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Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari’s appeal seeking ‘secular votes particularly that of Muslims’ for the Congress nationally and Trinamool Congress in West Bengal ahead of the Lok Sabha polls kicked up a storm recently. It provoked angry newspaper columns, editorials and hours of prime time debate on TV channels. As has been the case with the self-styled community leaders, the media offered disproportionate attention to the imam. The pressing issues of education, employment, security, marginalisation and ghettoization were as usual lost in the din. The same old debates on clerical hold on Muslims followed even as they have repeatedly been proved to be bogus due to diversity and scattered nature of the community. Muslims voting preferences vary from place to place, depending on the alternatives they have to the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in their respective states.

But the media’s fixation with the dodgy and supposed powerbrokers despite this reflects a larger malaise. It is partly mechanical and sometimes deliberate – worrisome in both cases — to reinforce stereotypes and condemn alleged Muslim herd mentality. Had that not been the case, the media would not have conveniently overlooked Bukhari’s history of political flip-flops and his failure to even influence voters in his backyard – Delhi’s Jamia Masjid area with almost 100% Muslim population. There his rival, legislator Shoaib Iqbal, has been getting elected successively for the last two decades despite his strident opposition. Even Bukhari’s brother refused to accept the imam’s latest appeal and held a presser in Lucknow with Maulana Kalbe Jawwad, who went to the extent of calling voting for the Congress as ‘betrayal of Islam’.

Within the community, Bukhari has serious credibility issues. His opportunistic endorsements have often lacked ideological coherence. He was among those who got carried away when the BJP launched its India Shining blitz in 2004 and ended up endorsing Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for re-election that year. Public memory is notoriously shot. But in the imam’s case, memory appears to be even shorter. His Vajpayee ‘endorsement’ came over two years after the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, where as per the norm police and BJP administration mostly looked the other way as innocent people were burnt or hacked to death and women violated.

His endorsement had ignored Vajpayee’s infamous April 2002 speech in Goa when his famous mask had again slipped there. Vajpayee had virtually justified the pogrom shortly following his ‘redeeming’ invocation of ‘rajdharma’ after the pogrom in presence of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in 2002. The Congress has recently used the invocation in its desperate bid to prevent Modi from becoming the Prime Minister.

The imam also forgot Vajpayee owed his power and the BJP’s remarkable growth from a two-member party in the 1980s to the single largest group in the Parliament a decade later to the Babri Masjid demolition, which led to massacres of Muslims in its aftermath. And in any case, how could he have overlooked the BJP’s inherent antagonism towards the people he claims to represent. Deep influences of people like K B Hedgewar, who likened Muslims to ‘hissing yavana snakes’, on the party explains its hostility towards the community.

Bukhari now berates the Samajwadi Party. But he had endorsed it before it made an impressive comeback to power in 2012 in Uttar Pradesh. The imam snapped his ties with the party a year later citing its refusal to fulfil the promises made to the community. But in reality his kin were not given important posts, which forced him to look for new ‘secular’ allies. It is widely believed the imam’s new found love for his latest allies – chiefly the Congress — has come with usual personal promises. But it may be too late for the Congress, whose duplicity had cost it Muslim votes and power in the 1990s. The party has made it a habit to make promises and then go back on them to avoid backlash from the reactionary forces. Its dillydallying on the Sachar Panel recommendations best represents its lack of sincerity.

This is the reason why the so-called secular parties like the Congress fall back upon the self-styled community leaders at the eleventh hour. They tend to believe they would deliver in the absence of any personal connect. These ‘secular leaders’ need to be held accountable for shamelessly wooing clerics as vote contractors and promoting opportunistic fly-by-night community leaders for their short-term goals. This is the biggest disservice they have done for decades to the most marginalised community in the country. The ‘middlemen’ often get their ‘commission’ while pressing Muslim issues remain unresolved as a result. Tokenism becomes a substitute for them for five years before fresh promises are made.

This tendency highlights the extent of the community’s ‘otherisation’ and how it is being pushed to the margins represented best by increasing ghettoization and the need for the secular parties to have conduits to seek their votes. The otherisation is reflected in the phraseology used in the media ‘like understanding Muslim mind’, which even in big urban centres are to be found in the ghettos. Even those who can afford the best housing are forced to live in there subhuman ghettos, where the struggle for even basic needs is a daily reality in a damning indictment of the legacy of the decades of the ‘secular’ rule.

Courtesy: Times of India

Sameer Arshad Khatlani is a blogger and writer of Times of India.