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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 47, Dated 24 Nov 2012
    OPINION  
    IAC
    Ajaz Ashraf

    A Manifesto for Muslims

    The community should use the IAC as a springboard for greater social involvement

    Ajaz Ashraf, Senior journalist

    Suspect action Muslims were wary of Kejriwal and Co because of IAC’s alleged right-wing links

    Photos: AFP

    IT IS about time Muslims overcame their fear of the BJP to rethink their attitude towards India Against Corruption (IAC), from which they have largely kept away. In hitching themselves to the IAC bandwagon, they can reap significant gains. For one, they can shatter the perception that they back issues pertaining exclusively to them. They can hope to carve out a space for themselves in the IAC, extending beyond token representation, which is their fate in most political parties. They can also inspire it to focus the spotlight on the menace of corruption afflicting the management of waqf properties.


    Media analyses, to a great extent, have influenced the Muslim’s outlook towards the IAC. Just about every analysis invariably takes into account the electoral impact of the IAC on the Congress and the BJP. But the analysts have changed their tone and tenor over the past one year. Earlier, they, particularly those who are secular, broadly left-of-centre, of whom I too consider myself one, projected the IAC as a ram the saffron brigade was deliberately nurturing to batter the Congress.

    Citing the slogan of Vande Mataram raised from the IAC platform, the analysts argued that it demonstrated the outfit’s insensitivity towards Muslims for whom deification is taboo. Glossed over were the equally thunderous cries of Inquilab Zindabad at protest sites. For a Baba Ramdev present on the IAC platform, there was also a Medha Patkar jostling for space. An incipient movement, in search of its moorings, usually attracts participants subscribing to a bewildering medley of ideologies. In demanding the IAC wear an ideological straitjacket, the analysts didn’t factor the sheer implausibility of sifting those owing allegiance to the Sangh Parivar from the rest, and then peremptorily turning them away.

    Since then, two developments have created the potential of prompting the Muslim community to rethink. One, there is a palpable separation between the Right and the Left in the anti-corruption movement. The IAC, particularly the faction of Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan, has occupied the left-of-centre space through the shrewd strategy of linking the issue of corruption to crony capitalism and revealing the complicity of the political class in appropriating agricultural land for big business. Two, the IAC has ejected ambiguity from its anti-BJP position, vividly illustrated through its telling exposé of BJP chief Nitin Gadkari and his party’s dubious record in condoning the corrupt misdeeds of big business. In stripping the BJP of its virtuous pretensions as well as attacking the leader whom the RSS had handpicked, the IAC could be said to have allayed suspicions of being the saffron brigade’s battering ram.

    But we secularists haven’t yet been persuaded of IAC’s secular credentials. Our paranoia arises from the grim possibility that a weakened, sullied BJP could project Gujarat CM Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 general election. To fan our fears, as also those of Muslims, the Congress too has sought to project the IAC as backing the hardline faction in the BJP. Such is our disquiet that most of us fail to realise that the IAC’s entry into the electoral arena is likely to sharply divide the anti-Congress votes and deny the BJP a veritable monopoly over it.

    Photos: Shailendra Pandey

    In the intense rivalry between the Congress and the BJP, both need each other to pursue what can be called the politics of fear. The Congress needs the BJP to exploit the insecurities of Muslims to consolidate them into its votebank. This, in turn, renders easy the BJP’s task of counter-mobilising the Hindus against the Muslims, as their consolidation is portrayed as a ploy to prevent an avowedly Hindu party from coming to power. For the Congress, it is decidedly a low-cost strategy — don’t give Muslims greater space and representation in the party, particularly at the apex, for their fear of the BJP will anyway make them vote for it in the parliamentary election.

    In politics, as also outside it, patrons never grant privileges until you demonstrate the possibility of withdrawing your association from them. It is this principle that Kanshi Ram understood well. Weary of the politics of tokenism, he floated his own Dalit outfit and turned it into a formidable force — an experiment Muslims in Assam appear to be emulating. Yet, it is a course Muslims can’t follow elsewhere, as they do not enjoy a majority in most constituencies and are unlikely to attract other social groups to forge a winning combination.

    That is precisely why they must turn to the IAC, for it can provide them ample space and voice because of the envisaged party structure, in which volunteers will choose poll candidates. This is remarkably different from the culture of high commands doling out tickets. The IAC mechanism could work to the advantage of Muslims who, because of being confined to ghettoes, would be placed well to select candidates of their preference.

    The loot of waqf properties is one important reason for Muslims to join the IAC agitation

    Moreover, the IAC’s campaign inherently accords primacy to the politics of interest over that of identity, which was a significant factor in strengthening the BJP. To counter the rise of Mandal castes, the BJP deployed religion to suppress caste identities, in the process portraying the Muslim community as the other, the enemy, which was made to pay an extortionate price. The Muslims have gained little from the politics of identity because most of the other non-BJP parties, to whom community members have flocked, draw sustenance from one or two dominant castes, which dominate their power structure.

    SUPPORT TO the IAC will break the stereotype of Muslims being primarily interested in what are considered “Muslim issues”, or aspects pertaining to personal laws, culture and religion. The IAC’s corruption plank provides them a big opportunity to visibly forge bonds with other social groups on a menace shockingly pervasive — and which affects them as severely as any other marginalised group. This bond could be potentially more enduring as it would be based on shared interests, rather than on the need for securing protection from dominant castes.

    Indeed, there can’t be a more appropriate moment for conscientious Muslims to expose corruption afflicting the boards managing waqf properties, which are bequests rich families made to help the poor. The Rajinder Sachar Committee report on the socio-economic status of Muslims noted, “The total area under waqf properties all over India is estimated at about six lakh acres and the book value at about Rs 6,000 crore.” Considering the value of these properties was booked nearly six decades ago, the Sachar Committee conservatively estimated their current worth to be Rs 1.2 lakh crore. Proper management, the committee thought, could yield a minimum of 10 percent return, as against the current 2.7 percent.

    But mismanagement is a euphemism for the politician-mafia nexus dominating the governance of waqf properties. Many of these have been encroached upon by state governments and private players, who either pay nominal or no rent at all. In addition, waqf properties have been fraudulently disposed of, though such properties can’t be sold, or leased out for long terms at ridiculous rates. Earlier this year, Karnataka Minorities Commission Chairman Anwar Manipaddy submitted a report saying 50 percent of the waqf properties, estimated at Rs 4 lakh crore, had been misappropriated because of the collusion among politicians, board members and the real estate mafia. They operate with impunity because political parties depend on them to garner Muslim votes.

    The loot of waqf properties is one important reason for Muslims to join the IAC and prompt their leaders to lead the battle against the unholy alliance of the politician, the realtor and the board member. These bequests are for the community’s welfare, not for that of politicians and land sharks. Muslims’ fear of the BJP should not deter them from experimenting with other nontraditional forms of politics, of which the IAC is a remarkable but shrill echo. Should the IAC fail as a political formation, they can always return to voting for the party best placed to vanquish the BJP. Truly, in supporting the IAC, Muslims have nothing to lose but their fear.

    (The views expressed in this column are the writer’s own)

    letters@tehelka.com


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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 47, Dated 24 Nov 2012
 

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