986, the Supreme Court upheld the right to alimony for Shah Bano. But the Rajiv Gandhi government then passed the Muslim Women (Protection on Divorce Act), which overturned the verdict.
Khan was expelled from the party after which he became one of the founder members of V P Singh’s Jan Morcha that merged later with the Janata Dal. Khan went on to join the BSP and finally the BJP before resigning from the party in 2007.