Exactly 18 years after the start of communal riots in Gujarat on February 27, 2002––which followed the torching of S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express in Godhra––thousands of people, an overwhelmingly number of them Muslim, gathered at Patna’s Gandhi Maidan to listen to former president of JNU, Kanhaiya Kumar, and a host of other political and social personalities. The choice of date was accidental as originally the rally was planned on Feb 29; it was the administration which expressed its inability to allot the venue on that day.
Much water has flown down Ganga as well as Sabarmati since then. Yet one thing needs to be observed. Be it in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan or Shaheen Bagh of Delhi or Azad Maidan in Mumbai, a disproportionately high number of the crowd come from Muslim community and those addressing them on the issue of CAA-NPR-NRC are non-Muslim sounding secular names.
The curious aspect of the changing scenario in this country is that a couple of days after the re-enactment of Gujarat experiment in North-East Delhi, a large number of Muslims turned up not to listen to any community leader or cleric but Kanhaiya, Medha Patkar, Kannan Gopinathan etc.
Thus Muslims in general are standing behind ‘secular’ personalities and not behind after their own community leaders as a sizeable section of the media want to project. Nothing exemplifies this phenomenon better than the announcements made by Imams of mosques in Patna after the Friday prayer to make the programme of Kanhaiya a big success by attending it in a large number. Not only that, it was none else but Chandrashekhar Azad who led Muslims from outside Delhi’s Jama Masjid after Friday prayer in a protest demonstration. And the disturbances in Jafrabad started only on Feb 23. That is the day the Bhim Army gave a call against the ruling on reservation. This spirit and trust on the above mentioned secular personalities have not been dampened after the violence. This is a positive development so far as Muslim community is concerned.
Muslims today may be inviting the non-political secular figures––Yogendra Yadav, Chandrashekhar Azad, Harsh Mandar etc are some others––but in the past too they have reposed faith on mainstream political parties. Now these parties might have grown weak––or have lost trust of the community because of various reasons. That is why the community is relying on the non-political individuals.
Ever since independence, they have been voting for such parties. In the first 30 years, that is till 1977, they along with upper castes, especially Brahmins as well as Dalits voted overwhelmingly for Congress. Like the general trend, Muslims too voted heavily for Janata Party in the post-Emergency elections.
After that the pattern changed, but this happened with other castes and communities as well. Post-1989 they shifted their political loyalties towards personalities like Lalu Prasad in Bihar and Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh––or of late, Mamata Banerjee in Bengal. Before that in Bengal and Kerala they usually voted for the Left parties.
The likes of All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, Indian Union Muslim League and All India United Democratic Front are only tiny parties and their areas of influence are confined to small pockets. Therefore, none of their leaders has ever been invited at any place where the community members have been organising protest sit-ins or demonstration.
It is some media houses which give so much space to leader like Asaduddin Owaisi for obvious reasons. These television channels either have their own agenda or they want to promote a rabble-rouser from the community even if he has no base across the country.
Owaisi’s absence from Jamia Millia, Aligarh Muslim University and all those places where Muslims died during protest demonstrations has further eroded his popularity, albeit among a small section of youths. People have now started realising that he is not interested in giving even a healing touch but is only keen on expanding his party. The absurd remarks of Waris Pathan further drove the proverbial last nail into the coffin of the AIMIM, at least outside Hyderabad.
All these developments greatly dismayed Owaisi’s own small band of supporters. Curiously, many of them who were supportive of Owaisi were at the same time treating Kanhaiya, Azad and others as their heroes.
But, of late Owaisi is being heavily bombarded by the same set of social media warriors who till sometimes back were seeing in him an emergence of a new Muslim leader.
Though in the past too Muslims had been reposing full faith on secular parties yet it is the same media which would give the sobriquet of Maulana to the likes of Mulayam Singh if he, any time in his political career, honestly came in favour of the community––may be for his own political compulsions.
Similarly, the Congress used to be accused of minority appeasement. If any Bukhari or Rahmani would ever lend support to any political party ahead of any election for their own personal interest; the media would spare no time to brand them as the community leader. The truth is that often the parties to whom these clerics announce support lose election. Today such religious figures are discredited lot as they have no roots. The maximum the community trust them is on the occasion of sighting of moon on the eve of Eid.
As the Muslims, in general, have rejected their own community leaders on such a crucial stage of history when they fear that their citizenship is being questioned, it is up to these secular leaders––both political and non-political––to come to their help and lead them in right direction. They cannot afford to lose this opportunity and let the community down.
It is true the recent communal riots in North-East Delhi have shattered the faith of many people. The task is more enormous for both the non-political and political parties and individuals to come out of this crisis. The latest violence has certainly rattled several Muslim youths––it shook others too––and some of them were seen posting comments against Yoginder Yadav and Arvind Kejriwal when the truth is that there was little or no scope for ventilating anger in misplaced direction.
True, these youths were soon silenced by saner voices within the community. They were reprimanded by community elders to distinguish between friends and rivals.
As the Muslims have in the recent months expressed complete trust on the secular camp, the challenge before the latter is to rope in a big section of majority community.
Through the movement against the CAA-NPR-NRC, the average Muslims went on a long way to once again establish that they are a part of the mainstream. The use of national flag, national anthem and other symbols left no room for the rivals to find fault with the movement.
The communal riots in North-East Delhi has posed a big challenge to both the secular individuals as well as the Muslim community to redraw a new strategy. The need of the hour is to change gear and keep the movement free from any distraction.
It is the time to learn from the Gandhi-style of leading a struggle. He withdrew the Non-Cooperation Movement after many policemen were killed in Chauri Chaura. But he did not stop there. Struggle-Truce-Struggle was the part of his strategy.
If the message of the sit-ins across the country was to educate the masses about the impact of CAA-NPR-NRC, the purpose has been served. Almost all these secular parties and individuals have called for the boycott of the NPR in new format if the government does not change its stand. If a sizeable number of the countrymen and women heed to their call, it may be substantial enough to defeat the government’s move.
(Views expressed by the writer are personal)