The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Muslims strike out at ‘captive vote bank’ image

New Delhi, May 31: The first indication that the Congress cannot take the Muslim vote for granted in the Assembly polls later this year was given by the All India Milli Council, a political organisation that includes members of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and which normally gives directions to the community during a crisis or an election.

The overweening sentiment expressed by the Milli Council in its convention, Challenges before the Nation and Minorities in Independent India, here was that no party could claim to have the “votes of Muslims in its pocket”. The community has got nothing from supporting secular parties since Independence and it is time to look at other political options.

While there was a feeling that the frustration and indifference could be a “strategy” to prevent a consolidation of the Hindu vote, the fact was that speaker after speaker expressed anger and disenchantment with the non-BJP parties.

Personal law board secretary Abdur Rahim Qureshi, also a senior member of the council’s executive, set the tone. “No Muslim should be forced to vote by being held on ransom in the coming Assembly elections. No party should imagine it has the votes of Muslims in its pocket. Let us end the myth that Muslims are captive vote banks of any party.”

The convention will release tomorrow its Delhi Declaration, which is expected to give a more clear sense of the voting strategy the members have in mind. But two dominant strands emerged from the meet.

One flowed through the speeches of the established Muslim leadership, symbolised by former MP Syed Shahabuddin and Karnataka housing minister Kamarul Islam, who switched to the Congress from the Janata Dal before the last state election. Their approach was to accept the social and political realities as they were, make peace with the system and seek salvation through avenues like education and jobs.

Shahabuddin said: “Restraint is the byword in today’s political reality. No Muslim should ever think that Islamic rule can be restored in India. But at the same time, no one can liquidate us in gas chambers. No one can assimilate us in the so-called mainstream by force, nobody can throw us out because India is our country. What is the option' Co-exist with like-minded parties through alliances and understanding. Let us de-communalise the minority problems.”

However, younger speakers from the states who work on the ground on human rights issues — of which Shahabuddin spoke in abstraction — sounded more sceptical and down-to-earth. The representative from Kerala said: “Muslims are the prime target of the rise of Hindutva fascism. It is getting overt patronage from the government and the silent patronage of the secular parties. In the post-Mandal phase, those parties talking in terms of backward castes and Dalits have asked Muslims to rally behind them. But what have we got' It is only the Yadavs and Dalits who have got empowered.”

As Rasheed Engineer of Parbani, Maharashtra, spoke of how the Congress-ruled state had booked the most Muslims under the anti-terror law, Baseer Ahmed Khan of Delhi advocated an exclusive Muslim political platform “so that the parties are forced to recognise our political strength”. Instead of us begging for tickets from them, we will be in a position to give them to others, Khan said.

Surprisingly, there was no mention of the Babri Masjid in the speeches of the Muslim leaders at the convention.

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